Illustration of a globe with a spiral path around it and people climbing up and down to pursue their kokorozashi
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Imagine kokorozashi as an enjoyable life goal—a passion that occupies your thoughts on the weekend and drives you through even the most tedious of tasks throughout the week. It’s not quite ikigai—ikigai is more about adding meaning to your life, a reason to get up in the morning. Your kokorozashi, on the other hand, is your personal mission. It unifies your passions and skills to create positive change in society.

Finding a kokorozashi requires imagination, and realizing it requires awareness. As such, developing a kokorozashi that benefits society is no easy feat. Even if you’ve identified one, how do you bring your personal mission to life?

There are several ways to visualize your kokorozashi (and it’s really best to try them all—more than once!), and there are likely to be more in the future. After all, several exist because several are needed. Each has a slightly different focus, and changing your focus is the key to developing and evolving a well-rounded kokorozashi.

As my colleagues and I were writing Kokorozashi: The Pursuit of Meaning in Business, it occurred to me that we needed a new framework. We needed one that focused on how awareness changes as kokorozashi develops.

I call it the Four-Step Kokorozashi Awareness Framework, and it has (you guessed it) four steps:

  1. The Foundation Period
  2. Planned Happenstance
  3. The Alchemist
  4. Synchronicity and Theory U

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Five people of different backgrounds hold up sign boards that spell "kokorozashi" with a park and city in the background

Ikigai: A Book about Finding Your Purpose

Mentioning Japan tends to conjure images of quality products and services, sushi, sumo, anime, and otaku, among other things. Something most people don’t realize is that there is a common thread running through all of these: ikigai.
An open book with two pages folded in the shape of the heart.

Step 1: The Foundation Period

The Foundation Period is like a difficult apprenticeship—you work hard, learn a lot, and build a foundation of skills in the process. The Japanese word shugyo refers to difficult training that forges character and mental steel. And the Foundation Period has a lot of shugyo. In it, you may feel that you’re being pushed, even forced, to work and develop. But what you’re really doing is building awareness.

It shouldn’t be too miserable, though. If you find yourself losing passion for your kokorozashi, stop and reflect on whether you’re pursuing the right course. Shugyo should only be felt initially. The situation should eventually lead to taking initiative and self-motivation.

Starting out with kokorozashi, you must first find your strengths and understand your weaknesses—that’s the awareness you’re reaching for in this step. You commit to developing yourself, relentlessly training to push beyond what you think you can do.

Once you’ve laid your foundation, it’s time to take your kokorozashi act on the road with the next step, Planned Happenstance.

Step 2: Planned Happenstance

Planned Happenstance involves setting out on a journey into the world. Here, you welcome challenges not as hardships, but as exciting opportunities to expand your awareness and move toward your kokorozashi. You’re past shugyo now—not just training, but testing what lies in your foundation.

In this step of kokorozashi development, you’ll realize that all that difficult training served as a match, lighting a fire of motivation. Your thoughts and actions are more focused and attuned, leading to opportunities and advancement.

It’s like climbing Mt. Fuji—there are several routes you could take to your kokorozashi, but they all ultimately lead to the same destination. Even better, because they intersect, you don’t have to worry over which route to take. You can change your mind as you go, collecting information and monitoring changes.

Planned Happenstance fits well into this age of rapid change and innovation. More than ever, it’s important to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them. This stage is planned because you’ve prepared yourself with training, but it’s happenstance because you’re still open to opportunities that find you. By being flexible and open, you can more easily invite the unexpected to help you along.

Following Planned Happenstance will eventually advance your journey to The Alchemist.

Business person filled with ideas thoughts and analytics to bring your kokorozashi to life
Planned Happenstance fits well into this age of rapid change and innovation. More than ever, it’s important to try new things. | iStock/uzenzen

Step 3: The Alchemist

The next stage is named after Paulo Coelho’s best-selling novel about a shepherd boy who sets out to seek his fortune. On his journey, he meets a king, a shop owner, his true love, and—you guessed it—an alchemist. Each of these characters helps him learn how to open his heart and soul.

It’s a great book, and much of it can be interpreted to help you bring your personal mission to life:

“Every search begins with beginner’s luck.”

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

You must be open to luck and emotion and be brave enough to follow your intuition. This will help you find a kokorozashi that suit your mind, heart, and soul.

“[Alchemists] show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Even as you work to achieve your kokorozashi, you’re already making the world around you better.

“Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend.”

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Developing kokorozashi awareness—being open and enthusiastic about new opportunities—can bring fulfillment. Eventually, it’ll enable significant changes in the people around you, your organization, and society.

Through his journey in The Alchemist, the shepherd boy learns how to overcome fears of failure, of losing money and status, and of becoming successful. You, too, will find this part of the journey teaches you to interpret the lessons of life, let go of failure, and move toward the fourth step, Synchronicity and Theory U.

Step 4: Synchronicity and Theory U

The fourth and final step is Synchronicity and Theory U. It’s inspired by two books and thought leaders:

  • Synchronicity comes from the book, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, by Joseph Jaworski. He was a well-known leadership consultant and former senior fellow and board member at the MIT Center for Organizational Learning. In the book, he uses his life story to introduce the inspirational aspects of leadership and synchronicity that brought him great personal change and satisfaction.

Successful leadership depends on a fundamental shift of being, including a deep commitment to the dream and a passion for serving versus being driven by the pursuit of status and power.

Joseph Jaworski
  • Theory U comes from Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges, by Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT. Theory U is a thought method that trains you to have a better sense of yourself and change your thinking, all toward gaining stronger awareness so that you can objectively recognize where change is needed. In this is the concept of presencing—a blending of “presence” and “sensing,” in which you reach inward to the deepest part of yourself.

Jaworski proposes that a change in perception—in awareness—can enable you to look at the world as a network of relations, and then things will start to change. You may then begin to achieve synchronicity, encouraging good in others and yourself.

This pairs neatly with the objectivity striven for in Theory U. Together, they can help you achieve an almost Zen-like state of clarity.

Synchronicity is the goal, but the truth is that you cannot resist the call of synchronicity any more than you can resist your destiny. Here, in step four, you choose to take up your kokorozashi. Not because of outward pressure or influence, but because of your own willingness to devote your time, energy, and self to your kokorozashi.

Final Thoughts to Bring Your Personal Mission to Life

The Four-Step Kokorozashi Awareness Framework doesn’t just pull random points of advice from the air. Particularly in Step Four, it guides you to the intersection of Western research and traditional Eastern philosophy so that you can expand your awareness.

The concept of presencing, for example, is very similar to the total stillness of Eastern philosophy, as seen in Japanese tea ceremony or aikido. Kokorozashi, shugyo, and Zen are all Japanese concepts, but the pursuit of kokorozashi is a global need. No matter where you are, pursuing yours through the Four-Step Kokorozashi Awareness Framework (and other visualizations) can lead to a positive impact everywhere.

The moment you find your kokorozashi may best be characterized by the words of sixteenth-century theologian Martin Luther: “the point where freedom and destiny merge.” Ikigai may get you up in the morning, but kokorozashi will push you toward your best self and help you realize your destiny.

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