Ikigayi by way of Moai

A Reason For Being...

Though I've never been to Japan, I've had a longtime fascination with Japanese culture.  Not the blazing lights, karaoke and chaos of Tokyo per se (though I really want to go there soon), but rather the tea drinking, bamboo forest, cherry blossom, design and zen side of culture.  A few years ago I learned two Japanese terms that really resonated with me: Ikigayi and Moai, however just now am I realizing the impact these concepts have had on my life recently. A difficult break-up was the immediate catalyst influencing my decision to apply for Remote Year, but as I reflect on the past month in Malaysia, I realize that these two Japanese concepts were really the driving force behind the major change in my life trajectory. 

Penang National Park, Malaysia

Penang National Park, Malaysia


The Japanese believe that everyone has an Ikigayi, or a 'sense of purpose', although sometimes it requires a deep and lengthy search to find it. I spent the last 7 1/2 years of my life as an oncology nurse practitioner.  Healthcare is my passion, but although I worked at a world renowned cancer center, enjoyed my job (most days), was surrounded by brilliant and supportive colleagues, was respected and appreciated by my patients, and had a great salary and benefits my sense of purpose felt progressively unclear. Historically when I've been dissatisfied with a particular aspect of my life, I quickly change said problem by choosing an alternatives that is blindingly clear, seamlessly gliding through each transition.  But now, at 33, I feel lost professionally and I'm not sure where to go from here.  Ultimately I know where I want to end up and the type of impact I want to have on others, but I'm confused about how to get there.   I have a message to deliver, one that is not popular, but important for our health, the sustainability of our healthcare system and our environment. I struggle to find the right platform and technique to make my voice heard in a way that really affects change.

I didn't join Remote Year for a year long vacation, but rather as a means to permit myself to experiment professionally.  I'm searching for a creative awakening and my place in this crazy world that allows me to open my eyes each morning feeling motivated and energized, knowing that my work is meaningful in the way I need it to be.  My hope was that a continuous change in destinations over the course of a year and the wide variety of people I will encounter will help invoke something within me that clarifies my sense of purpose.  

I'm one month into my Remote Year journey and I've had amazing experiences including immersing in the drastically different, but amazingly cohesive diversity of the country, getting a new tattoo, hanging out with orangutans and hiking through rainforests, interviewing two prominent Malaysian public health physicians and befriending Sinde Lo, the owner of my favorite restaurant in Kuala Lumpur (Sunfresh Detox Kitchen). Despite many impactful conversations and moments of pure joy over the last month, my sense of purpose is no clearer, but something in me has shifted.  For the first time I see no shame in feeling lost. In fact, I'm grateful for the feeling and am viewing it as an opportunity to uncover hidden strengths, improve weaknesses and consider opportunities and connections that I may never have opened myself up to otherwise.  


That brings me to the second reason I joined Remote Year.  I'm adaptable and independent, but I'm also a stoic loner, often fooled by my own emotional shield.  After all, stoicism is strength, right?  And independent women don't need to ask for help.  Well, the aforementioned break-up and the entangled complexity of emotions leading up to it helped me recognize the importance of vulnerability (mainly by my ex serving as a lens).  I even see it as an attractive quality now, because vulnerability, not stoicism emerges from strength. And that goddamn emotional shield is a recipe for loneliness. 

In Japan, Moai is an informal group created by people who commit to offer lifelong emotional and social assistance to each other.  Today, members in these social cooperatives meet regularly to support each other's practical needs from problem solving, planning, pooling resources and collaborating.  They also serve as extended family where social and emotional needs are met.  Though I recognize this level of social connectedness is a foundation for happiness, I still struggle with the idea that I should be building my OWN foundation.  By. My. Self. And so I joined Remote Year for the people, to test my ability to utilize and learn from the community that surrounds me and lend support in return.  To step outside my comfort zone and be myself, without the false pretenses of unbreakable stoicism.  

So what have I learned from month 1 of Remote Year?

Well, among many things (like Pink Tattoos is THE place to get inked in Malaysia), that meeting 60+ new people and forming a social support group while trying to find Ikigayi after moving from the U.S. to Southeast Asia is extremely overwhelming.  As usual, I'm adapting and though I haven't known these people long, I can already tell they have my back.  We may come from different geographic locations and have lived different experiences, but we are quickly becoming a 'tramily' (travel family).  So while I dodged scooters, ate Durian, sweat my ass off and struggled to find a routine, I embraced my lostness and reveled in the fact that I have a kickass Moai to see me through to that Ikigayi.  

Here is to a year of experimentation, creation, collaboration, exploration and connection.  Saigon, I'm ready to go deep and I can't wait to see what you have in store.

Sneaky airport candid en route from Malaysia to Vietnam.  Credit: Jay Dred

Sneaky airport candid en route from Malaysia to Vietnam.  Credit: Jay Dred