Is ‘ikigai’​ the key to unlocking financial freedom for millennials?

I’ve been reading a book on a Japanese concept called ‘ikigai’ from the island of Okinawa, and it inspired me to think about how it relates to the way we think about life, money/wealth, purpose, and really never ‘retiring’ in the traditional sense.

I mean, if there was no such thing as retirement, how would you think about life differently?

In Okiniwa, this is something they face daily, as there is no word for retirement in their language. Instead, there is one word that permeates their entire life, and that word is ‘ikigai’.

Ikigai (pronounced ‘ick-ee-guy’) is best translated as “that thing that gets you out of bed in the morning”.

It’s a combination of your passion, your mission and your profession. Your ikigai can be very clear, or something you are still hunting.

Having a purpose like ikigai is said to be one of the key reasons why Okinawa has more than its fair share of centenarians. Even at 90, many are still filled with plans for the future.

By default many of us subscribe without thinking to the idea of retirement. We put up with a crappy job and meaningless work so we can enjoy ‘the golden years’. But maybe the ‘golden years’ are right now, and they are always in the present, not the future? Maybe we all need a little more ikigai, and a little less ‘retirement planning’?

Equally fascinating is to put a concept like ikigai at the centre of how you redesign and rethink financial products. Why should our lifestyles be defined by financial products – mortgages and pensions being two good examples. Financial products should be designed to adapt and suit our lifestyles, like debt free home ownership, subscription living and nomadic careers.

Baby boomers are already killing retirement. The average retirement age in the US, according to Gallup, is now 62 – the highest since Gallup’s survey began in 1991. A key driver in this increasing retirement age has been a lack of financial securityBut money is only half the story.

It turns out many baby boomers who are arriving at retirement, are quickly seeing beyond the veneer of glossy cruise brochures and timeshares. According to a study by RAND, a growing number of US retirees are delaying retirement for ‘fulfillment rather than finances’. Are they seeking ikigai?

Ikigai could be a simple but fundamental switch in how we think about financial product design. We need to stop digitising the old and start observing life a little more closely. Then we might create something truly life enabling. Financial freedom doesn’t have to be an abstract point in the future. It could, with the right ingredients and attitude, be right now.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business and the Gig Economy and is the CEO and Co-Founder of Zuper, a new superannuation startup in Australia.

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