What is your Ikigai?

Have you figured it out yet? No? You’re not alone.

We all start out undifferentiated. In an ideal world we branch out from there, following our true passions and talents. We discover early on what fuels our fires and we choose that passion as our life-long careers, making a living while helping others in the process.

The problem is that it doesn’t usually work out that way. It’s not easy to discover your unique role on this planet. All through elementary, middle school and high school the emphasis is on test-taking, grades, and getting to the next stage of this human race. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What 16-year old can honestly know? So we go through the motions the best we can and usually stumble into a career path that we feel is probably right.

What if your chosen path does not lead you to your true calling? What if you’re meant to be a deep sea explorer but have always lived in land-locked Kansas? What if you have a talent for improv but have been too shy to get on stage? What if you have the potential to be an amazing soccer player but have never tried sports? What if you’re the Jimi Hendrix of ukulele but have never touched an instrument? What if your family has pressured you into medicine because all of your relatives are doctors?

When you find your ikigai (your life’s work, your passion, your reason for living, your bliss) you are excited to get out of bed in the morning. Work does not feel like work. You are meant to do what you are doing, and your passion brings joy to others.

My good friend and Penn Med classmate Dr. Kelly Parsons, urologist and professor at UCSD, has found his ikigai. His is the writing of medical thrillers that impress the likes of Stephen King.

It’s clear that Kelly has found his calling. He blends his experience as a surgeon with his passion for writing. He shares a poignant story with us to remind us that “It’s never as bad as you think.” His path took a turn from the worn gullies made by the tracks of those before him and the road ahead is his very own.

Where will your unique path take you?