What is the Reason for Getting Up Every Morning with a Smile on Your Face?

May 14, 2024
Painted by Kenji Yamada

Painting by Mr. Yamada in his late years. He was a life-long learner.


Do you believe in different philosophies but struggle with implementing those concepts in your daily life? I believe in Ikigai and Kaizen. For those unfamiliar with those terms, the philosophy of Ikigai is usually described as “a reason to get up every morning,” while Kaizen is “life-long learning in small, incremental steps.” In the past, I had no problem incorporating those concepts into my everyday life. Running my business with employees and customers took vision, motivation, organization, and planning for the future. I relied on Ikigai and Kaizen to guide me and provide a road map to accomplish that.


One year ago, however, when I closed my 47-year-old business, I ran into the proverbial brick wall. Finding a real purpose in my life was hard as I looked forward to the next chapter. It was not like I had been idly sitting around since the closure of my business. I have been coaching people who want to start businesses, providing hair services to some of the loyal clients of my old salon, and teaching online and in-person art classes. But…I didn’t feel like I had truly meaningful goals to pursue. I struggled to incorporate the Ikigai and Kaizen philosophies into my everyday living. I’d often ask myself, “How am I giving back to the world that has taught me an abundance of things and given me so much?”


Thankfully, I found my Ikigai and Kaizen again, and I want to share how that came about. It began while instructing a weekly art class at the Aljoya Senior Living Center on Mercer Island. The room was tranquil as my six students concentrated on creating their unique watercolor designs. Most students complain that watercolor art is challenging to do and that they lack the creativity to produce satisfactory results. I always calmly remind them, “Don’t overthink it. Nothing is wrong or bad - relax, enjoy, and have fun.” In the back of my mind, I always think, “Why are they so critical of themselves? They are doing a good job.”


While I was walking around and observing everyone’s artwork, a slightly built Asian woman named Dorothy walked into the room. She stopped by our table and asked, “What are you doing?” Pauline, one of my students, replied, “We’re making greeting cards. Why don’t you join us?” Dorothy replied, “I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t think I can do it.” I stepped in, assured her that she would do fine, and gave her a small set of watercolors, brushes, and paper. She immediately sat down with the others and proceeded to draw and paint.


At the end of the class, I asked everyone to show the pictures they had created. As always, everyone did a great job. I gasped, however, when Dorothy held up her watercolor art. It was beautiful for a person who had never touched a brush or paint before! I said to her, “Dorothy, you are amazing! It looks as though you’ve been painting all your life!”


Here are photos of Dorothy and her artwork:

As we were cleaning up the room and getting ready to leave, Dorothy excitedly came up to me and said, “I want to thank you for teaching me new skills. I have so much more to learn. I’d better hurry up, though, because I’m going be 100 years old in two days.”

Quietly, I thought, “Now, if this isn’t a perfect example of Ikigai, what else could it be?”

It is natural to want to feel certain about who we are and why we are here at every moment. Adopting different philosophies has helped me with that journey. They made me realize that life is not an orderly process. Sometimes, I have to wait patiently for those magical moments to appear. I hope you will consider adopting a philosophy or two to help you better navigate the chaotic world we are currently living in. 




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