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Home » How to Ikigai: Tim Tamashiro (Full Transcript)

How to Ikigai: Tim Tamashiro (Full Transcript)

Here is the transcript and summary of Tim Tamashiro’s talk titled “How to Ikigai” at TEDxYYC conference. In this TEDx talk, Canadian jazz singer and radio broadcaster Tim Tamashiro provides insightful guidance on finding and embracing one’s life purpose, a concept central to the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai.

Listen to the audio version here:


Hi, everybody. How enthusiastic are we today? Yeah. No indifference in this crowd, that’s for sure. That’s what I like to see.

Today, I want to tell you about an amazing word, and it’s that word right there. That word, first thing you have to learn is how to pronounce it. It’s pronounced ee-kee-guy. You lift your cheeks like you’re smiling. It’s ee-kee-guy. Say it with me. Ee-kee-guy. You got it. That’s right. It’s not pronounced ee-kee-guy. If I was wearing a lime green fur Speedo, that would be an ee-kee-guy.

This is Ikigai. And the most wonderful thing about this word is that, first off, it’s a good-looking word. But secondly, this word is really like a treasure map. And this treasure map can help you find your way to finding wonderful things about yourself that you can share with the world, and the world will say, thank you for it.

So let me tell you all about it. But first, I have to warn you, it takes work. Now, I had a job once upon a time, about this time last year. Had a radio host job at CBC Radio 2. It was wonderful. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was so good. However, I quit my job.

I quit my job so I could focus on my work instead. So let’s just clarify that. A job, in this context, is something that you do as a regular form of employment. It’s what you get, you know, money to do, so you can pay for your house and for your food and things like that.

Work — on the other hand, work is something that you do in order to achieve a result. Something like a product, or maybe even something like a purpose, like maybe like a more meaningful you. Sounds good, doesn’t it? So this last year, my work focused on anything that I could do that was exciting, that was interesting to me.

I went on a trip to Oregon, and I saw the full eclipse with my full eyes. I also went on a icebreaker, and I traveled across the Northwest Passage. I went to Canada’s North Coast. I also traveled with my family and some dear friends.

We went to Dominican Republic. We helped build houses for people, and I filmed a documentary. And I also did all sorts of little projects as well. I had a podcast for a while. I wrote a play that was a musical. I also did a Facebook Live talk. But probably more precious than anything is that I finally got to go on a family trip to Okinawa, Japan.

Now, Okinawa is very precious to me because it’s a place where my grandparents were born. It’s also the place where Ikigai comes from. I’ve always felt something urging me to get out and to do special things in my life, and I think it was Ikigai that did it.

Okinawa, by the way, is a place that the most 100-year-olds in the world live per capita. 100-year-olds are revered and respected. But Okinawa was very, very special to me because of the connections to my family and Ikigai. And I was thinking, boy, why couldn’t this whole Ikigai thing spread around the world?

Well, it is possible, and there is another idea that came from Okinawa that you’ve heard of. It’s karate. Karate Kid? Daniel-san? Karate is actually two words in Japanese, kara, which means empty, and te, which means hand. So it literally translates to empty hand.

Now, in 1609, the Japanese forces invaded Okinawa. It was called Ryukyu Islands back then. Basically, they won the battle, and they said to the Okinawans, “Okay, you can’t have weapons anymore. Give us your weapons.”

And the Okinawans said, “Okay, here you go. Our hands will be our weapons.” They had already invented karate. They didn’t call it karate yet, but they knew that they had a special form of self-defense.

Then in the Second World War, there was another terrible battle that happened in Okinawa. And it was the American forces this time fighting the Japanese forces. History shows that the American forces won the Battle of Okinawa, and they’ve been stationed there ever since. And since then, the American soldiers have witnessed karate for the first time. And they said, “Hey, this is pretty cool. I want to learn karate, too.” So they learned it, and eventually they would take it back to the United States. And it started to spread and spread and spread. Now everybody knows about karate, right? Daniel-san?

That other concept that comes from Okinawa is ikigai. Ikigai is two words as well. Iki means life, gai, purpose. Ikigai is life’s purpose. Isn’t that a beautiful word? It’s a lovely word. Thank you for your indifference.

This is what it means. This is the treasure map. Ikigai has four directions: Do what you love. Do what you’re good at. Do what the world needs. And do what you can be rewarded for. It seems simple, but it’s difficult.

Now, I would estimate that ikigai is similar to karate in that you can earn degrees or belts in it as well. You have to start someplace. And I think that I got my yellow belt when I was 20 years old. Sexy time. I was 20 years old, and I got my yellow belt when I was 20 years old.

And I was living at my parents’ house, and I remember laying in bed one day thinking to myself, “What am I going to do for the rest of my life that would be interesting and fun?” I didn’t want to just go get a job. I wanted to focus on my work. And like a bolt of lightning, it hit me, and I sat up in bed, and I said, “I am going to go to music school.”

So that’s what I did. I went to music school for two years, and then from that moment on, I focused on nothing but music aspects in my life. I’ve done all sorts of amazing things in my life. I worked for a record company called MCA Records. I also made six jazz albums. I performed all over the country. I had that 10-year career at CBC Radio 2, six nights a week, writing 70 stories every week. It was such an amazing career.

But then I came to realize something, that I enjoyed myself, but I didn’t really know why I was doing it. I knew what I wanted to do, or what I loved to do. And what I was good at, but I didn’t understand why I was doing it, and why the world needed that. So I spent this last year figuring out what my ikigai is. And I boil it down to a two-word phrase.

My ikigai is to delight. To delight. That’s what I go out for every day in the world, whether I’m talking with a clerk at the grocery store, or if I’m singing a song on stage, or if I’m on the radio, or if I’m giving a TED Talk to you wildly attractive people right now. My ikigai is to delight.

I throw it out into the world, and I get it back in return. It’s the full cycle. Now you’re probably wondering to yourself, “Well that’s great Tim. Now we know what your ikigai is. What is my ikigai?”

Let me give you some directions on how you might be able to start figuring that out. I suggest to start part-time. Part-time ikigai is within reach. Right? It is very within reach. And I’ll tell you something, when you look up there, and you see on the screen that there are two sections of the day where you don’t really do anything. And that’s up to eight hours, you can focus your work on the five to nine hours of the day. Okay? Start part-time.

Figure out what you love to do, and what you’re good at. Spend time on that for as long as you like. And there’s a couple of ways you can do that. You can start a side hustle, or you can do a side helpful.

A side hustle, by the way, there’s a lot of millennials that have side hustles. Up to 50% of millennials have side hustles, according to studies. 50%. And why do they have those side hustles? It’s because it gives them the opportunity to be able to do what they’re good at, and do what they love.

And it opens up the opportunity to be able to transfer that part-time ikigai into maybe full-time ikigai down the road. And it doesn’t hurt that you can make a little bit of money off it either, right? But what if money isn’t necessarily behind your ikigai? Maybe you want to just broaden your heart.

Well, you can do a side helpful instead. At Yale University, Professor Laurie Santos teaches a course that is called The Science of Well-Being. And this course, she takes time to be able to explain that we are really, really bad at figuring out what it is that are going to make us happy. So things like money and job and your good looks and your big house, they really have no impact on your base level of happiness.

What does have an impact are things like kindness and meditation, time affluence. In other words, doing with your time what you want to do with your time, and spending time with friends and family. Ikigai is an action. It’s a verb. To serve to create, to delight, to nourish, to provide, to teach, to heal, to connect, to build.

Is there any verb on that list that resonates with somebody in the crowd? Nod your head if there is. Yes? Yeah? There’s some nodding happening down here. Yes? Put up your hand if you see something up there that’s exciting. I have some yellow belts. This is good. Where’s your hand? Here we go.

Here’s a yellow belt for you. We got a yellow belt in the front row over there, and there’s got to be somebody over there. There’s a yellow belt right there. You have earned your yellow belt in Ikigai. You know what you’re good at. You know what you love to do. Looks good on you.

Ikigai is as reliable as a mathematical equation. Ikigai equals time affluence, plus your gifts, plus rewards in return. And you can do it over and over and over again, and you’re going to be so much richer because of it. Your meaningful life is not a destination you have to get to. Your meaningful life is something you can enjoy right now, and anytime you want to.

Okay? A little bit of joy every day is going to add up to a lifetime of joy, isn’t it? And when you finally get the chance to spend time getting to know what you do, or what you love, and what you’re good at, your Ikigai will start to come into light. And eventually, over time, you will earn your black belt.

Your meaningful life is going to be a lot of work. But I think you really already know this, that you are worth the work. And now you have the Ikigai map to show you how. So I invite you to try Ikigai.

Thank you.


Tim Tamashiro’s talk “How to Ikigai” provides insightful guidance on finding and embracing one’s life purpose, a concept central to the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai. Here’s a summary of his key points in around 500 words:

  1. Introduction to Ikigai: Tamashiro starts by introducing the concept of Ikigai, a Japanese word meaning “life’s purpose.” He emphasizes that understanding and pursuing Ikigai is like following a treasure map leading to self-discovery and fulfillment.
  2. Difference Between Job and Work: He distinguishes between a job, which is a means to earn money, and work, which is an activity that brings a sense of achievement and purpose. He shares his personal story of quitting his job to pursue more meaningful work.
  3. Personal Journey and Connection to Ikigai: Tamashiro narrates his experiences, such as traveling to Oregon for an eclipse, traversing the Northwest Passage, helping build houses in the Dominican Republic, and visiting Okinawa, his grandparents’ birthplace. These experiences, he explains, were driven by his Ikigai.
  4. Ikigai’s Origin and Okinawa’s History: He links Ikigai to Okinawa, Japan, noting its historical context. He draws parallels between Ikigai and karate, another Okinawan concept that gained global popularity. He explains how karate, meaning “empty hand,” developed as a form of self-defense when Okinawans were forbidden to carry weapons.
  5. Four Directions of Ikigai: Tamashiro outlines the four components of Ikigai: doing what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be rewarded for. He stresses that finding a balance among these elements is challenging yet fulfilling.
  6. Personal Realization and Ikigai: Sharing his own realization, Tamashiro identifies his Ikigai as “to delight.” He explains how this realization shapes his interactions and endeavors, enhancing his sense of purpose and happiness.
  7. Finding Your Own Ikigai: He advises starting the journey towards Ikigai part-time, focusing on what one loves and is good at. He suggests two approaches: a ‘side hustle’ for financial benefits and a ‘side helpful’ for personal satisfaction and growth.
  8. Role of Happiness in Ikigai: He references Yale University’s course on well-being, emphasizing that true happiness comes from actions like kindness, spending time with loved ones, and doing meaningful activities, all integral to Ikigai.
  9. Ikigai as an Action: Tamashiro describes Ikigai as an active pursuit, involving actions like serving, creating, teaching, and connecting. He encourages the audience to identify actions that resonate with them, marking the beginning of their Ikigai journey.
  10. Mathematical Equation of Ikigai: He presents Ikigai as a reliable equation involving time affluence, using one’s gifts, and receiving rewards in return. This process, he assures, leads to a richer and more meaningful life.
  11. Concluding Thoughts: Tamashiro concludes by asserting that a meaningful life requires effort and is a continuous journey rather than a destination. He invites the audience to explore their Ikigai, assuring them of its transformative power in achieving a fulfilling life.

Overall, Tamashiro’s talk is a compelling exploration of Ikigai, offering practical advice and personal insights on how to discover and live one’s life purpose.


(BOOK) Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

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