Ikigai to Earn
How do you define happiness? Everyone’s opinion on this is certainly different. Many find happiness through family and friends, others through religion or exercise. How many of us find happiness through our work? They say if you do what you love then you’ll never work another day in your life. However, the reality is that most of us are still searching for that thing that we love.
We are in the midst of what experts are calling the Great Resignation. People are leaving their jobs en masse. A recent survey conducted by PWC found that 65% of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs. Over half of working adults in the United States, the home of the American Dream, do not find happiness in what they are doing for 40 hours each and every week. No wonder rates of anxiety and depression are up across the board. Something is inherently wrong with the way that we view our relationship with work.
Most of us have been there. We have had jobs we hated. Let’s ask ourselves; whose fault was it? Ours or our employers? Did we get sucked into a cycle that caused us to settle? Were we just in it for the money? Was it not a good cultural fit? Were our employers not upfront and honest with us?
There are a multitude of reasons why jobs don’t work out. But what if we could be better at preventing bad placements to begin with? What if we could find a job that we actually enjoy through the use of verifiable credentials to compare ourselves to prospective team members or even the organization as a whole? What if our hiring managers could be more authentic in finding talent and avoid the burnout caused by just going through the motions? Sure, it’s a bit Utopian to think everyone could be happy with their job, however, Web3 is showing promising signs of how we might fix some of our issues.
It feels like everyday there is a new testimonial of someone quitting their job to pursue building in Web3 full time. Now, is everyone falling down the rabbit hole going to be happy? Most assuredly not. Web3 is not a panacea. However, for some they are realizing that contributing in Web3 can give them purpose, passion, and hope for a brighter future. They are finding their ikigai. The thing that they live for and the reason for which they get up in the morning.
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that provides a model for happiness in our “occupation”. Ideally, it is the intersection of what you love, what you are good at, what the World needs, and what you can be paid to do. Studies have shown that when we find our ikigai it actually results in many health benefits overtime. Discovering ikigai has a direct correlation with living longer, so why is it so hard to embrace?
The Broken Path
The methods we have been using to find our occupation are inherently flawed. From a young age we are funneled in certain directions that are determined by and determine our perceived potential in life.
On the whole, our system acts like a factory. We are products on conveyor belts waiting to be assembled, inspected, and packaged. First we go here, then there, until we complete that step and become finished goods. We pass inspection and are ready to be shipped to our next destination. At every step of the process we are put in our respective place based on a series of imperatives that are meant to drive efficiency. The issue is that this efficiency is short term. The products we are manufacturing aren’t made to last.
From grade school to college to career to retirement we are filtered through systems that teach us to fall in line and maintain this order; to meet certain expectations. We go to school to get good grades to get into college to get a job to make money in order to one day retire and finally enjoy the fruits of our labor. Our systems are driven by a standard of “good enough”. It is the never ending cycle of Western culture in its current state. We are pushed in this direction because it helps form a well functioning economy and society. Everyone has their place and we’re incentivized to remain complacent in our vein of occupation to afford our cars, our house, and provide opportunity for our children to perpetuate the same cycle.
We are taught to believe that forgoing our own happiness will result in the happiness of those around us. It’s a noble and altruistic sacrifice that countless mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, and friends have made. Money is absolutely needed to survive. This is not a comment that they are wrong in any way for making a living. There are many in the world that are just scraping by. Merely, it is an observation that they are victims to a system that is designed to force them into a cycle of unhappiness.
The cliché “money can’t buy you happiness“ comes to mind. It is only a common saying because we can’t accept it as truth. We confuse buying shiny objects and having an abundance of things with happiness for ourselves and those around us. Our materialistic thirst needs to be satiated. We think that if we can just get over that next monetary hurdle we will finally be satisfied. It is rarely the case though. There is always something else on the horizon when we chase happiness through wealth. So why can’t we escape this cycle?
It all comes back to ikigai. Our culture prioritizes one aspect of ikigai over all others; what you can be paid for. We have to get paid to eventually afford the bigger house, nicer clothes, fancier car, the blue chip NFT, etc. Our minds become so set on that journey that we forget to take into consideration what we are good at, what the World needs (not just ourselves!!), and what we love. Maybe we even tell ourselves that we will actually do what we really want to right after we finish this one last thing; that we will have freedom. Sometimes that is true. There are outliers that beat the odds and break free of the cycle. Unfortunately we all can’t be that one in a million that does in our current system.
Crossing the Threshold
We love to dream that we will one day be the underdog that is depicted in so many of the stories that our society cherishes. We deify the real life and fictional role models that our books, movies, and television are full of. In many ways it is because we crave the thought of escaping our cycle of oppression. It is ingrained in us. We want to set foot on our own hero's journey. Those stories give us hope to do so. So where do we start?
Change tends to happen very slowly… and then all at once. We are often impatient and miss what is happening in front of our very own eyes. We mistake change as novelty, childish, too technical, or impossible. Web3 is that change, but maybe not for the reasons we currently think.
Amazon started as an online book store. Now it is rooted in almost every facet of e-commerce through either Prime delivery or AWS hosting. In 2021 it accounted for 43.5% of US gross merchandise value and 33% of total cloud storage. What may seem like just a novelty bookseller at first could one day become the infrastructure that we take for granted.
Over the past decade Web3 has experienced cycles of “slow” change. Blockchain was seen as too technical to understand at first, cryptocurrency and DeFi were seen as scams and ways to launder money, and NFTs were seen as pointless digital trading cards. Many outsiders still hold these notions about Web3 technology. However, just like all lasting change it is often mocked or ignored before being taken seriously.
With the rise of NFTs Web3 has gone mainstream. They are starting to weave their way into certain aspects of our culture. The idea of owning digital art or a profile picture that represents your online identity is an exciting introduction to the technology for many. NFTs have paved a path to help people understand how they can finally own their digital identity. The thing that makes them who they are. These bytes of data are no longer just ethereal concepts that “live on the internet forever” somewhere unknown. They are tangible. We can point exactly to where they are and where they have been. Our concept of ownership has been changed in a revolutionary way.
Currently, the best representation for our identity is our wallet. All of our assets and the history of interactions we have on-chain paint a picture of who we are. It’s a crude picture, but ‘tis the beginning of our hero’s journey. There are a few problems that prevent wallets as we know them from being a successful measure of our identity in the long run though.
For instance, what happens if our wallet is compromised or we lose our seed phrase? What if we use multiple wallets for security or privacy and want our activity across those wallets to accurately represent us? What if a bad actor doxxes our wallet with personal identifying information or sends inappropriate material that we don’t want associated with our identity using “soulbound”, non-transferable NFTs? Relying on a single source of immutable data for our identity has some serious consequences.
The Sword in the Stone
This is where Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) and Verifiable Credentials (VCs) begin to shine. Just like blockchain, these concepts have been around for many years, but are now finding a foothold in Web3. DIDs help us safeguard aspects of our digital presence where wallets alone fall short. They allow us to link our wallets together to unify our digital identity in a way that helps maintain our privacy and security. Each of our wallets has an identifier that is linked to a single DID making them like a keychain that securely holds the many keys we need to access aspects of our life. Each of those keys opens a specific door that holds our VCs. Some of those VCs might be personal identifying information that we would prefer to not share with anyone else.
Say we need to change the locks on one of those doors because our crazy ex won’t leave us alone. With DIDs we are able to just rotate those keys and get new ones for that specific door. The rest of our keys on that keychain are still perfectly secure. If that ex is extra crazy and we need to pack up our stuff and move out entirely then we can just transfer the things that matter, our VCs, to a new address.
Because our identity is secured using DIDs we can safely collect VCs that represent who we actually are. All of the information that collectively composes our identity is stored on differing layers of security that gives us sovereignty over our identity. Information and preferences about our social, professional, and private lives can be shared with our permission to a trusted or untrusted party without exposing everything else about us. We have now become the masters of our own fate.
We can present information about ourselves using one identifier without exposing the information itself or where it is located. All the party has to know is that the criteria requested has been met. This is because each VC has a subject field that is almost always a DID. In other words VCs are written about individual DIDs, which can be linked to each through identifiers, other VCs, or affiliated DID documents. Standardization for the win!
What really sets this technology apart is the potential for interoperability across Web3 ecosystems and platforms. They are not limited to one chain, productivity platform, or social media feed. DIDs and VCs are able to patch together all of our fractured identities and make us whole again. As a result we can have stronger alignment with the communities and people we interact with.
So how does this fit into ikigai and our Hero’s journey? Let’s take a step back and look at what happens when this technology scales.
The Hero's Journey
Imagine if we could have more control over our attention span; if we governed the algorithms that drive content to us; if we could meet new people through that newfound discoverability that share similar interests and dreams as us. Helpers along our quest for happiness. We could build better, stronger communities that seek to lift each other and break the cycle together. This is all possible when we use Credential, Credibility, and Reputation Networks to harness the power of Verifiable Credentials.
If life were a video game Verifiable Credentials would be our attributes, achievements, inventory, and in-game preferences. They are the mechanics that make the game fun and possible. Our Verifiable Credentials are not only our professional accomplishments and history, but our personal and social as well. They help us inform others of who we are and where we fit in; on our terms. In doing so they can also help platforms and protocols bring to light content, paths, and people that were hidden before.
It will take time though. For true structural change we have to start early in the lives of younger generations. To start, we need an overhaul of our education system that uses Verifiable Credentials to lead our children and their children in a better direction; ultimately setting them up for success in finding their ikigai. Verifiable Credentials will help us better educate and steer children from a young age to find what they are good at and pursue their passion. As mentioned earlier our system emphasizes uniformity to ensure “success” at every step of the process. How are we supposed to start the journey of finding our ikigai when we are taught as children to give up our dreams and pursue a career where we can make a living instead of a difference?
Now, is it reasonable to think that everyone will know what their passion is early in life? Absolutely not. But as this technology becomes more and more ingrained in our society we will at least begin to accumulate a history of ourselves and our achievements that might point us in the right direction on our journey. For instance, educators will be able to provide better lesson plans and learning opportunities that are geared towards the interests of specific students. Administrators will be able to improve learning environments based on the current needs of each class. College counselors will better understand the future desires of upcoming graduates to set them up for actual success; not just statistical. In EdTech, this technology is the answer to true reform. It will help us break the cycle of complacency at nearly every level and empower our often overlooked educators to do what they love most; teach.
The same is true in our professional lives. As we accumulate more VCs we will be able to distinguish ourselves from the crowd for all the right reasons. Our actions will speak far louder than our own words. Traditional credentials that have been coveted and act as gatekeepers will be overshadowed by our contributions. Platforms and protocols will help us assign weight and value to even the most minuscule of these tangible and intangible contributions. The possibilities for what we credentialize are virtually limitless.The credentials we receive could be for reading a certain article, making an intro for a colleague, completing a learn to earn module, attending a meeting, or listening to a podcast. Anything that helps us build a more complete picture of who we are and what we know. Our resumes will no longer be PDFs or printouts filled with fluff, but instead useful programmatic documentation that drive matchmaking and our ability to communicate. The sum of all of these VCs will help us form better teams, land better jobs, and make more money doing the things that we love because we have the credibility to back it up. VCs will bridge our similarities and differences to optimize our strengths and weaknesses. We will have clearer insight on ourselves and the difference we can make. They will aid us in building a future of progress instead of maintaining the status quo.
Picture a work environment where people aren’t just punching in from 9 to 5, but instead pursuing passion projects that actually drive efficiency. We all know someone just going through the motions. Maybe we are that person. We have an opportunity to change that; to find purpose in our occupation; to embrace our ikigai.
Are we there yet? No. In fact, as many of you read this you may think this is outlandish and phantasmic. Some of you might even think it's actually delusional. Just remember… change is often mocked or ignored before being taken seriously. Will you be apart of that change or let ikigai pass you by?
A BIG thank you to Evin, Shrey, and Zizi for the thoughtful suggestions and edits on this article. There were so many great conversations that helped these thoughts blossom. Thank you to Simone, Taylor, Scott, and James for inspiring many of them.
If you made it this far and want something that verifies you read then mint from the link below. Ya… it’s not a VC, but maybe it will be one day. Could be cool to have for the future, who knows?