Coaching Call Guest Nicholas Kemp: Ikigai Tribe

Podcast Transcription

Rafael: Hi, I'm Sifu Rafael, and this is the coaching call podcast. If you enjoy this episode, please subscribe and leave a review. This episode was made possible by listeners like you. Good morning from New York, and Nick it's not morning for you is it?

Nick: No, it just went 9pm here in Melbourne, Australia. So good morning to you, Sifu Raphael. Thank you for having me on.

Rafael: And good evening to you, my friend. So we're gonna talk about some interesting stuff today. I'm so excited, and definitely before we even get into what you have created, what you're doing to impact your community and the world, if you will.  

Biggest impact growing up 

I'd love to know more about you as a person. How was your childhood? Like, what impacted you and who would you say was your biggest impact growing up?

Nick: Okay. I wasn't expecting that. But I guess I had a very happy childhood. Actually, I was born in a place called Hornsby, and in a place called Glenhaven in New South Wales, and had sort of the best childhood you could have -- horses, swimming pool, I loved playing tennis. Then one day my mother came to school, just after the school year started. 

And yeah, we got in a car and left that life and moved to Melbourne. So yeah, it was pretty dramatic. Obviously, there were problems with her and my father. So that was probably the biggest impactful thing on my life, and I guess, in some ways still impacts me today. Both my parents have since died, my father fairly recently, but my mother 20 years ago. Yeah, so that was a dramatic, life changing event. 

I think I answered the first part of your question. And I think you're quite resilient, so you're very adaptable to change as a child. I think later in life, you begin to understand the implications of decisions or changes. It's quite hard to pick someone who impacted me. I mean, I'd still sort of say both my parents, my mother exposed me to lots of friends, to embrace different cultures, to embrace different people. 

But I really didn't have probably a male role model growing up if I think about it, and there weren't any standout teachers. So I'd probably say my mother.

Rafael: Okay. And so your mom kind of pulled you from the environment you're in, and she took you to a different environment. And it wasn't because it was a choice that you made. It was a choice that she made, and probably a choice that she made for both of you, obviously. How old were you when you went to Melbourne?

Nick: I was eight. And it sort of seemed normal at the time. But then many years later, when you become a parent yourself. You start to question your parents' decision and think, well, you could have maybe moved to a different suburb, not interstate. So yeah, I never really know why. We did discuss it, but probably, as a parent, I wouldn't understand the decision. 

But she knows maybe she had to make the decision for us, or maybe she felt that. But I still had a great childhood and teenagehood and felt loved. So it wasn't super damaging or anything. It was just, I guess not normal.

Rafael: I got you. So for example, Nick, when we think about the trajectory of our life, it's usually our parents who have the biggest influence when we're young, right? And then it's the choices that we make along the way, right? Whether our parents make them for us, or, in the beginning, of course, our parents are going to even tell us what kind of foods to eat, where we go, what playgrounds we play in, even who our friends are. 

But as we get older and older, maybe even if we're rebels, right, we start to make our own way, our own journey, we create the path of where we want to lead, or where we are now a lot from the actions that we took, or the actions we didn't take. And so that's what takes us to where we are. What I'd love to know is if you're in Japan, I can't even say it. Could you say it for me? A Japanologist, right? 

Being a Japanologist

Nick: Japanologist, yeah. It's a weird term, it just means someone who seriously studies an aspect of Japanese culture or Japanese culture in general. So it's certainly not a qualification or anything like that.

Rafael: I get that. But what inspired you or who inspired you? And do you remember that moment in time, when you wanted to study more about Japanese culture, the way they did things, and so forth?

Nick: So this is interesting, because it might go back to 1977. When I was five, my father was a physicist, and this is when my parents were still together. And he was doing some really niche research. And he was asked, he worked for the Australian Government. So he was asked to go and share his research, basically, in about 5 to 10 countries that included Japan. 

So he was given the money to purchase a first class ticket, and so he decided to take the family instead. So I have these fond memories of Japan, very sort of vague, but I remember, I think I fell in love with this babysitter, my parents had to go out one evening, and the hotel hired a babysitter and I think she folded origami and played with me and my brother. So that must have planted a seed that Japan's an interesting place. 

Then I went back 18 years later, in 1995, I was awarded a traineeship to learn how to cook and manage a restaurant. So at that time, there were a lot of tourists coming into Australia, and I was working in hospitality. And I was just thinking how cool would it be to go to Japan and learn the language and live there? 

And yeah, I did that,  and then came back to Australia and this company that was going to open a chain of restaurants, sort of had all these problems. And I kind of felt it's not going to happen. And I actually wanted to go back to Japan. So I found another way to do that. I went and taught English like many people do.

And then eventually, that led me to opening my own school and getting married. And I kind of found my entrepreneurial spirit, I think in Japan first. And then I guess the japanology is something fairly recent. I realised about four years ago that I do have a knowledge of the language of the culture. But I haven't really studied it seriously as a serious leisure pursuit. 

And so it all came about from this word that we'll talk about, I'm sure later. Yeah, so that's when I thought Japan's been good to me. It's given me so much. It's connecting me to people. I've got these great Japanese friends. I've got a beautiful wife. I've got a son who was born in Japan. And so I thought I really should study it and in a way, try and give back and represent Japanese culture authentically.

Rafael: Nice. So you did say that you opened up your school in Japan? What kind of school was that?

Nick: Nothing exciting, just an English conversation school. That was in a very small town where my wife was from. But I was sick of working at the commercial schools. So that was kind of my first step into starting a business or starting my own side hustle.

Rafael: So how long did you have that school for?

Nick: This is one of those beautiful things when you realise running your own business isn't as you imagined it would be. I did that for four years. And then, at that time, my son was three, and we felt returning to Australia, a multi-culture would probably be better for his education. And it was sort of time for me to go back, at that stage. I've been there for another six years. And yeah, there were all sorts of all these other complications, so we decided to return to Australia. That was in 2008.

Rafael: Gotcha. And so you talked about your mom, taking you from one place to another, and whether you know it or not, you just did that to your son, right?

Nick: Yeah, but I didn't leave my wife.

Rafael: Here's the thing, so you speak the language now, right?

Nick: Yes.

Rafael: And does your son as well?

Nick: Hopefully, he'll come back speaking a bit of Japanese. So the astounding thing about a child is when we left Japan, he was already fluent by three and a half years old. And he actually spent the equivalent of, I guess, kindergarten in Japan. And that was a really positive experience. 

And then, of course, once we got back here, we were thinking we've got to get him speaking English. And it only really took six months for the switch. We actually put him in school early. And now, his understanding and listening skills are excellent, because my wife only speaks Japanese in the house. She can't speak English, but she just chooses to speak Japanese really, just because she wants to. And that's really good for my son and myself, too. 

And I think his pronunciation would be better than mine. But yeah, he's 18, so he's, you know, being a typical teen. And he's not really interested in learning how to speak Japanese fluently, so it's more about gaming and music and all that sort of thing. But he's been in Japan for the last two weeks. So it will be interesting to see if he's picked up a little more.

Rafael: One of the things that some kids don't understand is the value of being bilingual, right. Because it really does, I believe, personally, that it does something to our brain. Because it's how we are thinking and what language we are thinking? How are we processing what we're listening to? Right? 

So that, to me, is, I'm bilingual, and for me, it's really interesting when I can think in either language. It's so fascinating, I even encountered kids who know three languages, four languages, five, and I'm like, "What language are you thinking in now?" It's kind of cool when you think about it.

Nick: Oh, it is amazing when you get to that level where you sometimes naturally react in one language, because maybe there are certain expressions that exist in that language, and don't in English, and you develop these habits and cues and responses. I remember when I first came back after that, six years, I would have this habit of bowing or just blurting out Japanese words to people and then saying, oh, sorry, I meant to say something else. 

And yeah, the ability for children to learn a language is incredible. And it is kind of a tragedy that most children don't learn a second language. And then, as I'm experiencing now, I'm sort of really focused on learning written Japanese again, like, I can read reasonably well. But I really want to become proficient at reading. And that's just so time consuming. It's a real challenge, but it's a worthwhile challenge.

Rafael: You know, I have a martial arts school as well. I have several businesses and an entrepreneur like yourself. So one of the things the other day I was doing, some of the kids I'm teaching them public speaking. And so one kid turns around and says to the other, "Hey, you're going to be going to seventh grade? What language are you going to be taking?" 

And I turned around, and I said to both of them, you both should take English. They looked at me like, yeah, because this is why we're doing public speaking, you guys barely speak. But it's cute that they were interested in what other language they're going to start to learn. And the school system here in the US, where I am in New York, they do do that. 

When you get to a certain age, with a certain level, they do incorporate a second language. And one of the things that when my kids went through it, I speak Spanish, they both went into "I want to learn more Spanish." So I thought that was kind of cool. Because they know that I speak Spanish, their mom spoke Italian and German, so they were a little confused. 

So they chose my language to go with. And it was pretty interesting for them. The cool thing is, they will always come back to me and ask me, "Hey, how do you say this?" And I will tell them this is how it's done, and so forth. So it was pretty interesting.

Nick: Nice. My son actually took a similar model. So I think language is compulsory in primary school, and that was Japanese. And then it was an elective in high school and either had Japanese or German, so he obviously took Japanese. But as you would know, it's such an old school slow learning methodology they incorporate, there's really nothing like immersing yourself in the culture and language if you're fortunate to live in a Spanish speaking country or to live in Japan.

Rafael: You know, when we think about language, we think about communication, we think about the words, right? I tell this to the kids, be careful with the words you use, because a word can make someone feel big and awesome, or it can make them feel really tiny and small. So it's those words, it's the impact that words have. So there's a particular word, ikigai, right? Am I saying that right?

Nick: Ikigai, yeah.

Rafael: So let's talk about that. Because you have a tribe, right?

Nick: Trying to build one, a small community, but I guess have a tribe, it's about 40 members.

Rafael: That's beautiful. So let's talk about that. Because that's one of the concepts that you're bringing forth, and you're helping people understand things a little differently. You're a coach as well, correct?

Nick: Yes. Learnings from Japan

Rafael: So let's get into what made you get into it. You like the culture, we got that. What made you go deeper into the concepts? Because the culture is very different. And you said it earlier, when you came back to Australia, you were bowing, and you're like, "Oh, sorry, sorry." That's something that's a lost art, I believe. 

Definitely, in many cultures, I think about showing respect for the other person, and we don't sometimes do that in other cultures. We don't show the respect initially, we don't respect our elders, and a lot of times we don't respect someone, maybe because they're in a lower position than we are; maybe they're the janitor, maybe they clean, or maybe they just wash your car, or they served you food and we don't have respect for them. 

Meanwhile, me personally, I respect every human being, no matter who they are, what position they're in. And so that I believe that we should be more respectful, more bowing, and it's not bowing, because you're superior to me, it is bowing because I respect who you are.

Nick: I totally agree, I agree that we can have this opportunity with every person to connect and show respect, compassion, and understanding. And that can be a real gift to show, I guess, what we might call essential workers that often people dismiss, you know, delivery drivers, janitors, and most people wouldn't give them the time of day, and wouldn't even say thank you. 

So I think saying things like thank you, asking them how they are, these little things, just treat them like a friend, you know, why wouldn't you treat them with the respect you have for your friends. So I totally agree, and that is something I learned in Japan, I think, to appreciate more. And on that subject of how you use words, that's something Japanese are very careful with, they're very careful about whether or not what they will say will alienate someone. 

And so in the West, there is this tendency to say, "I've got a right to express myself and say what I want, and give my opinion." And we should have that freedom, but we probably should only express it when we really need to, or when it matters, but we can always consider the person we're talking to. 

And we can think well, I might feel better saying this, but is it really going to impact our relationship in a positive way? Is it going to make our relationship sustainable? But will it damage our relationship? And that's something I definitely learned in Japanese culture. There's actually a term called kotodama which implies that words have a spirit -- that you should use words carefully, or you should respect certain words. 

So it's interesting, where we're sort of connecting on this theme of how you use language, and obviously respecting people. 

Creating the Ikigai Tribe

Rafael: So let's talk about this small community of educators, psychologists, coaches, and trainers, who serve others using the ikigai concept. What made you create that?

Nick: So it was quite serendipitous. So this actually goes back to 1998, when I returned to Japan to teach English, and this is when I was working for a commercial English conversation school, I'd done all the training. And you know, I was young and ambitious, I'd gone to my school for the first day. 

And I was sort of showing off my Japanese talking to the staff, and we're on a lunch break, feeling really good. And this Japanese coworker just casually asked Nick, what's your ikigai? in Japanese. And I was like, oh, ikigai? What's that? And I was astounded by her definition, she sort of said, it's your purpose in life. But it also involves battling through your challenges. 

And yeah, I can't remember the exact definition or explanation she gave me, but it left me with this. I think I've responded saying, "Wow, you have one word that means all that?" So I remember going into work the next day excited about talking to her more about this one word. And I was shocked and disappointed to find out that she had been transferred. 

And so that opportunity to have that conversation sort of vanished. And then life got in the way. Then 20 years later, I see this Venn diagram, this four circle Venn diagram. I'm not sure if you've seen it, but a lot of coaches use it. And that was sort of saying: are you doing something that you love, that you're good at, that the world needs, and that you can be paid for? And in the centre was ikigai and I thought, that's very strange, it's very unJapanese. 

Japanese would never define any word like that, but I'm thinking I remember that word. And then I kept on seeing it, I kept on seeing this Venn diagram on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and then it was on TED Talks. And then there was a best selling book. And I thought, all this information on ikigai is factually incorrect -- it's not a Venn diagram, it's not about your one life purpose, it's not the secret to longevity, it's not a word from Okinawa. 

And I kept thinking someone should do something about this, like someone should correct this. Then I left it for about a year. And then I saw it on the World Health Organisation website again as this Venn diagram. And I thought, I'll do something about it. So I started a podcast. I thought the best thing I could do would be to interview English speaking researchers, professors in Japan. 

And I was able to do that. And I started doing this podcast. And at that time, I thought, wouldn't it be cool to maybe make a course or something as well. But it was really just to start the podcast as this first step. Then that took off, and I got quite a bit of traction and was gaining an audience. 

Then I remember one day, I got this email from a lady in Dubai saying, "Hey, I love your podcast, do you have some sort of coaching programme? Because I'd love to coach this concept?" And I was like okay. I mean, I was kind of aware, there were people calling themselves ikigai coaches, but using the Western model. 

And I just thought, it's not really a concept Japanese coach, and you could certainly research and do what I've done, research and use this sort of cultural knowledge. But at the same time, as I was also doing the podcast, I was finding out, there was this growing body of research on ikigai, and it's very relatable to positive psychology, intrinsic motivation. 

There are actually psychometric tools and scales that Japanese researchers have developed, and they're very applicable to coaching. So this did spark, this idea, this sort of light bulb, that it is relatable to coaching. And then I kept on getting emails from people saying, do you have some sort of certification programme, and I wasn't even sure what that really meant. 

I was thinking about this certification, there's accreditation. And I thought, well, accreditation, some sort of governing body, but what certification? And I spoke to my mentor, and I said, you just don't make something up. Like you just don't make a course and certify yourself. And he's like, that's exactly what you do. And you should do it. You've got these connections to Japan, you've interviewed the experts, you should do it. 

So that was something else I thought about and then I thought, is this okay, is this the right thing to do? And I reached out to these professors, two professors in particular, and said look this opportunity has come up, and what do you think? And they were like, "Yeah, do it, you know, as researchers, it's really hard for us to get our research out there." 

So they were quite supportive. And so it sort of serendipitously evolved from me wanting to correct this Venn diagram or correct the concept to starting the podcast, to growing an audience, and then people sort of expressing this interest in teaching or using this knowledge to coach people. And it's been two years since I've started training or coaching coaches on this concept. 

And I feel I've only scratched the surface, because there's all these sub theories and relatable words. So, for example, ikigai is very much attached to your social world. So it involves meaningful relationships. So there's a sub theory called ibasho. That means your place to be in Japanese, and that word now is sort of generating a lot of research because of Japan's unique problems. 

Japan has all these problems now with social withdrawal, with truancy, and so they're actually doing studies on this concept ibasho, where they feel many Japanese don't have a place to be, they don't have a place to express themselves, they don't have a social context to self actualize. So this study of ikigai has led to all these other words, and it's just fascinating. It just never ends.

Rafael: That sounds extremely fascinating, it does sound like something that you can definitely get into, and even go deeper, right? Because when we think about the concepts, where did they start? How did they start? Who came up with that particular word or even that concept? And then the deeper you dive into it, I'm sure there's a lot of answers that you're gonna get. But there's also going to be a lot of questions as well, right? 

The beauty of Japanese language

Nick: The fascinating thing about the Japanese language is the etymology and also the kanji of certain words. And so one word that really kind of had this epiphany on me is the word for purpose in Japanese, which is shimei, and then you have shimeikan, which is a sense of purpose. So kan is sense or feeling, and that's another thing we'll talk about with ikigai. 

Because ikigai is something you ultimately feel. But I remember really looking at this word, shimei, and the characters for this word include "use", so the first character is used in the verb "to use." And then the second character is "life" as in someone's life. And so literally, the kanji characters are saying, "use life" to mean purpose. 

"We could understand that purpose is how you use your life, or how you wish to use your life."

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And so we could understand the purpose is how you use your life, or how you wish to use your life. And so I thought that's a fascinating definition of purpose. How do we define purpose in the West? We often think it's about working hard to achieve your goals, or perhaps helping others. But this idea that it's how you use your life really spoke to me. 

So that's one of the beautiful aspects of the language. And then often the language evolves. So that word ibasho literally translates to whereabouts: where is someone, because iru is the verb to exist, and basho means place, and combined they become ibasho. But from the 70s and 80s, with all these problems of truancy, of Japanese socially withdrawing, it became this word to use in research. And so it's fascinating how, even fairly recently, some of these words have changed in their definition.

Rafael: When you decided to go and do your course, I loved the fact that you asked people about it, and then you had two professors who actually supported your endeavour. And when we create something, we are giving to the community, like you are, you had a, I guess, a calling because people were reaching out to you, right? 

And then you just jump on and say, yep, I got you, you said, let me make sure that what I'm doing is copacetic, it's going to be okay. Then you went to two experts as well, and they kind of almost gave you a blessing. And now you've created a course. And you know, to create a course, a course worth having, a course where people want to be part of is very commendable because you're impacting other people. 

Listen, you can impact a person, but if you impact a person who then goes and impacts others, then your reach has just become more and you said that your tribe is 40 people, but really, your tribe is 40 people plus their people. So it's more than 40, isn't it?

Nick: It's interesting, you say all this. I mean, it might not be all 40 because as you know, some people learn something and really embrace it and take it and other people just oh, that was interesting, and now I move on. 

But I have one man in particular at the moment, who had a great career in banking, but he studied psychology, and he volunteers with trauma victims. And he is this amazing man and he's very aware that he's had this privileged life that is done well, but outside of business, you know, or even more important than business is this desire to help people who suffer from extreme trauma. 

They come home and someone in the family committed suicide or someone has died. And he does this as volunteer work, and then he approached me about wanting to learn about ikigai whether or not he could incorporate it into his work, and I was sort of astounded that I'm not qualified. You know, I'm not a qualified psychologist, or I'm not even a qualified teacher. 

I've just been studying Japanese culture, and specifically ikigai. And yeah, he's already got the strong desire to use it. So that is very satisfying when you teach something to someone, and you love the concept and you really care about yourself, but they embrace it. And they give it that respect. And then they have a desire to use it. Yeah, it really does make what you do feel that it's worth pursuing. And you're having this positive impact. 

The authentic definition of the ikigai concept

Rafael: Without a doubt. So Nick, what is the concept behind ikigai?

Nick: Okay. Glad you finally asked. So we've talked about how it's not this bliss, it's not this dream job, it's not a word from Okinawa. So there are many romanticised notions about ikigai. So I'm going to offer you two perspectives: to the average Japanese, ikigai is something personal and often very small; it might be their hobby, it might be their pet, it might be for grandparents, their grandchildren. 

The last Japanese person I asked this question to, and I didn't even know him, it was sort of a friend of a friend, we're on Zoom, and I just said, before you go what's your ikigai? He kind of thought and said camping with my friends. So for a lot of Japanese, this simple, humble pursuit, or it's a relationship, but it's something you feel. And that's the most crucial point. 

So the pioneering researcher of ikigai, this incredible woman, Mieko Kamiya, who wrote this seminal book in the 1960s, defines it as you have ikigai sources: so that could be a relationship, could be a hobby, it could be aspects of your work. And then you have ikigai-kan, which is ikigai feeling. And so you have these, let's say my son is my ikigai. As a parent, I have feelings of love, connection, joy, and a sense of purpose as a father. 

And we kind of have this playful banter now. So there's a lot of fun in our relationship. So all those feelings are ikigai-kan. Now, I guess the different perspective, or sort of the academic perspective, is there's been this large, sort of growing body of research from this pioneering researcher, Mieko Kamiya, from the 1960s and onwards, and it's still sort of growing today. 

And so there's a lot of papers, a lot of books being done on ikigai, and it's very relatable to intrinsic motivation. 

So ikigai are the things you simply find value in doing and there's no end goal, there's no payoff. Very relatable to positive psychology, or even existential, positive psychology where if we get through a challenge, or we overcome something, and we develop a stronger sense of ourself, we feel something, we feel growth, we feel self-actualisation. 

So ikigai is really interesting, Japanese use it very casually, they don't make it out to be a big word. And it's often something they don't even talk about. But in the West, we've blown it up to be this entrepreneurial sweetspot.  

The seven ikigai needs 

But then behind it all, there's this body of research, and this pioneering researcher Mieko Kamiya, discovered that there are seven ikigai needs that you need to satisfy in order to feel ikigai and they are life satisfaction, change and growth, a bright future, resonance so that's social affiliation, freedom, self-actualization, and then meaning and value, and then tied to that having a sense of purpose, so there's sort of really eight ikigai needs. 

But if you think about those eight ikigai needs, they're all sort of in positive psychology literature. So she was sort of 35 years ahead of the positive psychology literature boom that we've enjoyed for the last 20 years. So it's fascinating that it's a cultural concept. It's a word Japanese don't really use that often. 

But behind it, there's this growing research. And what's interesting, there's other words that Japanese attached gai to. So gai is a suffix. So for example, a far more common word is yarigai. And yarigai just means something that's worth doing. And you'll hear that phrase often, almost every day, it's just saying, I'm joining a gym, or I'm going to take up martial art, and your friend will be like "yarigai ga aru." 

Like that's really worth doing as a sort of encouragement. And then there are things like manabigai, which would mean the value of learning or, as you're a teacher, oshiegai, which means the value of teaching a subject or the value of teaching someone, so someone worth teaching. So we can understand from all this that for Japanese, it's not a special, it's more of a normal word. But in the West, as it often happens, these words go viral, because they're fascinating to us.

Rafael: It's interesting that you came across the word 20 years later. And you're like, wait a minute, that's not what it means. And then, not only have you done a lot of research on it, and you love the language, and you even want to get into the writing aspects of it. But you also decided to write a book.  

Publishing Ikigai-kan: Feel a Life Worth Living

So let's talk about your book and what was the concept? And what was the idea behind writing the book? And who did you write the book for? Because a lot of times, when we write, or when we speak, or we even do anything on social media, especially as a presenter or anything like that, we always need to know who your audience is, who's your target audience? So who did you write it for? And why did you even write it?

Nick: That's a good question. And I remember spending quite a bit of time on that. And that was something I was encouraged to think deeply about. You must have some sort of avatar, like you've got to have your ideal reader. And so actually, I really worked hard on that. 

So in the end, it was someone who was female, because they seemed more interested and more patient with understanding the concept. I think men, we like to take definitions and go, I kind of know what it is, where women seem to think well, I'd really like to learn more about this concept. 

So it's female, single, late 20s, early 30s, who studied psychology, so that was sort of my ideal client. But at the same time, I knew there would be an audience interested in actually learning the Japanese perspective. So it was a combination of those two things. Because if I wrote the book only for female psychologists in their late 20s, early 30s, I probably wouldn't get many books out. 

But that was quite helpful. Because if you go back to your ideal reader, you really do think about, how do I phrase this? How do I write this? But the book was a source of ikigai, in and of itself, because I really struggled with English at school, so I had to take extra English. And I'm sort of okay communicating, but writing is a real challenge, you know, spelling, grammar. And so writing a book was something I never thought I'd do. 

And ikigai is this important subject, and in a way, it was also the next sort of step for my business. So I'm being sort of transparent about that too, like, it'd be really smart to write a book that offers a Japanese research perspective. And I was very lucky because I had all this content from my podcasts. 

And my book is full of all these quotes from Japanese researchers and authors I had interviewed. So I was very lucky to be sort of peering over the shoulders of giants and got their blessings to share their insights. And so that made it a real challenge because I wanted to really be respectful to them. 

And the worst possible thing I can think about when you write a book is having to do citations. And I have over like 200. So having to cite a quote or reference a book, that's the last thing I'd be wanting to do. But yeah, I was driven by this sense of purpose and this love for Japanese culture, and obviously, this desire to share something authentic, and accurate. 

And I never thought I'd do that. And I actually never thought I'd get through it someday. So I just thought, this is taking so long, and I can't finish this paragraph. But I was very lucky, I had an amazing editor, who's actually a member of my community, she was in my first cohort. So it was amazing to have someone supporting me. 

And it's actually a very intimate process when you're writing something, and you're sharing it with this one person for the first time. And she was very careful and caring, but also encouraging, but also, you know, challenged me on things and said, you need to write more on this, or there's too much here, we need to edit it down. 

And so you're putting your trust in this one person, and you're sharing all these intimate memories. And yeah, it felt like this strange sort of intellectual or emotional intimacy. Every time she was checking my edits and doing reedits, it was a very satisfying experience.

Rafael: Well, the question I have for you is, why write the book?

Nick: Yeah, so the book was driven by this desire to think this is crazy, almost everything online, or even in books, like this selling books is either factually incorrect, or it's romanticised. And I just felt that's wrong. And I thought, Japan's given me so much, it is my second country, and there's a good chance I'll maybe retire there. 

And I just felt this sense of obligation to offer a perspective that was authentic and accurate. And it's a self published book, so this idea to be a best seller is not realistic. So I wasn't driven by this dream of making hundreds of sales a day, I thought, that's probably not going to happen. 

But if I do this, or what if I do this, it would kind of release this, not a burden, but I just had this, I thought, this is something I have to do. In my mind, just in my mind, I thought this is one of my life challenges: to do the one thing I hate, which is write, it's not my bliss. In the book I shared this story with my wife, I was venting my frustration to my wife saying this book was driving me crazy. 

And she kind of matter of factly replied saying, well, you are doing the one thing you're most terrible at. Brutal but true, that was driven by this desire to share a Japanese perspective. And I wanted to be really, really careful with that and respectful. And in a way, I've left a little legacy too, to my son, and hopefully the book will impact some people in a positive way and give them answers to the question, what really is ikigai? What is ikigai in the context of Japanese culture?

Rafael: Would you hold up your book?

Nick: So what's interesting is that's the kanji for kan and that can mean feeling, awareness, perception. So ikigai-kan is this word that this pioneering researcher Mieko Kamiya basically coined, and that's why the emphasis is on feeling a life worth living. And then the Japanese wisdom for fulfilling and meaningful life. 

So I'm not sort of saying it's about happiness or about success -- it really is this wisdom to have a fulfilling and meaningful life. And then on the back are those eight needs I was sort of mentioning. So life satisfaction, change and growth, bright future, resonance, freedom, self-actualization, meaning and value, and a sense of purpose. I call that the Kamiya flower after this amazing pioneering researcher. 

So my hope would be that it would go viral. And people would recognise that there was this pioneering researcher, Mieko Kamiya, that wrote this book. And unfortunately, it's not in English, but of all people or any sort of framework, it should be hers that we're referencing, and exploring, not a western model that's put together by sort of this serendipitous... 

I actually interviewed the man who merged the Purpose Venn diagram with ikigai. And for him, it was just a cool idea, nothing more. And it kind of went viral and blew up. And you have coaches and even executive leaders sharing that Venn diagram at events where there are 5000 people, and it's just, it's factually wrong. So it's really strange how these Japanese words become misunderstood and then go viral.

Rafael: Yeah, everybody's looking for a way to get noticed. And so you'll even see companies come up, and they'll start using words from a different language to incorporate something that they want to do. And sometimes they didn't dive deep enough, like you did, to understand the concept, or origin of the word, even where it truly came from, and what the real meaning was. 

So you know, I appreciate that you did that. By the way, I do want a signed copy of that amazing book.

Nick: I want so you'll get one. I'm actually getting, if you see on the spine, you see this stamp so that's kakuin, so kaku means square and it means stamp. It's a little bit hard to see, but I had it especially designed for my community. I actually got it inside the book. So this stamp sort of represents the values of my community. 

So in the middle is gai, and then this one means kokoro, so this means mind, heart and spirit, you'd probably understand this from martial arts, how Asian cultures generally understand the mind and the heart and spirit is one entity. Then you have this one for friendship. And then this is the body, so it represents health. 

And then this one, waza, represents our skills. And this was hand carved, and my wife will actually bring it back. So I'll have it tomorrow. So I'll be able to stamp your copy. 

Rafael: I love it. That's excellent. So you did mention that your son and your wife are in Japan for two weeks. And they left you home? 

Nick: Yeah, this goes back to pre COVID. So we're all about to go, we booked in March of 2000 to go in June. And we were going to go before the Olympics. We're going to go before the Olympic rush. And then yeah, COVID happened. And then there were a few things. So actually, I wanted to go but then in a way I didn't want to go because if I'm going, I really want to go and see these researchers. 

I've got a lot of friends in Tokyo. But during COVID, my wife lost a few aunts, and there were sort of personal reasons for her to go as well. And, yeah, I had some commitments here. And we usually go back every two or three years. And we've always sort of done the same thing. We stayed with family for a week, and I catch up with friends, but I thought, look, you go and have a mother and son holiday, and I'll probably go next year. 

And then I'll be able to do this thing where I want to personally thank all these professors and authors I've interviewed and my wife's sort of shy and not into that sort of thing. So I'd be dragging her along to something she really wouldn't enjoy. So that's the brutal truth.

Rafael: But you know, you're smart, man, because you understand what's good for her and what's not. So, Nick, one of the things and I like the fact that you're going to go in, and thank everyone that you've had on your show, tell me do you still have that podcast?

Nick: Oh, yeah. One of the challenges on my podcast is finding a guest sometimes because I genuinely have niched it down to someone who's either written a paper or a book. And actually, this Friday, I'm interviewing a Japanese man on this term. 

He coined it called rolefulness. So he's written a paper in English on this idea of rolefulness. And having a role, as you would know, gives you this sense of life meaning, sense of purpose, satisfaction. So you're teaching martial arts and public speaking, and coaching. And we have this strong sense of self, our roles are usually aligned to our values.

 But they often involve these small behaviours, you know, greetings, conversation, maybe even bowing. And for some reason, it's the small things in roles that matter, it doesn't really matter what the role is just as long as you practise and engage with the small things with other people. It seems to give you a life structure and satisfaction. So I'm interviewing him this Friday. And yeah, the podcast is called The Ikigai Podcast. 

So if you're looking for, I guess, an authentic perspective, I've interviewed everyone from Japan's leading ikigai researcher who, to be honest, he's not a really good English speaker. But he was incredibly courageous to come onto my first podcast and sort of ask all these difficult questions. So I feel so grateful towards him. I think, wow, you really helped me kickstart that first episode. 

And then I've interviewed anthropologists, there's this anthropologist, Gordon Matthews, back in the 90s, he interviewed 52 Americans and 52 Japanese on this theme of what's your ikigai, he spent about 10 hours, or more than 10 hours with each person, hand transcribed it all, wrote his dissertation. And then he condensed it into this amazing book. And he was a fascinating guest. 

So I've had all these amazing guests who've offered me insights from ikigai, and its relationship to leisure, to the health benefits of ikigai, to relatable concepts, like arugamama, this word that means similar to acceptance, and it means understanding the true nature of things. So it's a real joy for me, I get to have these enjoyable conversations, but I also learned something.

Rafael: I love what you just said about not only having the conversations, but that you're learning. And the reason you're learning, I believe in, and I'm listening to you is because you're listening, you're listening to understand, right? To try to get a new concept, get the idea behind it, and to go deeper, right? 

Because that's what a conversation is, and I'm so happy that you took out the time today, tonight for you, right? To have a conversation with me and to allow me and my audience to understand a little bit more about ikigai. I love because what is that different from your website? Or because they're two different websites? Right?

Nick: Yeah, so the Ikigai Tribe is, I mean, I guess it's the business/community. And that was the first you know, as you know, when you start a podcast or a business or something, you usually come up with a domain name. And I was thinking I really want to build a community. And so yeah, I stumbled upon the ikigai tribe, and that would be a great name. 

And yeah, it wasn't taken. So I managed to get that. And then is obviously the book website. And that was good. And actually the scroll behind me, if you see this scroll, actually reads ikigai-kan. And you'd probably actually, like this one as well, it is this word kokorozashi

So on the top, you have warrior or Samurai, and underneath you have heart. So it could mean the heart of the Samurai, or the mind of the warrior. And the actual word kokorozashi, again, kokoro meaning heart, but zashi comes from the verb zasu, which means to point. So it's where your mind is focused on or where your heart points. And this is why I love Japanese.

Rafael: Looking at the scrolls, they are pieces of art, not only are they words, and it has meaning, and it has so much behind it. But the Japanese language is very different obviously from English, but the words are pieces of art.

Nick: Yeah, wasn't that fascinating, this emphasis on writing one word. And I write about this in my book, this idea of captured flow. So when we look at that, if you were in the room, you'd probably have this emotional reaction, you'd send something. And so what you're experiencing is the flow of the artist. 

And so there's this expression in calligraphy, the ink never lies. And so once they've done their brushstrokes, you have a picture of where they were, where they focused, but also had they become egoless. Or were they worried, were they too focused? Were they thinking too much? And so this idea of captured flow is sort of a fascinating idea that a craftsman catches their flow in their pottery. 

Actually my father-in-law, he's a potter, and he makes traditional tea ceremony cups. And so you can sort of feel something about certain pieces, and they seem to call to you. Same with calligraphy. So we get to experience the flow of the artist. And it's sort of amazing.

Rafael: It really is. Well, I want to thank you, again, for taking the time, really, really appreciate you my friend. And I look forward to our connection. And you know, continued connection. So any words that you'd like to share with anyone who is more interested in learning about your tribe, or even to get your book?

Nick: First, I'd like to thank you. And as you touched on, I realised how much you've proactively listened and being such a humble and kind guest, I really appreciate you having me on but also giving me time to talk. I probably ranted a bit too much a few times. But I really enjoyed this opportunity. And yeah, I'd love to continue our conversation. 

And I guess, just if someone would like a Japanese perspective, it's available on Amazon. And I'm trying to build a book club as well. So the book club would be just a bonus. And I'd have a monthly discussion on the book. And people would sort of attend with a Q & A.

Rafael: I like that. That's great. All right, my friend. Thank you and have a blessed evening for you and good morning to everybody.

Nick: Thank you, Sifu Rafael. I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Rafael: Yes, my friend, and so, before we go, because I don't know if you've noticed that this cup somebody gave me a while ago. It says the boys, but I am drinking tea. And so Japanese is just the drinking of the tea, the ceremony. The whole deal. What is your favourite tea?

Nick: My favourite tea? Well, I think it's mugicha, which is a type of barley tea. And I saw this on YouTube actually, and sometimes they make green tea so thick. It looks like green chai, like it looks so thick. So I think you'd be on a buzz if you ever had that.

Rafael: I think I want to try it now.

Nick: There is something about matcha, like all that matcha tea. And one of my fondest memories of Japan was going to a beautiful garden. And this Japanese lady whipped up this matcha. We didn't have to do the tea ceremony, but I just went with my friend. It was a quiet day. And she whipped up this beautiful green tea and in this can, we just sat and enjoyed this tea. 

And just thought they really do take the time to appreciate nature, art, but also the experience of drinking. And the appreciation of beauty in Japan sort of reminds you to be centred and focused and to be grateful for what you experience or what you already have.

Rafael: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. Thank you, my friend. You have an amazing rest of your day.

Nick: You, too. Thanks. Bye.
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