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Finding Success Through Purposelessness (Wu-Wei)

blog ikigai wu-wei Jul 30, 2021

“Success comes from being in a state of effortless action, not from achieving self-created goals.” 

I see a connection between the ideas of ikigai, flow state, and Wu-wei.  

The Daoist/Taoist concept of Wu-wei (無為) is literally translated as “non-action,” but leans more to the point of “effortless action.” This is action without intention, or “purposeless action.” 

I believe Alan Watts was the first to interpret Wu-wei as “purposelessness.”  

  • Wu-wei refers to behavior that stems from understanding that we are connected to the people around us, our environment, and nature. It comes from interconnectivity, not separateness. It is movement and action that is effortless and spontaneous.   

This is represented by the saying of “going with the flow.” It’s the concept of being better off swimming with the stream instead of trying to go upstream.  

This is consciously becoming a part of life's flow. 

Purposelessness is about fully living life in the moment. It’s not about focusing on the goal or questioning or doubting yourself about where it’s leading. It’s not about worrying about the future in which we cannot control, and it’s not about dwelling on the past which is already done. 

 

Wu-wei in Business 

In business, you want to sell people what they want, and provide them what they need. 

 It’s an uphill battle to convince people of the things they need, they are often more motivated by what they want.  

Disruption and education take a very long time to convert people and change behavioral patterns. I have found that going with the flow, understanding what people want, and giving it to them in your unique way is a smoother path.  

Business can also be a part of Wu-wei, the path of less friction.  

My wife Satomi and I were essentially the first people to bring Japanese ramen to the Buffalo, NY area. There was one place that tried briefly but closed right away. Buffalo is a smaller city in Western New York, that many people say is about 5 years behind New York City, but has had a culinary renaissance in a way. 

Many of the foodies and the bloggers had heard about the ramen boom in NYC started by David Chang and were spreading the mouthwatering pictures and experiences they had at ramen places in NYC and nearby Toronto as well. With us having just moved back from living in Japan for many years we thought the timing was right to offer Satomi’s family ramen recipes to the area.  

Our success has stemmed from a combination of timing, fulfilling a demand, and bringing our own unique spin on it. It has been a cultural education for many people, but from word-of-mouth, people’s curiosity was piqued, so enough people continue to want to at least give it a try. Some become true fans that make up the majority of our business.  

For us, our various businesses have come about from Wu-wei, Ikigai, and flow. It’s an outlet for personal creativity, we’re intrinsically motivated to continue each day, and the positive support from the community shows us we are doing something that others appreciate and benefit from.  

So how does Wu-wei and ‘effortless action’ fit into your day?  

Can you start to increase those times of purposelessness, when you are fully engaged in the moment?  

Success, balance, and meaning come from embracing the state of effortless action or purposelessness, not on focusing on self-created goals.  

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