Ikigai (pronounced ee-kee-guy) is a Japanese concept that describes one’s reason to live, in other words, your life purpose and bliss. In English terms, it means one’s path to life fulfillment. There are 4 components as part of Ikigai: passion, vocation, profession, and mission. When you are good at what you love, it’s your passion. When what you love and what the world needs are the same, it’s your mission. When what the world needs and what you get paid for are the same, it’s your profession. When what you get paid for and what you are good at are the same, it’s your vocation. It’s a full circle and when this circle is full, you have reached Ikigai. Mohan Akella, Senior Vice President (SVP) of Walmart, believes strongly in the idea of Ikigai and believes that when you shape your life around these 4 components, you will truly be happy.
Mohan was born in a small town in India called Kakinada to two middle-class parents. Through the end of high school, he studied in another town in India called Visakapatnam. He pursued his undergraduate degree at IIT Madras and his master’s and Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Buffalo in Operations Research (OR). As a child, the idea of finding a respectful job that also paid well motivated him to study hard and reach high. Growing up, he never planned or decided that his life would turn out the way it did. Instead, he knew he was always interested in math so he decided to pursue his higher education in something close to math. This led him to pursue Supply Chain Management and Operations Research.
Currently, as the SVP of Walmart, Mohan is responsible for developing an “end to end supply chain strategy for Walmart US”. This means that he creates plans and defines the assets and technology that are required for products to go from their suppliers to individual stores and the homes of customers. He also develops a vision for how Walmart’s supply chain should look in the long run, making sure that it supports the company’s customer value proposition, all at the lowest cost to the company.
His biggest motivators are his brother and father. They constantly remind him that despite challenges and setbacks, you need to pick yourself up and keep going. Next is his wife who constantly reminds him to take a chill pill, helping him put everything in perspective. Next comes his brother-in-law. He constantly reminds Mohan that being positive will get you anything you want. Mohan says that if his brother-in-law were to write a book on positivity and motivation “it will be on the NY bestseller list”. Apart from Mohan’s familial connections, AR Rahman, a famous Indian songwriter and composer, and Rahul Dravid, a former Indian cricketer and captain of the national team, have shown him that if you are truly passionate about what you do and do it with “utmost devotion and passion”, you will ultimately find happiness in whatever it is you are doing. Lastly, Guru Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi, a Hindu sage, redefined simple living and the true meaning of happiness which Mohan closely follows and learns from every day.
Now, looking back at his career and what he has accomplished, one of his biggest regrets is he wished he would have made something of his own, a product perhaps, that has both a big social impact and a financial reward. He also says that in terms of Ikigai, he was not very successful but looking back on his journey he has achieved a lot of personal and career growth. Based on all his experiences, mistakes, regrets, and successes, he says the best advice he can give for others who want to be in a similar position as him in five to ten years is to not focus on the goal. Just pick something you love to do, don’t mind if you have to give 10+ hours a day to make your passion and dream come true, and make sure it has a feel-good factor (a good social impact). Find and pursue a career in which the people you work with and interact with daily would be the same people you would have voluntarily interacted with outside of work hours even if you didn’t work in the company. This advice is also along the lines of Ikigai and the 4 components that factor into it.
Overall, from everything in Mohan’s life, something that I can take away is the concept of Ikigai. I never heard of this concept before and it seems like something basic with a lot of meaning behind it. If someone can meet all 4 aspects, passion, vocation, profession, and mission, they will be happy in whatever they are doing. Ikigai takes into account all aspects of a person’s wants and needs that factor into their happiness. Building a career from all 4 of these aspects will guarantee happiness and success is just a secondary result. Something that I would like to add regarding a popular topic today is work-life balance. Being able to put time aside for work without worrying about it for the remainder of the time is something that a lot of people prioritize (including me) when it comes to looking for a career/job. Work-life balance is important, no matter how much you love your job. I feel that all 4 aspects of Ikigai, when reached, do allow a good work-life balance as when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. But however you choose to think about it, if you are happy, that’s all that matters.
Happiness is key to life. Success is secondary.
5 thoughts on “Mohan Akella: “Success is just a byproduct””
Beautifully summarized Akshara and thank you for listening. This is a great medium to learn as well as frame your thinking as you step into the professional world. All the best.
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Brilliant writing, can’t imagine a better narrative of Mohan than this 🙂
Thank you so much!
Brilliant writing…! Can’t think of a better narrative for Mohan 🙂