top of page
  • Richard Spilg

Converting "could have"; "might have"; and "should have" into reality

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

When I start working with new clients, our first session provides an opportunity for them to reflect – what they were once passionate about; who or what influenced them to make the decisions they did; the periods in their lives when they may have felt disconnected from their values and needs.

It is always interesting to have this first session before a holiday break, which typically provides space for further reflection. Often a client will return feeling a little unsettled, because the break has resulted in a re-assessment of priorities; a struggle to find meaning; or a feeling that their work is at odds with their values.

At some point in coaching, I generally introduce the concept of Ikigai – the Japanese secret to a long and happy life [1]. In essence, it sits at the confluence of four questions:

· what are you good at? [I was ok with numbers (but bad with blood!), so studied accountancy]

· what can you get paid for? [Happily, with an accounting degree I could get a paying job]

· what do you love doing? [Didn’t love the prospect of being a career accountant, so entered the world of finance which was of interest]

· what can you give back to society? [Once I had the benefit of some free time I looked for ways to volunteer for causes that I cared about]

I think about Ikigai as the way we progress through life – a function of the way we mature and become more confident in our own value system (more ‘self-authoring’), but also when we recognise that there aren’t as many ‘have-to’s’ in our life as we may have thought (as influenced by our egos). As Barack Obama puts it “Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. And it will leave you unfulfilled.”

The ten ‘rules’ of Ikigai are distilled from the wisdom of the long-living residents of Ogimi, a small rural town in Okinawa which boasts the highest life expectancy in the world. Some of these to-do’s inform why a holiday break, a time when we naturally do them, inspires reflection:

· take it slow – when we leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning. There is a powerful connection between focused attention (when our brain is quiet) and moments of insight

· surround yourself with good friends – having fun and pitching in to help others creates a sense of belonging and community

· get in shape – exercise releases hormones that make us feel happy

· reconnect with nature – returning to nature helps us recharge our batteries

It is possible that the break will prompt a re-evaluation of your work and life ambitions – especially after the stresses of the past year. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that it’s not great to be at the mercy of events outside of our control. Deciding on our own path and what constitutes an ideal future for ourselves (and by extension our loved ones) is in our own gift.

While a plan won’t guarantee success, the absence of one is unlikely to get you anywhere. Procrastination ensures that we’ll remain at the mercy of events outside of our control. So, if you do feel off-balance after your holiday, it is a great time to tackle the task of figuring out what you really would like your future life to look like.

Blue-sky thinking is a challenge as it forces us to think big and to disregard any limiting beliefs which get in the way of our ambitions, no matter how modest or transformational. Once you have formulated a longer-term vision, develop a plan to take incremental and achievable steps towards your ultimate ambition. Every success along the way empowers you to take the next step. As American author Louis E. Boone commented “The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.”

Richard Spilg

January 2021


1 Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (2016). Ikigai. Hutchinson London

83 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page