According to the Japanese, everyone in the world has an ikigai, or “a reason for being.” It generally indicates your sources of what makes life worth living. Your ikigai is similar to the French concept of raison d’etre, and can be seen as a Venn diagram of four intersecting circles that combine passion, vocation, profession, and mission into something more than a career: it’s a purpose or calling in life that can provide you with fulfillment and happiness. Today we’re exploring how to discover your own ikigai and the impact it can have on your life.
The History and Meaning of Ikigai
Your ikigai is not something that will magically appear to you one day. It will take a period of introspection and active searching to understand how you can find something that corroborates your personal fulfillment with that of your community. It’s a philosophy that requires you to create purpose in your own life.
The concept of ikigai has roots in villages on the Japanese island of Okinawa, where residents consider it to be their “reason for getting up in the morning” to make life worth living. Inhabitants of the island have some of the highest rates of longevity in the world, and perhaps ikigai has something to do with it.
In fact, there is no word in Japanese for “retirement” that matches the Western concept. Many elderly people remain active as long as their health allows, not in an exploitative or hyper-productive sense, but through self-motivation and passion. Even those elderly who no longer work are socially active through circles of friends they call “moai’‘ who pool resources together to help each other through emergencies. Both these concepts lend themselves to how we interpret and apply the four circles of ikigai in the West. Here’s how:
Breaking Down the Four Components of Ikigai
Ikigai can be understood as an intersection of four aspects:
- What you’re good at
- What the world needs
- What you can be paid for
- What you love
What You’re Good At
Consider what are some of your greatest assets. Are you a fantastic storyteller, an analytical and critical thinker, great at observing patterns, or a lover of fine details? Do you bake killer bread, always fix broken things around your home, or can always cheer up a sad friend? Everyone has strengths, and yours can help play into your ikigai.
If you have no idea what your strengths are, taking a few online strength assessments will ask you questions that help you determine your own set of fantastic qualities. But why is it important to play to your strengths?
According to Gallup, the organization that administers the CliftonStrengths for Students assessment, “reveals that people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.”
Knowing your strengths will also help you understand your limitations and knowing what you aren’t good at can also help eliminate different ikigai options. For example, if you’re short on patience, teaching probably isn’t for you. As a result, you’ll be able to focus on your strengths to guide you into an ideal path.
When you combine what you’re good at with what you love, you have found your passion.
What You Love
Put all concepts of work to the side just for a second. What do you spend your free time doing? Do you enjoy sewing clothes, backcountry backpacking, horseback riding, oil painting, DIY furniture upcycling, playing trumpet, crafting jewelry, or video gaming? Anything that gives you a spark is worth noting.
Maybe you don’t have any hobbies. That’s okay; what did you enjoy doing as a child? Often our true passions begin emerging as children. For example, you wrote fanfiction of your favorite book series or you played restaurant with your toy kitchen. Give it a try again by cooking dinner for a friend or rereading that beloved series for a spark of inspiration.
Ask yourself what you would do if money weren’t an issue. Perhaps you’d enjoy caring for animals or building clay sculptures all day. Find ways to incorporate that into your daily life; you could take a pottery class or volunteer at the local animal shelter.
Once you prioritize what you love in your daily life, you may suddenly find doors opening. The animal shelter is looking for someone to fill a volunteer coordinator position. Your pottery studio is hosting an open market night where you can sell some of your creations. These little moments of synchronicity can change things for you in a big way.
Pursuing your passions can feel unrealistic or scary, but by surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family, you can feel prepared to gather your courage and plunge into new territory.
When you combine what you love with what the world needs, you have found your mission.
What the World Needs
We live in an imperfect world. What can your role be to help it along? This is where ikigai is more than just a career, it is a sense of purpose that contributes to the greater good. But one person can’t simply solve poverty or bring about world peace. So what can you do?
First, it may be helpful to identify some of your personal values. Perhaps you value the importance of family, being in good health, the natural world, increased access to resources, or critical thinking skills. These can help indicate an area where you feel a personal connection to improving that value for others around you.
When you combine what the world needs with what you can be paid for, you have found your vocation.
What You Can Be Paid For
To find your vocation, connect your values to particular careers. Social workers and therapists can help improve family dynamics, while doctors, physical therapists, and nutritionists can lead others to healthier lifestyles. Outdoor educators, activists, and biologists can steward our natural world.
In the end, one can find their personal mission through many jobs. For better public transportation systems, we need engineers. In order to arm the next generations with critical thinking skills, we need teachers. But it’s important to understand what speaks to your heart and what you love doing to find your mission in ikigai.
Let’s combine what you love with some practicality. You can’t be paid to play video games, but perhaps you truly value the importance of social play and relaxation, and you have an artistic eye. Perhaps your ikigai is to design art and characters for video games!
When you combine what you can be paid for with what you love, you have found your profession.
Realizing Your Ikigai
Don’t fret if you haven’t identified a singular calling after reading these four sections. Discovering your ikigai will take time and experimentation, constant self-observation, and putting yourself out there to try something new!
Identifying your ikigai can lead you to your dream career. It may help you to draw two circles intersecting horizontally and on top of that two circles that intersect vertically. The center represents your ikigai.
- Start by answering at the top what you love. Give three or four answers.
- In the other circle ask yourself: What does the world need? Write three or four aspects where you think the world could improve.
- In the next circle ask: What can you be paid for? There you should also write down three or four things.
- And finally, in the remaining circle, you must give three or four answers: What do you think you are good at?
By giving three or four answers, you may be able to identify intersections between each aspect. If you can’t find something that unites all four questions, identify intersections between two sections to answer passion, profession, mission, and vocation. Perhaps you can test out a passion or profession and see where it leads you.
Strategies for Lifestyle and Career Changes Based on Ikigai
When you apply ikigai to your career in the West, there are a few healthy habits you can include in your daily routine to achieve concentration and flow in the present moment. When you combine your passions with a structured life and mindful productivity, you’ll achieve the harmony of your ikigai daily..
- Keep a clear mind. Avoid looking at all screens for the first hour of the morning. Instead, journal two or three pages that allow you to reflect on different aspects of ikigai.
- In whatever you do, remove distractions and allow yourself to become fully absorbed. Engage in deep work, put away your phone when cooking, and focus on your breath when you exercise.
- Try taking one day a week to fast from all electronics.
- Opt to answer email only two or three times at specific hours of the day.
- Set firm boundaries with your digital wellness goals with Freedom, an application that allows you to create customized lists that block distracting apps and websites at specific times of day.
- Begin your day with a ritual you enjoy and end your day with a reward.
- Divide particular tasks for specific times of day in specific places. For example, make business calls and fill out paperwork from your work desk in the evening, meditate and exercise in your spare room in the morning, and accomplish your writing projects from the library in the afternoon.
As you embark on this journey, maybe your ikigai is far from your current job, and you may feel ready to shift your career. But where do you even begin? Here are a few strategies:
- Rebuild your resume to highlight your strengths from past jobs that can apply to your dream career.
- Find a mentor in your desired industry to guide you into a new role.
- Keep learning! Take some classes related to your ideal job to amplify your skillset and maybe earn a certificate that may help your employability.
- Network with professionals online and in-person at events. They may guide you to new opportunities you would have never seen on a job board.
Embrace Your Ikigai
As a human being, you need a challenge that allows you to display your abilities and grow as a person. Finding your ikigai can grant you a renewed sense of passion and purpose in your life to achieve fulfillment.
As you begin to identify what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for, you may find it’s time to make several lifestyle and career changes in your life. By focusing your energy on being present in everything you do and actively moving towards your goals, you’ll be able to achieve the ikigai lifestyle.
Whether you’re downloading tools like Freedom to maintain your digital boundaries or taking a new class that expands your skills, every step you take towards your ikigai is worthy of celebration. Don’t forget to enjoy the process.
Written by Lorena Bally