Welcome to the Ikigai Stories podcast. I am your host, Sam Ushio. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being here to listen. I’m very excited about what has been created, what will continue to be created into the future For this introductory episode we’ll provide some background and definition on Ikigai. What is it? why is it important? I’ll provide some background on my journey to Discovery, an Ikigai both a personal and a professional series of epiphanies that led me to Ikigai. But first, I figured I’d start off by saying there are three kind of a mini series that follows this introductory episode. I’ll call it the Rational Right Brain Mini Series. When I first started the podcast, there were the title of the podcast was The Rational Right Brain, and I had three interviews with three amazing people under that that banner.


So the Rational Right Brain, the goal was to celebrate the intersection between right brain creativity and Left Brain Logic. And so, Gisella, Christina and Corey all shared their story under that frame. so when I came across Ikigai, immersed myself into Ikigai, decided that my focus was going to be on Ikigai. one of the decisions that I had to make was, what should I do with these three interviews now, because they’re such amazing people with incredible stories, amazing insight, wisdom it seemed like a no brainer to publish those, those three episodes. However, when I listen to those episodes and I can hear the struggle in my voice, I can hear the tone in my voice that lacks conviction and confidence. It was hard for me to hit the publish button on, on those three episodes. but then I came to this realization that if you are listening to this podcast and there is something that is aspirational for you in your life the only one that is going to be able to accomplish that aspirational thing in life is you.


and if you can listen to my struggle in these three interviews before I found Ikigai, and that can serve as some type of catalyst or momentum or a confidence builder, then I hope you use that to your advantage, because there is some struggle in my role as a host in these three, three rational right brain episodes. So that was part of the reason why I wanted to publish it just I, in, in, in being vulnerable and owning that, you know, it’s a journey. I figured you’re gonna get a lot out of hearing the wisdom and insights from these three amazing people, but you may pick up a little bit of extra boost and incremental, you know, spark of momentum in just hearing my struggle during the Rational Right Brain podcast era, and hopefully hearing the confidence and conviction in the Ikigai era.


So what is Ikigai? Ikigai is a Japanese phrase that is the compound of two Japanese words. So iki means life, and gai means value or worth. there’s no direct English translation. the closest interpretation is your purpose or your life’s value, your reason for being. Everybody has Ikigai. It can change over time. And one of my objectives is to demystify what Ikigai appears when you Google Ikigai currently. So right now, there is, if you Google ikigai, if you go ahead and do that, Iki, G a i, what you’re gonna find is a Venn diagram with four circles. And within each one of those circles is a question. Question number one is what do you love to do? Question number two, what are you good at? Question number three, what does the world need? And question number four, what can I get paid to do?


And if you can find something according to this westernized notion that you’ll find in Google, if you can find it one thing that answers those four questions, then that’s your Ikigai. Now, that’s one definition of Ikigai, but it’s not the only definition of ikigai. And I think it’s potentially dangerous, that definition of Ikigai, because it makes everyone think like, If I don’t feel fulfilled in my job every single day, then I’m, then something’s missing, or I need to leave my job because I don’t have this you know, 100% Ikigai on a daily basis. So ideally, I think for those who are in the working world that is what Ikigai would mean, but it doesn’t have to be that. So if you, if you kind of backtrack on Ikigai, I think Ikigai really started to become had more commercial appeal in the Westernized sense from a guy named Dan Butner, who is a National Geographic researcher who published some work on what he calls the Blue Zones.


So it’s where he did some research for National Geographic and identified where do people live the longest in the world? He calls them Blue Zones. one of the five Blue Zones is in Okinawa, Japan, and in o Okinawa, Japan or in Japan in general, but in particular in Okinawa, he uncovered this philosophy called Ikigai. Now, the combination of longevity, Ikigai and work, there’s conflict there, right? Because at some point people retire. And so people who retire still have Ikigai, and that’s where this four circle Venn diagram definition starts to break down very rapidly. so Ikigai can mean different things to different people. I think if you really start to get into the weeds and like some deep, deep definition of Ikigai sourced from psychologists, neuroscientist, philosophers in Japan is largely subjective. it could be something as simple as the moment.


It could be something as big as a lifetime. it could be something that’s very individualistic and personal. It could be something that is delivered for societal gain. so it doesn’t necessarily have to be one thing. And that’s where I get a little bit sideways on what I see out here on Google. but the benefits of understanding your own Ikigai are tremendous. a lot of it just comes back to intentionality. Are you living your life intentionally with an alignment between the actions that you take and the priorities that you value? so when you’re doing anything in that sense, that is an alignment between actions and priorities, benefits start to surface, stress goes down happiness increases. You have stronger relationships with people that you value. You start to distance yourself from the relationships of people that you don’t you find more creativity, you have more energy, you’re more aware, right?


There are benefits after benefits after benefit. the way that I’m defining the path to get to those benefits is through your Ikigai. So I, I think one question that that will surface is, will, you know, if I’m listening to this, this podcast, this introduction right now, what’s the benefit? What will I get out of the podcast into the future? And my goal in interviewing different guests on the Ikigai Stories podcast is that these stories serve as a platform for inspiration, because oftentimes we have these barriers, these self-constructed barriers that limit our ability to get to where we want to be. So I see two problems two key problems that I’m trying to solve that I’ll try to uncover through these discussions. The dialogue within the podcast, The two problems are how do you discover your ikigai?


You know, how do we pause during the chaos of life to take a moment to evaluate and take inventory of what are my priorities? Like what is important to me? And that may change from day to day. I can say with 100% confidence that the priorities that I had in college were different than the priorities I had in my first year at work are different than when I took my second job that are different than when I got married. Different than child number one, child number two, child number three, it changes over time. This concept of eliminating barriers or breaking down the barriers that we impose is one of the key objectives that I have in this podcast. To just share stories that people have out there, or encourage these guests to share their story so that you can find relatable nuggets of inspiration or wisdom to make these big scary words like purpose and priority demystified.


So if you can hear someone’s story about how they went from A to B, but then in realizing through that story that it actually wasn’t A to B, it was A to Z, and there were steps along the way, and some of those steps had struggle, but they pushed through these barriers because they eliminated these self-imposed roadblocks. You know, that’s the goal of, of the podcast. I faced it, I continued to face it. We all face it. but how do you position your decision making in your life in a way that can provide a catalyst and sustainable momentum so that you can continue to do what you want to do in life? My story is that I worked in the corporate world for 20 years in the financial services industry. And a large part of that tenure was spent managing a team of management consultants that worked with roughly 1000 financial advisors per year.


And so we would coach financial advisors on how to structure their business, how to create client experience, how to deepen relationships both with their clients and with their organization or their teams, increase the profit of the business, increase the valuation of the business, worked with a lot of financial advisors across the industry. And what I started to notice in working with all these financial professionals was that the word growth was everywhere. The word growth was used all over the place, but the definition of growth was narrowly anchored. The definition was narrowly anchored on money. So I was observing all this effort to grow the portfolio, or to, you know, grow the dollar. And I, I was seeing a lack of professional growth, and I was seeing non-existent or limited effort being placed on personal growth. And in observing that over and over and over, I, I started to reflect within, and I started to see that within myself.


And once I started to see that in the industry and see that within my myself, that was a feeling that wasn’t going away. It just continued to grow. Ultimately, that led to my entrepreneurial leap. So in my first day out as an entrepreneur was the 4th of July in 2017. So I like to say that independence has has a broader meaning for me. And it was a great time you know, taking a leap, you’re filled with excitement and joy and happiness, and the world is your oyster. And I was ready to close that gap within the financial services industry between financial growth and personal and professional growth. And so initially, my, my first time out as an entrepreneur, knowing that I wanted to build a management consulting firm, a change management firm, and living in Seattle, my first instinct was to meet with as many people as possible in this amazing city with amazing brands.


And so I would meet with people at Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft Costco, Nordstrom, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Zillow, Redfin you know, and, and people that had worked at those companies that had since left those companies to start their own entrepreneurial pursuits. And largely, I’d, I’d sit down with those, those people from those respective brands, and I would ask two questions. Question number one was, What do you do for that company, your company? And question number two was, how does that lead toward innovation? And I did that for about six months and captured a lot of amazing insights from some incredible people doing some mind blowing things. And after capturing that information, I took that information and was testing that information by doing free consulting with financial advisors. So I posted a website and sent any advisor, any topic free 60 minute blocks of consulting.


And it was a lean way for me to take these ideas that I had just captured from meeting with somebody that had worked at, say, Starbucks and test it in the financial services industry, either explicitly saying to the financial advisor, What do you think about this? Or just sprinkling into feedback to see their reaction. And I did that for about another six months, some of which overlapped with the time that I was conducting the interviews. And then I started to build curriculum, content and curriculum, and I thought, this is what is going to transform the financial services industry. This is gonna help those 55 year old, that’s the average age in the financial services industry, that’s gonna help that 55 year old be more successful professionally to professionally grow and personally grow. And the byproduct of that is that they’re gonna experience some financial growth as well.


That was my objective. I did not succeed in that objective. I was trying efforts that were outside of the box when the rational right brain was one of my, you know, objectives or one of the tools that I used to try to bring the industry closer to right brain creativity. so I was introducing concepts like mindfulness and meditation doing immersive experiences where I took financial advisors into the Museum of Pop Culture here in Seattle, and had them go through a Marvel exhibit and think about client experience by, you know, looking at the Ironman exhibit and the Captain America exhibit. And it was, you know, it, it was stirring a different type of engagement from these largely left brain logic based linear thinkers. But ultimately, it was a supply and demand thing. I was trying to supply an offering that the industry wasn’t demanding.


And, you know, that led to some tough times. ultimately it led to the entrepreneurial leap landed on a flop. You know, at that point, you really start to reflect when, So I’m the father of three young children. I now have a seven year old, a six year old, and a two year old. At the time when I left, I had a five year old, a three year old, and a one year old. My wife works for an amazing nonprofit organization, you know, but we have three young kids and we live in Seattle. And, you know, that comes with a lot of expense, and that comes with a lot of cost. And so I was, I had my projections put together on what the business would do and you know, what our family budget could achieve. And I was off projections significantly. And so I hit this moment where it’s gut check time, and, you know, I’m really starting to, to consider like, what is my next step?


I first reflect on why didn’t it succeed? Why am I at this flop stage? And then I’m trying to figure out what’s the next step? What am I gonna do? Am I gonna go back to that, to that industry that I intentionally departed because of that lack of, or that gap between financial growth and personal professional growth? And am am I gonna go back to that? and basically wave the white flag and say, I tried, you know, give myself a pat on the back and then put that suit back on and go back to that old world. And it was tough. It was really tough tougher than I can articulate. And right about at that moment, I came across Carol Dweck’s research on the growth mindset. And the growth mindset had, you know, popped into my sphere on occasion. But when it hit my radar this time, it was exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right moment.


And for those of you who aren’t familiar with Dweck’s research, I think the best way that I can articulate, or at least the way that it helped me, is that failure can be viewed either with a fixed mindset or with a growth mindset, with a fixed mindset. It’s a dead end with a growth mindset. It’s a building block, it’s an opportunity to learn and to grow. And there’s a lot, there’s a heavy, heavy bench of research that’s behind all this. I’m not doing Dweck nor anybody else that’s associated with growth mindset any justice. But this is how it resonated with me at this time in my life. And after reading some of, of Dweck’s research on growth mindset, I made the decision that I’m gonna give it a little bit more. and what happened after that decision was transformational for me.


I mean, that’s the only way that I can describe it. It was purely transformational for me. So I had decided that I was going to focus on a presentation called Growth Redefined. That really is a presentation that references what I had just talked about this journey, observing growth in a very singular definition within the industry that led me to make the entrepreneurial leap not talking about the entrepreneurial flop that I experienced, but the entrepreneurial leap. And I decided to do that. and then within deciding to do that within the next couple days I, the word Ikigai really started to take over, similar to Dweck’s research that had occasionally hit my radar. Ikigai had hit my radar on occasion, but it was a, you know, right place, right time when it hit my radar. And this time it was transformational.


I completely immersed myself into Ikigai and learning as much as I could about ikigai. I’ve heard about the flow state before, thought I had been in the flow state before. I don’t know if there are degrees of flow state, but what I was experiencing while coming across Ikigai and then what was, what served as a catalyst to the flow state and to my, you know, Ikigai immersion, was this very personal story about my great-grandmother. so this story, I’m gonna give you a very abbreviated version. I think I will not do a justice, and at some point I would love to have my Aunt Julie come on as a guest to, to share this story. but the story, the, the abbreviated version of the story is that there’s an ancient Shinto shrine in Fukuoka Japan. It still exists to today where the records go back to 8 59 A.D.


And my family’s been associated with that, trying for a very long time. Now, for context, for proper context, I grew up in small town Nebraska. I grew up in a town called Alliance Nebraska with 9,000 people in the panhandle on the western side of the state. it is an amazing place with amazing people. My still some, I have family members that still live there. I have friends that still live there. I had an incredible childhood that I would not change anything about. but largely my identity associated with that time there is, I saw myself as a small town Nebraska kid. you know, and I could give you countless examples of that. I mean, I, I loved Nebraska football. I loved to play sports. you know, the, the Japanese culture was foreign to me. Japanese food at holidays was stinky and smelled weird.


I didn’t like the taste of it. you know, it was just, it was, it was it was foreign to me. And so in 2001 I went to Japan with my father, and his three siblings, and then my grandma and grandpa to visit the family in Japan. And it was a, that was a life changing event for me. It was this cultural awakening where I started to realize that, you know, I’ve got this other side of, of this rich narrative or there, sorry, this rich lineage lineage of who I am and what I am. And you know, in a lot of ways I’m still unpacking a lot of that. But there’s this shrine in Japan and my great grandfather was next in line to be the head priest of that shrine. And in the early 1900s, he came to America to, to essentially make money because Japan, the shrine, I believe the community that supported the shrine were just under financial duress.


And so he came to America to make money, and I, I believe, expected to make, you know, to just trip over wealth. And that wasn’t the case. So eventually he marries my great-grandmother Taka, and the two of them have a child, number one, child number two, child number three, at child number three. they decide they’re living in a suburb of Salt Lake City. They decide that Taka, Taka’s, a very hard worker, Taka’s assistance, is really needed in running the, the business, which is a laundry business in Salt Lake City. And so they make the decision that Taka’s gonna go back to Japan with the three children, leave the three children there with family, and then turn around and come back and, you know, help the business when they make that decision the year. So she departs, she ports with the three children from Seattle.


So I live in, I currently live in Seattle, Washington, and the year in which she departs is the year 1919, which is a hundred years ago. And the ages of her three children at the time are five, three, and one. And so, I’m, I’m, I’m reading this history report. That’s basically what it is. This history report that my Aunt Julie had created in preparation for this trip in 2001, this research report just magically appeared as we were doing Christmas decorations over the holidays. It just showed up in a box. And I’m reading this report, and it occurs to me that 100 years ago, my great-grandmother jumped on a boat with three children that are the same ages as my three children. And she did that to preserve the legacy of a family, of a shrine of a community. And she had Ikigai.


And so what the, the series of events that occurs are inspirational, are tragic. It’s, it, it’s an, it’s an amazing story, but it served as an inspiration for me to find that courage and to ride off of that wave that I had uncovered from Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research to just immerse myself into Ikigai. My great-grandmother brought the oldest child back from Japan to the United States when she returned, and she left the youngest two there with family, and she would never see them again. and I look at my two young children, the youngest, I look at my three young children, and in particular, I look at the two youngest. And I think, How did she do that? I mean, how did she, she did that in response to something inside of her that was big, and it was courageous. And she made incredible sacrifice and faced just amazing hardship.


I mean, hardship that I think is unfathomable at this time in life. She had two sons that were fighting on both sides of the war. She had a husband that had died prior to World War ii and had two kids in Japan, and four kids in America. And I look at her and her life and the way that she aligned her actions with priorities. And that became just a, an inspiration for me and an accelerant for me to continue to push harder and completely shift my focus outside of financial services and to empower people to discover their Ikigai and then to live their Ikigai, because I feel like that’s what I’m doing right now. And to channel the great sacrifice that Taka had made to get me here. I feel like that’s something that I should be doing at this point in my life.


So that’s some background on, on me that should provide some context on what I’m trying to accomplish with this podcast called Ikigai Stories. I’m very, very thankful that you’re listening and I hope that you’re excited about the guests that will come on and the power of the narrative that comes out of these stories. And I just strongly encourage you to take a moment to pause from the chaos of life to reflect on, you know, what are your priorities in life? Where can you draw inspiration? how can you inspire others through your actions to live with greater intention? because that’s gonna be what you’re going to hear on the Ikigai Stories podcast. So I look forward to to sharing more with you in the future. And I hope you have a spectacular day.