The Japanese concept of IKIGAI (pronounced e-KEY-guy) translates into “a reason for being.” You might say, “a reason to get up in the morning” or “how to enjoy the meaning of life.” Others might call it their passion, their purpose, their “something to live for.” Ikigai is a powerful thing. It nourishes our souls, provides energy for our actions, rewards us when we succeed, and lifts us up when we fail. It’s contagious, it inspires, and it speaks to the very core of what it means to be a Rotarian.
Every Rotarian has the day that they joined Rotary, but we also have the day that we become a Rotarian. Installation is usually marked on an event calendar; a ceremony of some kind surrounded by friends, kind words and quite often followed by a delicious meal and perhaps a few drinks during an evening social. On the other hand, the day one becomes a Rotarian and is marked with a quiet moment, a shared smile, a handshake, a small gesture of gratitude. Sometimes it can be so small that it almost goes unnoticed. But somewhere deep down, a flame is ignited and the realization of what it is to truly be a Rotarian begins to grow.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” ~ Aristotle
So now that you’ve got that warm and fuzzy feeling, tell me: what is Rotary? When asked that question from a friend, colleague, or stranger, we often recite a list of the projects that we do, or what local and international organizations we support. We talk about the six areas of — no, wait — the seven areas of focus and how we will one day defeat polio. We talk about what Rotary has to offer, such as business networking, friendship, leadership skills, service connections, and other great benefits. The problem is that WHAT never really sells anyone on anything. The WHAT is a dispassionate description of a logical construct. I might’ve lost you there but gimme one more minute.
What we do as Rotarians is posted on our websites, in our newsletters, in our social media posts, and local papers. They are public records of the deeds we have accomplished, the awards we have garnered, and the goals that we wish to attain, but are they what really draws someone to an organization like Rotary?
Perhaps the answer to increasing membership is found in WHY Rotary. Why are you a Rotarian? Why are you passionate about service? Why do you want this person you’re speaking with to join you in Rotary? Why are you a person of action? Your ikigai, your passion, is contagious. It inspires a desire in others to discover their unique passion. And once they discover that passion, they will want to share it with others. It’s the energy and the emotion of the members. That twinkle in their eyes — that’s ikigai shining through like a beacon.
“We don’t create the meaning of our life. We discover it.” ~Sarte
So growing club membership is not about quantitative numbers. It is about “growing” members. It’s taking the innate talents and passions of each individual and providing them the foundation and support to flourish and succeed. We help them identify their ikigai to make a positive impact on the world.
Oh, I almost forgot. Want to know the moment I became a Rotarian? My 8-year-old daughter was talking about a clean-up project she wanted to do at her school. One of her friends said, “We can’t do that, it’s too hard.” My daughter stood, and with her hands on her hips said, “Yes we can. We’re Rotary!”