Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being”. It is seen as the convergence of four primary elements:

  • What you love
  • What you are good at
  • What the world needs
  • What you can get paid for

The Young India Fellowship (YIF) was how I began my “Ikigai” journey. As a mechanical engineer who spent a significant portion of his undergraduate education pursuing theater and parliamentary debating, I often struggled to figure out how to balance my passions with conventional career wisdom.

I soon realised the importance of creating a tribe of mentors and found them first at YIF, then in business school and subsequently at every step in my life. This growing tribe of mentors helped me navigate some of the most intricate professional and personal challenges.

Case in point: When I broke my left arm on a bitterly cold night in New York bang in the middle of the placement season in business school, they inspired me by their generosity and commitment to my growth. They helped me formulate some of the most important questions. They challenged me, comforted me and unconsciously planted the seeds of “Ikigai” in my life.

The secret to a fulfilling life and a meaningful career is the relentless pursuit of Ikigai. Unfortunately, most schools and colleges around the world are designed to crush it.

Twenty first century educational institutions still operate on the 18th century factory-based model of standardising aspirations, creativity, pursuits and dreams. The most glaring side effect is that students and young professionals make career choices based on insufficient information and insights.

They spend way too little time figuring out their strengths, weaknesses, dreams and aspirations, and way too much time trying to crack the code of professional success—exams, appraisals and trends.

I am trying to alter the alchemy of career exploration through my peer mentoring community Network Capital. Our adventure of being a 30,000+ strong mentoring force across 104 countries is fuelled by “trust leaps”. We exchange ideas, insights and feedback with fellow community members we know nothing about apart from the fact they are partners-in-crime in our mission to democratise inspiration and make best-in-class mentoring accessible to every person.

After my accident in December 2013, I spent a few months largely confined to my bed. It was the core time for placements and I was busy staring at the ceiling for most of the day. I remember one of my mentors coming home for tea. He didn’t say much but I felt much stronger next day. In a way, this is how Network Capital came into being.

In a world obsessed with building walls and firewalls, we are committed to building bridges that transcend differences of nationality, culture, conviction, political belief and orientation.

Fundamentally, building communities is about nurturing values and developing shared ownership among members. In creating effective mentor-mentee pairs, we use a chatbot and other aspects of conversational AI but our true strength is the breadth, depth, versatility and diversity of our community.

Eighty five per cent of the jobs of 2030 haven’t been imagined yet. And we are just getting started with the 4th Industrial Revolution. I believe that in future most people will be “career entrepreneurs”. They will monetise their unique skills on the global market instead of seeking conventional employment.

We are already seeing that happen. Let us take AirBnb as an example—one of the fastest growing sections on their site is “experiences” where micro-entrepreneurs create a personalised, local experience for tourists resulting in a win-win for all stakeholders involved.

The pursuit of careers will undergo tectonic changes and students, professionals, employers and educational institutions will need to adapt. They will have to learn and unlearn consistently and efficiently. This if of course easier said than done. Change, especially when it comes from all directions at breakneck speed, is unsettling.  That is why we need to comfort people and give them confidence that they will not be weathering the storm alone.

Master community builder and serial entrepreneur Caterina Fake quoted, “What you tolerate is who you are.”

Walking past a downtown Seattle coffee shop, I saw a huge canvas that summarised what we will never tolerate. This is the precise quote: “No Sexism, Racism, Ableism, Homophobia, Transphobia or General Hatefulness. You will be asked to leave.”

Network Capital aspires to help build meaningful careers and inspire “Ikigai” in everyone but one Network Capital is not enough. We need many. We are blessed to have brilliant community members who are leading similar initiatives for refugees, people with physical disabilities, veterans, among others.

Giving wings to the dreams and aspirations of these micro-communities is of paramount importance to us. We are taking baby steps—inch by inch, play by play.

Want to share your story of how you thrive? Write to us at [email protected]

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  • Utkarsh Amitabh works at Microsoft and is the Founder of Network Capital, a global peer mentoring and career navigation platform active in 104 countries. He is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper who represented the community at Davos. Utkarsh graduated as the Andy Burgess Scholar for Social Entrepreneurship from INSEAD. He is a TEDx speaker, Penn Social Impact House Fellow and a Young India Fellow. Utkarsh's articles have been published by the World Economic Forum, Quartz, Indian Express and Scroll. He is also a trained actor and played “Major Metcalf” in the world's longest running play.