Lessons from Christchurch (hint: nothing about earthquakes)

by | Dec 19, 2016 | Blog, Podcast | 0 comments

All about Ikigai

I’ve been talking about Ikigai for a long time, without knowing that is what it’s called.  It’s a Japanese word that roughly means ‘reason for being’.  Everyone has an Ikigai, even if you don’t know it.

Sometimes your reason for being won’t be the perfect intersection of all the circles in ikigai.  In fact most of the time it won’t.  But that’s ok.  The picture below describes what some of these imperfect intersections are called, and none of them are bad.

The work I was doing in Christchurch is not my love.

The work I was doing is very much needed in NZ, and obviously the client valued it enough to pay for it.  And I’m good at it.  But it’s not what I love.  I didn’t get my perfect ikigai, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t making a big difference to others.  I’m ok with that – it serves as a motivator to do good work, especially for the younger, less patient of us who want everything perfect right now.

The world still needs us as we work towards our ideal ikigai.


Simple, beautiful Ikigai.
Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikigai
Christchurch is a long way from home

Sometimes you need to go a long way to help those who need it

It’s a long way from my home to Christchurch.  It’s far enough that no airlines fly there directly.  So my commute takes the best part of a day, with at least one stopover.  It’s not my favourite thing.

Up until recently I was a Qantas gold frequent flyer, because of the amount of travel that I used to do.  It was an uneventful but exciting day when I got the letter saying I had not flown enough to retain my gold membership.  That represented a milestone in my quest to spend more time with my family!

Sometimes you not only need to settle on an imperfect ikigai, you still need to go a long way to help those who need it.  It was a long way geographically for me this time, but this equally applies metaphorically.  Building relationships, being helpful, seeking to understand, doing the hard, boring, monotonous work.  These are all long journeys well worth taking to serve those who need it.

Shared toilets and shoeboxes

Being close to Christmas, it was a push to get accommodation for this trip, at a price that was reasonable for the client to pay. How pleased was I when I found a hotel (actually, motel) that appeared good, at a decent price.

So at 1 am, when I arrived at the place, I was a little taken aback when the gentleman showing me to my room pointed out the shared bathroom. SHARED BATHROOM?!? Then the shoebox room. Too tired to care much then, I did spend just a little time the next morning thinking whether that was good enough, whether I should try and get another room. It’s obviously what I booked. But was it good enough?

It didn’t take me long to decide I was somewhat up myself for being so precious.

Yes it would be nice to have my own bathroom.  But did I need it? It got me thinking about those situations when what we get is different from what we think we deserve. The only person responsible for that gap is you. And most of the time, we have an inflated sense of what we deserve. I was humbled thinking about the people without a home at all, and the pride and service of the owner who got up at 1am to show me to my room.

We all have a tendency to be precious. About our job title, our importance, our right to be heard or respected. I’m learning to tone it down, and keep it in perspective.  It’s just a bathroom and a bed after all.

Don’t be precious – about what you think you deserve

Take an umbrella (or at least know when you need one…)

The day I left South Australia, it was 32 degrees Celsius (F). I knew it would be cooler in Christchurch. But I didn’t check close enough, which became evident when I landed and it was 10 and raining cats and dogs. No big deal – except when I left to walk to the clients office in the morning, I had a kilometre of soaking, sideways rain.

Sometimes we think we’ve planned things. Many times, we don’t plan well enough. It pays to take the time to plan properly. And if I had asked my wife when I was packing, she would have asked me if it was going to rain!


Stop and smell the roses (or the snow)

This is my second trip to Christchurch. On the way home this time, I asked the airline host if the water served on board was Christchurch water, since it is one of the most pure water sources, melting snow soaking into the groundwater basin around the city. She had no idea where the water came from.

The reason why I asked is I took an afternoon off last trip, to go and find snow. In Australia we don’t have much snow, and I’ve only experienced our best mushy kind of sleet. So the big kid in me went up the mountain to find snow, to make a snow angel, to eat the snow, to make and throw a snow ball, and make some video’s to show my kids.  I had a great time. I stopped by raging streams surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains, to drink the near-freezing cold water. It was invigorating, it was recharging.

Sometimes we get caught up, in what’s seems very important. But sometimes, you may just find you’ll have an amazing experience when you stop and smell the roses – or go and find the snow. I’m increasingly convinced there’s rarely a downside to that.

The snow was invigorating, recharging
Small things make a huge difference in serving others

What would you like for dinner Mr Barrett?

I still travel more than I would like.  I’m not a business class traveller, but I know that they get some special kind of service the rest of the plebs don’t.  Like being addressed by their name. So it struck me as strange when the cabin manager asked “what would you like for dinner Mr Barrett?” I wasn’t the only one, everyone got this small but noticeable personal touch. It’s a very small thing, but it makes a difference to how I felt, especially after a long journey.

I asked the cabin manager if they memorised the names due to the very empty flight. She said she had a list on the trolley. I asked if that was a new thing, since it was new to me. She said a smaller passenger list made it possible to do it, so they did it.

Sometimes, we can forget how little gestures of connection with, and respect for others, can go a long way. Like calling someone by their name, or remembering something about their work or family. Little effort for a big impact.  You just might make someone’s day.

Headwinds happen

Flying out of Christchurch on the way home, two things struck me. First, the plane was near empty. Second, we were flying into 160km/h headwinds. That must be hard! The arrival time was delayed as a result. The pilots flew a little lower for a little longer. But we set course and took off. They didn’t say ‘that’s going to burn a lot of fuel, let’s try again tomorrow’. I was heading home, so that just wouldn’t be acceptable to me!

After a lot of travel and a hectic year, I took a lesson in that. Anything worth pursuing will have it’s headwinds, which threaten to blow us back, or demotivate us from the journey.  They just need some extra fuel, and a determination to proceed. Change course slightly if need be, but don’t stop chasing down what you want, just because it is hard. That’s what makes it worthwhile!

How’s that for a 2017 new-years goal-setting point to ponder?!

Fly on, straight into the headwind!