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How the Japanese Ikigai Will Make You a Good Programmer

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Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.

To admit the truth, I am a programmer and a hard-core programmer who believes in coding and developing applications every single hour in my day. So self-help stuff like ‘Hansei’, Ikigai or so many others for that matter is not my cup of tea.

However, this was 10 years ago. Today I am a dedicated Ikigai practitioner and use it to improve every facet of my life from programming to well-being. And the reason for this transformation was burnout. Yes, I was massively burned out 10 years ago at the peak of my programming prowess.

Those were the days of my programming stardom. I was a rock star and indispensable. No problem could bear the onslaught of my logical thinking. No solution was deemed as ‘complete’ without my blessings.

Clients, vendors, managers, and even external consultants wanted a piece of my brilliance. I was everywhere; in online blogs, in seminars, in programming forums, in start-up discussions, and even in my organization’s top-secret sales meetings as an advisor on innovative technologies.

The result? I burned out and I burned out pretty badly losing my interest, my focus, and even my sleep. It was as if the ‘work’ never seemed to end and I was frantically trying to burn the midnight candle when the candle itself had burned to cinders long ago. I was alone, helpless, and desperately wanted to get out of the ‘hell hole’ I had created for myself.

It was around this time, my manager called me and asked a point-blank question.

“Are you happy, Ravi?”

Yeah, I am. Why all of a sudden?” I said, keeping a brave face.

You are not; Ravi and I can see it in your eyes.” He said.

Let me tell you something. I was in Japan for a long time and one of the good things I learned from them is the concept of Ikigai. Let me explain, “He continued.

There are numerous books written on this wonderful concept and you can always explore and read more if you are interested. But the central concept is a one-liner – Ikigai is the reason you get out of bed and come to the office every day. It is an idea of finding happiness in everyday lives.”

The Japanese are one of the most stressed-out people in the world. They start their everyday routine, packed like sushi rice grains called sushi-zume in crowded trains. They work really long hours. They have strict consensus-based rules in the office. They have a strict commitment to family life. Despite all this, they are mostly happy with their lives. Why? It is Ikigai. It is the reason they find for themselves in life that drives them to do it every single day.”

And here is how you can use the rules of Ikigai to be a good programmer.


Avoid the comfort zone

As a programmer, this simply means attempting new things every single day and getting out of the comfort zone. Ikigai says that we experience unhappiness if we lose the ‘thrill’ in our lives and life becomes routine and mundane.

Go out. Seek knowledge. Try new things. Learn new things and share with others what you have learned. That is how you find Ikigai.


Take it slow

This one is a no brainer. In our lives, we have so many things vying for our attention; the code that needs fixing, the client who is asking a query, the manager who wants your inputs on a new project, the colleague who is stuck up while writing some logic and so on….

The key is to differentiate between important and urgent and prioritize work. Ikigai tells us that real happiness lies in taking it slow but doing what is required steadily to achieve the objectives.


Don’t stuff yourself

This one focuses on health. The Japanese believe that the stomach should be only 80% full for the brain to work at its best. While there is no real scientific rationale behind it, we all have experienced the fact that a full stomach lulls us to sleep and lowers our performance.

Remember the idea of happiness is not to overeat but to eat the right amount for your body to function at its best.


Cultivate good friends

Again, software development is a team effort. Sure, we have the ‘lone, brilliant wolf’ programmer working independently, a bit of a maverick, and weaving out his magic at times, but they are far and few in between. Software development and its culmination into a successful project is the effort of a team that gelled together, coded together, and solved problems together.

Cultivating good friends at work and life leads to Ikigai.


Exercise regularly

Again, scientific studies have proved conclusively that exercising regularly releases oxytocin or the ‘feel-good hormones’ within our bodies that makes us happy and stress-free. The energy we get out of exercising not only keep us out of reach of bodily diseases but also stimulates the creative thinking within us.

So start exercising. Start small but do it regularly. This is the key to Ikigai.


Smile

Again self-explanatory. Smiling not only works magic on people around you but also helps you to ‘feel good’ internally especially in times of stress when tempers are fraying around and obnoxious behavior is rampant.

Just keep smiling and let the flood of Ikigai wash all the stress out of you.


Connect with nature

There is nothing better to soothe your frayed nerves than going for a long, aimless walk in the midst of nature. Let the cool winds overpower your anger. Let the aromatic fragrances of blossoming flowers bring clarity to your cluttered mind.

There is nothing better than a quiet, solitary evening or morning walk to reconnect with nature and introspect yourself, your path, and then course-correct accordingly if things are going astray.


Express gratitude

There is nothing more powerful than expressing gratitude towards others for the contribution they are doing in your lives. He can be the janitor who cleans your desk every day. He can be the life operator who opens the life for you every day. She can also be your novice programmer who comes up with a new question to ask you every day.

Express thanks to at least one person every day and you will see the Ikigai rising within you.


Live for today

I know as software programmers, we are always advised to learn from our past mistakes and make bulletproof plans for a perfectly working software in the future. Nothing harm in it, after all, we need to not only write good software but also make sure we anticipate client needs in advance to make our product relevant in the future.

The problem comes when we become so much engrossed in the rhapsody of the past and the future that we forget to live our lives in the present. We forget to enjoy the little joys, the little triumphs, the little victories we win every single way. It is these small things that sum together and make our lives worth living. The sum of small joys in life really constitutes the Ikigai of our lives.

As Buddha has rightly said.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

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