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The Japanese Concept of Ikigai – a Reason to Wake Up

The Japanese Concept of Ikigai – a Reason to Wake Up

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A recent edition of The Globe and Mail carried a thought-provoking article about the possible impact of Ikigai – a Japanese concept used to describe ‘the reason to wake up’ in the morning – combined with advances in artificial intelligence on how we view, and manage, retirement. It sounds improbable, we know, but read on.

First, Some Context

As The Globe and Mail reported, the average retirement age in Canada is 64, but life expectancy is 82. Even with government help, almost 20 years is a long time to be out of any kind of meaningful paid work – even if you enjoy compensation from a corporate or public pension plan. That might be troubling information, especially if your savings and investments are modest and you only have CPP and/or OAS to rely on. But there’s worse to come. There’s increasing evidence that retirement – especially early retirement – is bad for our health.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Study after study – issued by sources ranging from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to innumerable private sector research reports, confirm that retirement is a major driver of impaired cognitive performance. It’s not being retired that does the damage, specifically, but some of the traditional behaviours associated with life in retirement.

Put in its most extreme incarnation, retirement has the potential to rob us of our ability to think, perhaps the most grievous disability that old age delivers. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is, potentially, a way out of this alarming cul-de-sac.

Our Concept of Retirement is Flawed

Later in the article, The Globe and Mail reported the following: “But most compellingly, Harvard Business Review concluded that the concept of retirement itself may be flawed. The islands of Okinawa in the East China Sea are home to the people with the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. Okinawan women are three times more likely to reach the age of 100 than North American women.”

In the Okinawa Islands, the concept of retirement simply does not exist. According to a further extract from the Harvard Business Review: “Literally nothing in their language describes the concept of stopping work completely. Instead, the Okinawa people have Ikigai, ‘the reason you wake up in the morning.’”

Ikigai Explained

As per a recent article in Forbes, Ikigai (pronounced “eye-ka-guy”) is, above all else, “a lifestyle that strives to balance the spiritual with the practical. This balance is found at the intersection where your passions and talents converge with the things that the world needs and is willing to pay for.”

So how does AI connect to all of this, you may be asking? Because when technology allows aging individuals to continue working in their field, it could change the course of their career - and their retirement. Simply put: if people can work longer, many will - perhaps, though, in a different arrangement.

Your Retirement May Include Contract Work

According to The Globe and Mail article, by 2030 the most dominant form of work is forecasted to be independent contracting – self-employed individuals who are contracted for specific projects or services. This trend is already well underway. Subsequently, employers are:

  1. Hiring workers for specific tasks and projects instead of hiring full-time employees – allowing for more flexibility.
  2. Recognizing that since independent contractors are self-employed, this presents an opportunity for people to control the capacity of their workload and redefine the working week around a schedule that works for them.
  3. Accepting that for someone over 65 this could mean taking on a project that requires only one day of work a week, or only working in the afternoons.
  4. Continuing to engage older workers for taxing jobs, such as manufacturing lines that still require human involvement but can be accomplished by collaborative robots. This will help older workers with tasks that are physically complex or require heavy lifting. The Japanese motor manufacturer Nissan has successfully adopted this approach.
  5. Encouraging older workers to work remotely. For more knowledge-based jobs, video-conferencing platforms and other communication tools mean older workers can operate efficiently from home.

So, Why Not Think About It?

If you’re thriving in traditional retirement, great - but if you want to stay engaged in your career while earning some income, there’s no good reason why older professionals with marketable skills cannot stay in the workforce in some capacity or other. The technology exists to enable them to do so. Rethinking retirement is not about taking away people’s opportunity to finally rest, but about empowering people with the choice to live life in a way that works for them.

It can be a way that allows all of us to find – or hold onto – our Ikigai.

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About the author

An avid sportsman (tennis, rock climbing/hiking, diving), prolific reader of biographies, world traveller – some of the many interests that define Geoffrey Bailey. He’s also a widely published newspaper and magazine journalist, author of two bestselling books, and a former advertising agency creative director. Working in tandem with Allyson on Everything Retirement content, Geoffrey provides impeccable research and insight into the issues and interests (from financial to social) that concern today’s retirees.