Finding Your Ikigai: How It Can Help You Align Your Career and Life
Walk into any bookshop and you’ll likely be confronted by a few copies of hardback, small, and very aesthetically pleasing books with the word “Ikigai” in the title. Whether it’s “finding your Ikigai”, “discovering your Ikigai”, or “how to Ikigai”, this Japanese concept has really come into the world of the mainstream reader over the past few years.
Perhaps there’s such a demand for learning more about this concept due to the fact that for the past couple of years we’ve been shaken up by a pandemic that’s made us question our big life decisions, or maybe we’re just all waking up to what life really is all about. Either way, I’m a huge fan of the fact more and more of us want to dive into discovering our true purpose and the concept of finding your Ikigai is certainly one of the many ways to do that.
In this article, we’re going to not only discuss what the meaning of Ikigai is and why it can help you align your career with other aspects of your life, but we’re also going to tell you exactly how you can discover your Ikigai in a step by step process!
What Is Ikigai?
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that translates to “finding your reason for being”. Literally translated, the first part of the word, “Iki” means “life”, and “gai” means “value or worth”. So, it’s not just about your reason for being, or your purpose, but it’s also about what makes your life have value or makes it worthwhile.
The concept can be traced back to old Japanese philosophy between 794 and 1185, yet it’s still a widely respected and meaningful concept that is taught, embodied, and well known across Japan.
Whilst Western mainstream culture has over the years put an emphasis of the career at the centre of the Ikigai concept, Ikigai isn’t actually traditionally about career, but simply understanding the main purpose that you are here for. However, for many now, this relates directly to what they do as a career - most people, generally speaking, want to do a career that supports their purpose in the world since we spend so much of our waking lives at work.
Why Is Finding Your Ikigai So Important?
Discovering your Ikigai is important for two main reasons, one that’s incredibly factual and one that’s a little more emotional and personal.
Facts and figures are always a good place to start, so let’s take a look at some of the factual reasons why finding your Ikigai might be so important!
Studies in Japan have shown that having Ikigai (as opposed to not having it) is associated with a lower risk of developing disability, dementia, and depression. Additionally, those who have Ikigai also have higher happiness levels, more satisfaction in life, and may even have a higher socioeconomic status.
Moreover, although the Japanese culture and lifestyle may have a lot to do with the overall longevity of Japanese people, some have linked the concept of Ikigai with the research that shows Japanese people have the second highest life expectancy in the world.
On a more emotional level, there’s great joy and peace associated with finding out what you really want to do in life, or at least gaining more of an understanding of what you think your purpose might be so that you can explore it and see if it does make you happy.
If you’re struggling to know where you are right now, you don’t know which career direction to take, or you’re wanting to do the inner work and discover a little bit more about what your purpose is, even just going through the process of trying to discover your Ikigai can be incredibly impactful.
How Can Ikigai Help You Align Your Career With Other Parts of Your Life?
With research showing that the average person will spend one-third of their life working, it’s not surprising that we want to feel a higher connection or a deeper sense of purpose to what we do as a career.
When it comes to Ikigai, the concept might be all about what our true purpose is in life, but for most people, they will want to/have to channel that purpose into their career in order to earn a living.
The beauty that comes with discovering your Ikigai, or simply answering the questions associated with finding your Ikigai, is that it can help you to align all of your desires and explore your purpose holistically, which you can then use to decide which type of career you should go into/which job suits you/which business you might want to try and take off the ground.
Studies show that people that are more connected to their work and believe their work is genuinely meaningful and happier, healthier, more engaged, and more productive.
So, using the Ikigai process or actually discovering your Ikigai can certainly help you align your career with your purpose and make a genuinely impactful improvement to your life.
How Can You Find Your Ikigai: The Process
So, now, let’s get to the part that requires the inner work!
A Little Disclaimer: Be Kind To Yourself
First, it’s important for me to say that even if you go through the process below and you don’t feel as if you understand your purpose or there hasn’t been a clear purpose jump out for you, that’s OK. Discovering your Ikigai isn’t an instant thing - not for most people anyway - and it may also change over time. So, if you feel like you haven’t had a big realisation moment after doing this, don’t despair! The important thing is that you’ve looked a little deeper into yourself and hopefully uncovered some of your passions and desires, gaining more of an understanding of who you are or hope to be.
There are four main components that make up Ikigai and it’s important to look into each of them in the same depth to fully be able to understand yourself and perhaps even come to an understanding of what your Ikigai is.
You can start with any of these four aspects and continue to add to them over time. It’s useful to get a physical piece of paper or a journal and a pen and write out your thoughts - you can create an empty Venn diagram like the one above and fill it in or you can make a specific list for each aspect and then do a review of them at the end when you come to figure out your Ikigai.
The idea is that although there are four aspects that help to create Ikigai, there will be one purpose that emerges and overlaps them all.
So, let’s take a look at these four aspects and help you to start discovering!
What You Love
This aspect is purely about what you love. Although you might want to write things such as, “my cat” or “my partner”, try to expand the list further and think about the things that you love to do or the moments and experiences that truly light you up. For example, you might add, “spending time outside in nature”, or “the feeling I have when I help a stranger with something”.
What You Are Good At
This section is all about your existing skills - what are you good at? Maybe you’re really good at mathematics and analytics, maybe you’re a good listener, maybe you’re an incredibly good friend or speech-giver. Don’t limit yourself to academic skills here - all types of skills are important!
What You Can Get Paid For (Or Rewarded For)
This section is all about what you can get paid for, or rewarded for if you don’t need to earn money (however, most of us do!). Think about what you can do to earn money. Obviously, this list could include incredibly pretty much anything but try to list things that relate to what you’re good at and what you love.
What The World Needs
This section is all about what you think the world needs. This could be anything from something as simple but overarching as, “more peace and love”, to “more teachers in schools”. What do you think the world actually needs?
Then, Analyse and Your Ikigai Should Arise!
Once you’ve thought about these aspects, you should spend time analysing what hits all of the key aspects perfectly and which vocation really stands out.
For example, if some of your data looks like this:
What You Love: Spending Time With Children
What You Are Good At: Being A Kind Listener
What You Can Get Paid For: Teaching or Coaching
What The World Needs: More Adults Passing On Advice and Care To Children
Your Ikigai may be being a teacher, childcare assistant, or nanny.
Rather than one specific thing, a few different things may arise for you and that’s OK too - then you have a chance to delve even deeper or try out some of these “purposes” in real life and see how they make you feel.
Living An Aligned Life Is The Goal, But Don’t Forget About The Journey!
Whilst you now have the tools to go ahead and find out your Ikigai if you so choose to, it’s important that you don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find your true purpose - if you do, that’s amazing, but if you don’t, that’s OK too! An aligned life that makes you happy and fulfilled is the ultimate goal and sometimes it takes time to get there - the journey and discovering on the way to uncovering your purpose is pretty great too!