• Amanda Beatson

What’s your why? 'Purpose' is the new black.

Happiness is yesterday’s obsession. Another word is taking over the self-improvement section. Purpose. And it’s coming to a career near you.

It’s nothing new. The search for the meaning of life has been the subject of quests, philosophy, literature, song and humour (“Forty-two!”) since time recorded. But now that we’ve emerged from the calming woolliness of hygge, have kondo’d everything in sight and lagom’d in appropriately sufficient measure, a sense of purpose is once again being mooted as the solution to 21st century ennui.

Unlike the other ‘happiness’ trends, it’s a holistic concept that readily adapts to work life and home life, making it particularly relevant to the future of work, where this line is becoming increasingly blurred.

Now, possibly more than ever before, it’s possible to shape a career around your passions provided there’s a market for them. There is a plethora of tools and resources to help the budding entrepreneur access funding, administer and market their product or service, without the need for niche expertise or customised software. New Zealand’s tyranny of distance has been reduced to occasional problems with internet speed. Even the cost of prototyping some products has diminished, with the increased availability of 3D printing and short run services.

There are also many, many problems waiting to be solved. The world is your very large and juicy but somewhat troubled oyster.

For those in a position to make a life or career change, it’s just a matter of finding your ‘why?’

In Japan, they call this ikigai and it has become particularly associated with the island of Okinawa, where its practice (plus an anti-oxidant rich diet and a habit of eating only until 80% full) reputedly contributes to the Okinawans’ extraordinary life spans. In New Zealand roughly six people in 100,000 will live to be 100 or more. In Okinawa, centenarians number 90 for every 100,000.

Ikigai distills the complexity of navigating existential angst into a rather nifty Venn diagram.

Anthropologist Iza Kavedžija has spent time exploring ikigai through discussions with older Japanese people. Iza concluded that “…What makes ikigai effective is its inextricable link to a sense of mastery – the idea known as ‘chanto suru’ that things should be done properly. As such, ikigai emphasises process and immersion rather than a final aim. Doing something as well as you possibly can makes life more meaningful.”

It’s putting purpose into action that matters.

The process we use at Tech Futures Lab to define research projects in our Master’s programme shares some common ground with ikigai.

“Candidates’ Master’s projects are usually found at the intersection of their interests, values and previous experience,” says Director of Innovation, Priti Ambani. “We ask candidates to reflect on these things, to find an issue they are passionate about and a space where they can bring something to the table.

“Some people come to the Master’s already knowing their why and for them the Master’s helps translate it into action. Others clarify or re-define their why. It’s a very personalised journey which is what makes the programme and its outcomes so exciting.”

Stop that sinking feeling

One thing that can stop people from pursuing their ‘why?’ is a faulty factor of human reasoning called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’. Basically this is where we let consciousness of our investment in one choice stops us from making a new, better choice. We see it when businesses keep throwing money at a venture that is not working because they don’t want to lose what they have invested to date. But research has shown that it also affects our personal lives. We will eat that expensive dessert, even if we are nauseously full by the time it arrives. We will persist with a career that is not fulfilling - even if there is a better option - because we are aware of what it has cost in time, study fees and personal sacrifice to get there. Being aware of the sunk cost fallacy is the first step to stop it from affecting rational decision-making.

It’s certainly the antithesis of the ‘fail fast and move forward’ approaches typical of Silicon Valley innovation and which are used within our Master’s programme.

So avoid getting sunk.

Work with passion and purpose.

And maybe live to 100.

Sounds pretty good.

Gen 6 of the Master of Applied Practice – Technological Futures is enrolling now.

Earlybird 10% discount applies until 23 September


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Tech Futures Lab is an education facility of The Mind Lab, a NZQA registered Tertiary Education Organisation under the provisions of the Education Act 1989. Candidates who are studying on a programme delivered by Tech Futures Lab are enrolled with The Mind Lab.