A Life Well Lived

In Season 2, To Be by Elizabeth Oyegunle

What does living a meaningful life mean?

As humans, we tend to seek experiences that help determine whether we are living full and meaningful lives or not.

For some, meaning can be found through professional success; for others, meaning parallels hard to define concepts such as happiness.

I am in a period of my life where I am unravelling my identity, and my purpose continues to be undetermined. It has become difficult to determine if I am truly living life well.

It is as if the purpose I am trying to discover will be undiscoverable until I solidify who I am and who it is I want to be.

As a Black woman navigating white-dominated spaces, the possibilities of what I can be, feel limited when I fail to see replications of my identity in people who have fulfilled or are fulfilling their purpose.

My journey has now focused on finding examples of people who reflect the person I want to be. I am hoping to find examples of people with similar identities to me who are driven by purposefulness.

Will this all be worth it? How are the things I am doing drawing me closer to my purpose? Can I miss my purpose? It is these thoughts that run through my head one early Sunday morning. My thoughts are loud. They almost drown out Kirk Franklin playing so faintly in the background. I look out the car window, and as each car passes by, I try to imagine where each driver is going.

I try to be creative. For the middle-aged man in the brown Dodge Caravan, he is in a hurry to get back to the hospital to care for his wife and newborn. The young girl in the Kia Sorento is going to the mall to get some clothes for her girls getaway weekend coming up.

It amazes me how others outside your window can share these mundane moments in a car. We navigate lives that are different yet similar enough to converge at specific moments in time.

I begin to wonder how un-coincidental these moments are and what they mean in the larger picture of life. The loud ramblings of my thoughts seem to quiet down as the radio station playing in the background captures my attention.

The man on the radio speaks with calm enthusiasm, “research has shown that purpose is the central pathway to happiness. People are much happier when they are doing what they love; something that excites their soul and fuels their feeling of purpose”. The word purpose echoes inside me, and I wonder how the woman in the KIA Sorento fuels her purpose.

More importantly, I wonder if, at this moment in time, being squished in the backseat with my grandmother and mother is allowing me to move closer or farther away from my purpose.

Is it a coincidence that later I stumble across the concept of Ikigai randomly during a video presentation on Fighting Procrastination. Ikigai (ee-kee-ga-ee) translates to “reason to live.” It is a Japanese practice of purposefulness used as a central path towards a meaningful life.

The term describes itself as it comprises simple principles and guidelines necessary to consider when navigating life and seeking meaning. It outlines the union of four components that are central to life: Passion, Mission, Profession and Vocation. To live a life that embodies these principles, one has to direct themselves towards acts that are purposeful.

To determine if an act is purposeful, one has to ask these questions when pursuing opportunities and tasks: am I good at it, do I enjoy doing it, will I be impactful doing it and how can it be profitable to me.

The pursuit of purpose is present across cultural practices. When I started to see purpose as a mechanism rather than a destination, moments and experiences like the one I had in the car seem less coincidental and more intentional. Every action, decision and experience could be grouped into one intention, purposefulness. When those intentions put you in connection with others, everyone’s purpose becomes intertwined. I began to search for what walking in purposefulness looks like in the lives of women who are representations of my identity; my mom and grandmother.

Although raised in different periods, they still have aligned goals and intentions. But I do not share them.

It often made me feel distant from my culture and the identity I drew from it.

But it was through understanding Ikigai that I began to see purposefulness as their driving force. For my grandmother, growing up in Nigeria in the thirties often meant that a woman’s place was either in the kitchen or the market making and selling food. This was not the path my grandmother chose for herself. Instead, my grandmother pursued her own path as a business owner and administrative professional by working as a secretary and moving up the corporate chain. Her work, she said, “made [her] feel alive.” She thrived in this environment by using her craftsmanship, fashion, and leadership skills to create a lifestyle where she was always in control of the outcomes around her. When she met my grandfather, her focus shifted from her own goals to the goals of her husband and children. To her, finding success meant making those around her comfortable so they could overcome the moulds society placed on them as she did.

My mother’s story differed drastically. She was born into a wealthy family, where her goals were easily attainable. Her concerns were never fixated on survival; instead, she strived to make the best out of life. Using the abundance of resources available to her, she took the steps necessary to achieve the best life possible. She went to school but did not fully pursue academics. Instead, she chose to work in local administrative roles, and in her spare time, she enjoyed doing hair for her sisters and friends. She eventually decided to go to school for cosmetology and opened a hair and beauty salon. I realized that my mom’s goals were centered on using her skills as effectively as possible. She did not strive for the highest levels of success in employment roles but found she was achieving success when she was helpful to those around her, doing what she did best. This mentality stuck with her when she had my brother and me. To her, pursuing meaning meant being a present parent, one she never had. She was pursuing meaning by being the resource my brother and I used to achieve our own goals.

Unknowingly inspired by Ikigai, both my mother and grandmother strived for moments driven by purposefulness. They used their skills and passions to fuel their involvement within spaces that made them feel fulfilled. Not only did they look towards their own self-fulfillment, but they were also focused on positively impacting those around them. I spent so much time wondering how I alone would develop into a person who lives life fulfilling their purpose. In all the times I spent wondering how I would make the journey alone, I never grasped the interconnecting quality that is present, where I am constantly making strides towards my purpose along with the many people I encounter, some of which I will directly impact. I now know that I am not making this journey alone, and understanding Ikigai has allowed me to see how significant interactions, even as little as those I saw passing us by on the road, were. This crucial factor of interconnectedness has allowed me to seek the understanding of purposefulness and how it replicates itself in the journeys of those that represent my identity. It connects me to the people I will impact directly and indirectly and to the generations of people who came before me, those I draw inspiration from when deciding how I want to add value in the world and the kind of person I want to be.