The second of the Comments of the Day sparked by my musings on Megyn Kelly’s descision to move from a job where she excelled to a completely different assignment at which, at least so far, she is crashing and burning like the Hindenburg. The first, by Extradimensional Cephalopod, was very different, an abstract analysis of the phenomenon that bedevils Kelly, and many of us. The second, a personal account of the dilemma in action, is no less enlightening, but very different.
The comment also reminded me that I have never posted about the Japanese concept of Ikigai, and I should have. There is no English equivalent for the word: ikigai combines the Japanese words ikiru, meaning “to live”, and kai, meaning “the realization of what one hopes for.” Together the words encompass the concept of “a reason to live” or the idea of having a purpose in life. Ikigai also invokes a mental and spiritual state where individuals feel that their lives have value—to them, to loved ones, to society.
Ikigai odes not spring from actions we are forced to take, but from natural, voluntary and spontaneous actions. In his article titled “Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei” (“Ikigai: the process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”) Japanese wrter Kobayashi Tsukasa says that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”
Here is Alex’s Comment of the Day on the post, Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay:
This topic is close to my heart, so time for some confessions and public reflections.
As I’ve previously mentioned I’m a software engineer, over a decade of experience, and modesty aside, a darned good one at what I do. The main areas of work I’ve been involved in are speech recognition, accessibility and development runtimes (think along the lines of the Java runtime). It was not necessarily world transforming work, but it had an impact and passionate following by our users. Pay was good if slightly low for the experience I had, and as of late I was getting tired of the work and wanted to try something new – also, a reasonable salary increase was not going to hurt.
So I start my job hunt, both internally and externally. At the end it comes down to two very good offers: One working for a social media giant with at a still-to-be-determined role with extremely good pay and no clear route for advancement. The other working closer to hardware (I’m an EE but never worked on it professionally) with lower pay (still an improvement over my previous job) at a clearly defined role with an advancement development plan and with the goal of putting people in space.
Putting it like this it sounds like a home run, but with a family in the line – I’m a single earner with three kids – the financial sides are a big consideration. There were so many things to balance: money, prospects for advancement, happiness, commute time, personal fulfillment, and yes, societal value of my work. It was not an easy decision, there were difficult conversations with my wife and even more than a year later some days I wonder if this was the right call (I went with the space company…Yay!)
Seeing what Kelly is going through, I could picture myself in that situation. What if, in my first three months here it turned out that I had forgotten everything I knew about hardware, or if I took the other job and the tedium made me underperform in a matter of months? What if I burned out at either job because of whatever reason in or out of my control? I chose what I thought best at the time, but there are no guarantees, and as good as things are there was a risk that they would go bad. Or that they could be even better had I chosen differently?
And then there is this: better for whom? Me, my family, society? Am I overestimating the impact of my decision (maybe I’m more replaceable than I like to think)? At what point is the difference in an improvement (say financially) something that trumps other considerations? It is hard to make the right decisions, we just do our best (and thanks Jack, for keeping ethics in the forefront so they are part of the decision making process), and take the plunge. Things may go well, or they may not, but based on my experience I lean towards sympathy as my first response for someone failing after going for the more difficult choice.