Finding Your Ikigai

We hear a great deal about purpose these days, both in our work lives and personal pursuits. Purpose is a word that has gained greater consciousness during the past few years. It is talked about in schools, at the office, and with friends and family. I would argue that during the past two and half years, more people have defined and acted on their purpose than ever before – moving, quitting their jobs, and taking bold steps to become who they are meant to be. Research also backs up this notion, including the article Purpose as a Powerful Resource in the Time of COVID-19.

Crises, or new chapters in all of our lives, seem to be the leading reasons why people reevaluate their lives. Harvard Business Review wrote a piece on Reigniting Your Purpose in the Wake of the Pandemic, which requires “paying attention to and aligning six critical dimensions…called the six C’s – capability, credibility, and connectivity, contemplation, compassion, and companions.

At the beginning of each new chapter in my life, I find it valuable to set aside dedicated time to think about and write down my purpose and ask myself some tough questions. COVID, a change in job, and health scares for family members made it an ideal time for reevaluation.

I wanted to bring a fresh lens to my purpose work to build my life and create the most rewarding and fulfilling existence possible. One word that captured the heart of finding meaning and purpose in one’s life is the Japanese concept of ikigai, which translates to “your reason for being.” The French have a similar word – raison d’être, a reason or justification for existence. Those words felt more profound, deeper and were the essence of what I was trying to achieve. 

Going one level deeper, psychologist Katsuya Inoue, defines ikigai as a concept consisting of two aspects: “sources or objects that bring value or meaning to life” and “a feeling that one’s life has value or meaning because of the existence of its source or object.” 

Below is a great visual representation and framework of the four concentric circles that define the elements of ikigai:

  • What you love
  • What the world needs
  • What you can be paid for
  • What you are good at

Where to Start 

Begin by studying the ikigai framework. Put it on a piece of paper, notes on your phone, send yourself an email, or document it on your laptop. If you are not clear in your head and your heart, you cannot create the life you want to.

Some people are really fortunate that they are able to identify their reason for being early and life and others take years. It does not matter when or how you arrive at your ikigai, but instead the critical element is doing the work to define it and taking the necessary steps each day to achieve it. Achieving your ikigai is not something that happens overnight, it’s a daily pursuit. 

Continuing to keep in mind that life throws us many curve balls, but knowing the direction you are heading gives you the confidence that you need. You might not experience huge strides every day, but having the path laid out and knowing where you’re going is what is paramount. Never giving up on yourself is the key. Having the strength to overcome obstacles gives you resilience that you can do anything. Remember your ikigai is an ongoing pursuit, not a finish line you cross and go on to your next thing. 

Now What? 

Once you find your ikigai, it’s only a matter of having the courage and making the right effort to stay on the right path. Your ikigai guides you throughout life in your personal and professional decisions. Life is not easy, but you need to have the belief that you can grow, you can change and you can lead the life that you have envisioned for yourself.  

We are in charge of our actions – every day,I dusted off two of my purpose assessments and started mapping my new work against the ikigai framework. I picked a quiet space free of distractions where I could focus on myself for a few hours to get recentered. 

My previous self-assessments were primarily focused on my profession and vocation and less on my passion and vision. I was curious how adding the “what I love” elements would change my outlook. 

It became clear very quickly that layering in family and health were critical elements to my life and happiness. Having mostly focused on upward career trajectory meant that I had blinders on to the bigger picture of my life. The other piece that becomes increasingly clear is that money does not make you happy. While you need to make a living to care for your family, the end goal of a big paycheck does not guarantee a happy life. 

The questions that helped me arrive at my ikigai were: 

  • Why do I exist? 
  • What am I meant to be doing with my life?
  • How do I best use the precious time I have? 
  • What brings me joy? 
  • Am I doing all the right things to raise a great family? 
  • Is my relationship with my husband getting stronger each year?
  • Am I developing the skills and talents I need to be fulfilled? 
  • What work pursuits will make a difference in my life and the lives of those around me?
  • Am I waking up each day ready to tackle what is in front of me? 
  • Can I go to bed saying that my life feels fulfilling? 

The other instrumental piece was getting clear about who you are, and being specific about who you are not. Things I might have wanted or defined as success five or 10 years ago, no longer make my list. Also knowing each person’s ikigai was unique to them; there is no such thing as one ideal path or the right way to arrive at your ikigai. It is deeply personal and unique to your path in life. 

Commitment truly means that you write down and follo every decision we make is up to us and brings us closer to our ikigai. It is critical that our words and actions match. Intent is good, but actions matter. At the moment of decision, each of us, and only us, can determine if this action is getting us closer to who we are meant to be. We need to ask ourselves what we need to be doing right now, what actions we need to take today, to live our lives to the fullest.  

Share it with your partner, friends, parents and beyond. This is another critical step in developing the life you envision for yourself. You need to put it out in the universe. It takes courage to share our innermost thoughts and to tell people what our dreams are for ourselves, but with each brave step you take you are closer to fulfilling your dreams.  

The sooner you get clear on what is critical to your life and well-being, the quicker your life will begin to simplify and flourish because of the clarity that simplicity will bring. We complicate our lives because we don’t have a clear sense of what our core values and strategic anchors are. With clarity around our lives and what we want, it is amazing how much simpler decision making can be. Words and actions match up when you stay true to yourself. 

How will you spend time defining, but most importantly creating and living, your ikigai today? 

NEXT BLOG – Getting to know yourself

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