Embracing Meaning in Professional Life

Andrew Soren discusses how individuals can find meaning in their work by having decent work—work that embodies justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

There’s no wellness without fairness

Nick: This podcast is about the ikigai concept. But there's also another word, or gai is a suffix that can be added to other verbs. So the verb for work is hataraku. So hatarakigai is another concept related to meaningful work. I think it was quite a common term in Japan in the 70s and 80s, when their economy was booming.

Basically, it's this balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. So obviously meaningful work, good relations that work, but also probably good pay, good opportunity, and maybe a disbelief and a positive future with the work that you do.

So I usually ask what is your ikigai? But do you find hatarakigai? Do you have a good balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in the work that you do?

Andrew: I do. I feel like I'm, again, I'll use the term lucky. But I guess it's one of those situations where I do believe that we make our own luck to a certain extent. But in the context of the work that I get to do now, it is extremely intrinsically rewarding.

To a certain extent, I feel like in the world right now, this is changing. There's an increased interest in these topics. Over the course of my career over the last couple of decades, it has definitely shifted in terms of people being much more interested and willing to talk about well-being and meaningful work and the conditions that enable success.

I mean, all of these things that we're talking about right now, I don't think people would have paid much attention to—not even just before the pandemic. I mean, I think that one of the things that the pandemic has given us, to a certain extent is, at least a curiosity and an understanding that meaning and well-being and decency are all things that are actually really important in our lives.

And that work should be and can be an opportunity and a source for them in a different way than I think I would have necessarily believed that the world would have been as open to even just four or five years ago. And I think the other thing that has really happened over the last few years as well, is in some ways, questions of social justice, questions of equity, questions of fairness, have also risen to the surface.

And I think, a wonderful outcome of all of the work that so many of us have practiced around justice and equity, diversity and inclusion, or an understanding that those questions and questions of well-being are kind of two questions, are two sides of the same coin. As Isaac Prilleltensky, a community psychologist who I'm a huge fan of would say, there's no wellness without fairness.

I think that so much of what we've talked about today is a reflection of the fact that there is no wellness without fairness, you can't talk about meaningful work without talking about decent work. And I guess I feel pretty lucky to be able to do both on a daily basis.

Nick: Actually, it sounds like your work is also your ikigai. So that's a good thing, but outside of work, what is something that would be an ikigai source for you that is meaningful and fulfilling?

Andrew: The arts is my short answer to that question. I am somebody who literally grew up breathing the arts and valuing the capacity that the arts has for creating transcendent moments in our lives.

So definitely my ikigai beyond just the work that I get to practice on a daily basis is also trying to find these moments of beauty and excellence and transcendence in the world, and I think the arts is absolutely a beautiful pathway to that.

Nick: So do I. I can see just behind you the word flow. So that's very relatable to all that and I love the arts as you can see, with my scrolls. The beauty and simplicity in Japanese calligraphy is astonishing.