My work with the Nursing & Midwifery Emporium has proven what I already knew: job dissatisfaction is a chronic problem among nurses and midwives.
If you’re one of the many nurses feeling unhappy and lost in your career, the answer might lie in a framework from Japanese philosophy.
No, really. Studies of the world’s healthiest communities have identified that having a vocational purpose is one of the key factors for health and longevity. A pet subject group for researchers is the population of the Japanese island of Okinawa (where the women are the longest-lived people on the planet), and they have a word for what gets you up in the morning: ikigai.
The word doesn’t have a direct translation, but it means something like ‘a reason for being’. To find your ikigai, ask yourself these four questions:
- What do you love?
- What are you good at?
- What does the world need from you?
- What can you get paid for?
Some people claim that your ikigai sits at the intersection of these four answers: your perfect vocation will be something you love, that you’re good at, that the world needs, and which you can be paid for.
If your job doesn’t deliver on all or any of those things, you might be feeling pretty depressed right now. But I think there are a couple of other factors to take into account when it comes to pursuing your ikigai:
1. Your ikigai doesn’t have to come from work.
The locus of your ikigai can change as you age: at different stages of life you might get fulfilment from studying, or parenting, or grandparenting, or travel. If your ikigai is all tied up in work, you’ll have an obvious problem when you retire. So don’t feel like you have to put all your satisfaction eggs in the one career basket.
It’s great if you can have a career that fulfils on all four aspects of ikigai. But some people are quite happy if they can just put the time in and get paid, and find their sense of purpose and joy outside of work. It doesn’t matter where your ikigai comes from, as long as you feel satisfied.
2. Some aspects of ikigai are more important to some people than others.
This is where ikigai meets the work that I do, with whole brain thinking. Your ikigai will look different to the next person’s, because your brain is probably different to the next person’s.
The Brain Dominance instrument that I use classifies four types of thinkers:
- Red — Relational & Emotional
- Green — Practical & Procedural
- Yellow — Experimental & Entrepreneurial
- Blue — Analytical & Logical.
Different types of thinkers will care more about some aspects of ikigai than others. You can probably guess what’s most important to each type of thinker:
- What do I love to do?
- What am I good at?
- What does the world need?
- What can I get paid for?
Your personal brand of job satisfaction might lie in doing something you love, even if it’s not very well-paid. Or you might feel like it’s pointless to get up and go to work in the morning unless you’re contributing something the world really needs. Or you might just want to keep your head down, tick all the boxes and do a good job.
Or you might not need a big sense of purpose at work—your idea of joy might be getting paid as much as you can, so that you can pursue your real passion on your own time.
Nobody needs an unhappy nurse or midwife. And you don’t have to be one. I encourage you to take your life satisfaction seriously. Here are some questions to ask yourself around ikigai and how it operates in your career or organisation:
If you’re a nurse or midwife that works clinically:
- Can you identify which of the four ikigai questions is most important to you?
- Do you feel like your current career pathway sits in the ikigai zone? If not, how could you re-jig your role to include more of your favourite flavour of ikigai?
- If your job isn’t your ikigai, do you have other things in your life that fill you up?
If you’re a manager:
- Do you take your people’s life satisfaction seriously? How can you help them to be happier, more productive nurses or midwives?
- How can you identify your people’s dominant thinking types and channel them into roles and tasks that fill up their particular cup of satisfaction?
Knowing yourself provides the opportunity to identify the thinking that dominates in themselves and others, so that organisations can better match people with roles that suit their thinking preference.
Our industry doesn’t need any more unhappy nurses!
If you’d like to discuss your answers to the ikigai questions, give Nurse & Midwife Support a call on 1800 667 877. You can learn more about ikigai and career coaching for nurses and midwives at nursemanagerhq.com.
With over 15 years’ experience in senior & executive roles, I can read a Profit & Loss better than I can read an ECG. I'm a theatre nurse, I’ve been perioperative educator and manager, run an emergency department and been a nursing director. I have post-graduate qualifications in nursing, coaching and management.
Importantly, I continue to practice nursing, clinically. But I understand hospitals and healthcare. I know how nurses think and feel and what worries them. My mission here at Nurse Manager HQ is to provide nurses & midwives professional develop programs and career coaching that transitions accomplished clinicians into empowered leaders.
I deliver support that is practical, based in neuroscience & provides pragmatic techniques you can immediately implement: a perfect complement to academic programs. Hundreds of emerging & experienced nurse leaders have engaged with me for help & walked away feeling empowered, confident and re-invigorated about taking on the exciting challenge of nursing leadership to build brilliant nursing cultures & deliver amazing person-centred outcomes.