Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three part series.

Our Psychological Armour

The preparation doesn’t end when the scrubs are donned, the lipstick applied and all the pockets are filled to the brim with pens snacks. How do we prepare our psyche for our kind of work?

Notre raison d’être or Ikigai – Our Reason for Being

Branded as the new ‘hygge’, the Japanese word Ikigai (or the French phrase Raison d’être) translates into English as our reason for being, and is akin to the concept of self-actualisation. From the Japanese culture, Ikigai encompasses an experience that makes us feel joyful and worthy, the cognitive appraisal that our life is meaningful because of this, and the delight that we take in realising that it is worth getting out of bed in the morning.

Professor Matthew Gordon, who is widely regarded as an Ikigai expert, notes that Ikigai can be defined both on the individual and the societal levels – i.e. what makes our own lives worth living, and what produces our greatest sense of social commitment (1). There is debate as to which of these is the more important of the two, but it is worth noting that this will differ between people as well as change over time.

Author Dan Buettner (of TED Talks fame for his research into longevity) notes that the traditional view of Ikigai is the overlap between your values, what you enjoy doing, and things you are good at. The more Westernised version places Ikigai at the overlap between what you are good at, what you can be paid for, what the world needs and what you enjoy doing. What you are good at and what you can be paid for becomes your profession. What you can be paid for and what the world needs becomes your vocation. What the world needs and what you enjoy doing becomes your mission. And what you enjoy doing and what you are good at becomes your passion.

It is argued that one cannot achieve true Ikigai without profession, vocation, mission and passion – and so these four domains help us to build our psychological armour. If in your day to day stresses, your armour feels ill-fitting, ask yourself – which of these is missing?

For me, my Ikigai is appreciating what I have achieved in my taekwondo career and being able to pass that knowledge onto my students. It is also the immense satisfaction my inquisitive mind gets out of the never-ending search for knowledge within medicine, and how I can apply that to improve the lives of my patients. But then when I contemplate it, there’s also my love for travel and food, and being able to share the experience with other people. And let’s not forget my family and friends. Just in the process of writing this piece, I’ve realised my own Ikigai. Without meaning to sound conceited, my Ikigai revolves around constantly learning and experiencing new things, and the joy I get out of being able to help people (whether that’s my family, my friends, my taekwondo students, fellow foodies, or my ED patients).


The ironic thing about self-awareness, is that in order to achieve self-awareness, you need to actively seek it, and therefore, be aware of the fact that you need to be self-aware in order to achieve it. It is a self-perpetuating prophecy in itself.

As well as having a sense of purpose in what we do, self-awareness is our secret weapon when we’re not exactly feeling battle-ready. When you’re not okay, just ask yourself – why? Repeatedly and with fevered curiosity rather than self-criticism, and you may just get to the root of the problem.

Some actual examples from both my taekwondo and clinical careers;

“Am I okay? Actually I’m really frustrated. My board didn’t break when I kicked it. I’m useless”.

“You’re not useless, you just made a mistake. Why do you think it didn’t break?”

“I didn’t hit my heel in the centre, I went off to the side too much”

“Take a breath and try again, but this time, don’t take your eyes of the centre”.

“Am I okay? Actually I think I’m okay but I’m so hungry, I haven’t eaten all day, we’re quite busy”.

“You’ve got a snack in your bag. Go for a 2 minute walk, eat something and see if you feel better”.

“Am I okay? Actually I’m not really okay. I’m feeling a overwhelmed”.

“Why are you feeling overwhelmed?”.

“Because I’ve got six patients on the go, I haven’t sorted them out, and there’s more coming in”.

“Okay, well first step, don’t pick up another one until you’ve sorted this lot out. You can’t perform at your best when your attention is divided. It’s not your job to see all of them yourself”.

This is obviously a simplistic view of problem-solving, but if it adds to our armour then it can only make us stronger and more resilient in the end.


  1. Mathews G. The Pursuit of a life worth living in Japan and the United States. Ethnology. 1996;35(1):51-62.