Several years ago I uprooted completely and moved to Asia – South Korea, specifically. My time there was filled with days of self-reflection and discovery; I was in my mid-twenties, and always up for an adventure. But the most important aspect of my time there was having granted myself the opportunity to not only immerse myself in a fascinating culture, but to learn more about myself too.
I initially taught myself the [absolute] basics of Korean, and went on to pick up a little more; I travelled to seven of the nine provinces, and took part in about fifteen hours of Martial Arts every week. The latter was to hone my discipline and learn to take a step back from the superficialities in life, and take time to appreciate a way of life that had significant meaning. A purpose, if you will.
While in Asia, I ventured over to Japan with a good friend of mine (who also lived in Korea [at the time], but was from Seattle). We took a trip to two of the most dichotomous cities in the “Land of the Rising Sun” – Osaka and Kyoto! Both were steeped in culture, but it was like stepping through a time-portal; you had the eccentricities and hyper-modern zest and zeal of Osaka in stark contrast with the historic and majestic aire of Kyoto – a city that just seems like it has remained untouched for centuries.
I’d have liked to visit other places like Tokyo, which I plan to visit for the Rugby World Cup  and Olympics , and go hike up Mount Fuji. But also, I want to visit Okinawa – it’s a place that has repeatedly earned attention throughout the ages for a host of different reasons; firstly, it is the birthplace of Karate – being the very first Martial Art that I ever learned, visiting its place of origin holds very special meaning to me. Fun fact: Mr. Miyagi – from Karate Kid – was from Okinawa! Then there’s [obviously] the tragic history there from WWII… But also, two other reasons…
Now, this is where we tie in with what you expect to read on this blog. See, for one, the Okinawan Diet is thought to be the single biggest contributing factor to the people living on the prefecture having one of the highest life expectancies in the world! We’ll dabble in that another time. But also, the concept of “Ikigai” was born here too.
Okay, so finally – that word in the title that just isn’t English… what does it mean? Well, loosely translated, it means: ‘Your reason for getting up in the morning’. You see, apart from eating [arguably] one of the healthiest diets possible, the mindset of an Okinawan also sets him/her apart from many. It is utterly engrained into their “micro-culture”, and they all set out to discover their own individual ikigai. Their *purpose* [in life].
Dauntingly philosophical as it may sound, it is actually rather simple at its core. I mean, really – what makes you get up in the morning and be excited for the day ahead? For some of us, it might be getting to travel – I just got back from the Dominican Republic this week after some much-needed relaxation, and WOW was I excited for it! It had been a longggg-a$$ time since I last got some real downtime, despite having vacationed in plenty of places over the last several years. But for others, we may be excited about Christmas Day, or going to our favourite restaurant, or heading to the movies to watch the latest Marvel movie (?)… Sadly, none of these examples count. Not the travelling. Not Christmas. Nope. Nada. Sorry.
What am I getting at? Well, we need to think about this on a deeper level – it’s not just a particular day that you need to be looking forward to. What are you excited for each and every day!? What fulfils you on a daily basis? Does your job bring you a sense of true purpose? Are you passionate about what you get to do for a living? In a lot of cases, unfortunately for many, I’m guessing there are resounding “No’s” to be stated for those last two questions, right?
I mean, if we’re just being brutally honest with ourselves/each other, let’s just lay it bare: it is MORE than okay to admit that you hate what you do for work! That you’re unhappy with your life and where you stand right now. But hey, if you love what you do and where your life is at, then happy days!! You’re among the few who are truly blessed in that respect, and I am elated for you! Because I absolutely LOVE what I do! I get up in the morning, and I am pumped to go do what I do so god-damn well! But I’ll tell ya… there are years of my life that I almost wish I could take back because I would wake up in the morning absolutely dreading the mere thought of even getting ready – let alone heading out the door to the daily grind!
‘He was thanking me for “changing his life”.’
But what was my turning point? How come I’m now in a place where I actually enjoy what I do and look forward to it? Well, after I returned to Europe from Korea (I moved from the UK to Spain), and I lived there for about half a decade. In that time, I figured out my Ikigai! My purpose in life is: helping people to change their lives!
Now, this wasn’t a sudden “eureka moment”, but rather, a build up to one. But I can trace back to where that trail began – it was on a plane, heading to America (from Spain). I was sat next to this guy – Ryan – from Connecticut, and although I’m not usually one to chat with strangers – especially on a long-haul flight – we just got talking for hours. He sounded like he was unhappy with virtually every aspect of his entire life, but “grinning and baring it” because he could see no other way.
On the flipside, I was telling him about all my adventures (in South Korea, Japan, Spain, Thailand, and other places), what I did for work (teaching at the time), and my love of health and fitness. Anyways, we parted ways, and even exchanged emails, though I never thought we’d ever make contact again [truthfully].
A few months later, I actually heard from him – he sent an email and was asking my advice on work & travel to/around Asia. I responded, but then nothing. But about two years after that, I got another email – completely out of the blue… He was thanking me for ‘changing his life’.
As I read on (in what was quite the epic cyber-missive), I would learn that after our discussion on that flight, Ryan had seriously pondered his life in its entirety as he caught his connecting flight (we had both flown to Philly as an interim destination), and ultimately – over the course of several months – he knocked through every problem in his life and flipped his world upside down, only to find himself completely on top of it in the end! He’d been so inspired by the life of travel that I was leading at the time that he too packed up and moved to Asia! (Hence his initial email quizzing me about it). He followed in my footsteps – living in Korea at first, but then also was in the Philippines, he’d travelled China and even taken the Trans-Siberian Railway to Russia, among other fantastic voyages!
‘Find what you are passionate about and pursue it with the utmost fervour!’
The two hardest things that Ryan had to do first, though: Stand up for himself both at home, and in the workplace. So, he quit his job, which he had begrudged for several years. And – more significantly – he plucked up the courage to leave his oppressive girlfriend [of too many years], and went on to meet the love of his life while travelling about a year or so later; they ultimately settled in Portland, Maine (where I believe they have been to this day). His revelation from our encounter led to him realizing that he had no real purpose in life, and so, he set about changing that. And boy, what a change!
This is a story that I am proud to share because it was when I first realized how big an impact I could have on even a complete and total stranger, and those couple of years later when he told me of how his life had turned around, it made me look at what I was doing at the time… I was halfway there myself.
I had realized that I loved helping people – apart from improving people’s opportunities in life through language acquisition, I also spent much of my time helping American students discover the history and culture of the city I used to live in (Segovia), as well as giving tips and advice regarding travelling around Europe (second nature to me, but a novelty to them). But work was the missing piece of the puzzle…
‘… pursuing a life where passion meets purpose!’
Although teaching was gratifying, I had ALWAYS been most passionate about health & fitness! Heck, my first job out of university was working in a gym! And every country I have lived in I always wound up in a local gym having hours of conversation with Personal Trainers, Bodybuilders and other athletically-inclined people about different styles of training, diets, supplements, etc.
I had wanted to be a Personal Trainer when I was 17, but I was “encouraged” [by family] to take a different path in life… However, I do not regret a thing – everything I have done since then has led me to where I am today, and I have learned a tremendous amount about myself (and the world) along the way.
Turns out, that next to being a natural teacher at heart, my soul is that of a warrior – one that believes we can all be what we set out to be! I would come full circle and do what [I believe] I was born to do: inform, educate, and inspire change! Back in the day, it was changing people’s skill sets so that they had an additional language to communicate in (quite the bonus for job prospecting these days – even somewhat essential depending on where you live in the world); now I ensure that the people I train know what to do, how to do it [correctly], and why they’re doing it. I help them make positive changes every day through fitness and diet so that they can enjoy life more!
The most incredible thing about this is: I know what I love; I happen to be REALLY good at it! There is an extremely widespread demand for it. And best of all… I get paid for it! Tell me you don’t want to be in the same nirvana-like position!
In order to be where I am now, I had to step back, analyse my situation, evaluate it, and decide on the best course of action. My conclusion was that I needed to be a Master Personal Trainer. I wanted to specialize in Diabetes & Obesity (and eventually Fitness Nutrition), and share my personal experiences. I was determined to attain the formal qualifications I needed to pair with my burning passion for health and fitness, and so, I uprooted [again], and took the necessary steps to get there. It was one of those “blue pill or red pill” moments in my life, but I didn’t need to think twice. Years later, I’m now sat in my beautiful home in Oregon, and pursuing a life where passion meets purpose!
So, right now, I want you to consider if you are fulfilling your true purpose in life. Do you truly know what your purpose even is? Find what you are passionate about and pursue it with the utmost fervour! I cannot aptly tell you what a difference it makes when you actually LOVE what you do! I love the people I get to work with every day. I am privileged to be able to write these articles, and that YOU take the time to read them. These are things that make me get up in the morning! So, thank you for being part of MY ikigai!
This CXP Zen post is definitely more.. “revelatory” than others, and that’s intentional. I wanted to share with you more of my personal story, but also, hopefully help to inspire you to contemplate aspects of your life – your world – that you could potentially change for the better. Now, I don’t want anyone to read into this as in: “Leave your job, dump your partner, and bugger off to a far-flung part of the world”. No. Simply think about yourself on a deeper level, set aside the superficial things for a moment and reflect on yourself, and whether you are happy where you’re at in your journey through life. If not, carefully consider what you could do to improve things, and as cliché as it may sound: Carpe Diem!
Ladies and Gents, it is a pleasure to write for you. If you feel that someone you know could benefit from reading this too, then feel free to share the love!
Remember: love life, and love yourself!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO