For many, finding purpose and fulfilment in life is an equally beautiful and frustrating part of the human experience.
“To thine own self be true.” – Hamlet, William Shakespeare
You don’t have to be searching for the meaning of life like a spiritual Indiana Jones.
But how do you discover your raison d’etre when so many things influence who you are?
Your profession, your passions, your hobbies, your beliefs – they all say something about you. And they all contribute to your life and your personality in their own way.
Your ikigai [pronounced: ee-kee-gah-ee] could be the key to your new life purpose.
Too many of us accept that pursuing an interesting career, making a living, achieving whatever we define as success, fulfilling our personal desires and dreams are completely separate (or even mutually exclusive) endeavours.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
A clear and defined ikigai could be the common thread that ties all of these things together.
Not only could an ikigai help you balance these in your day-to-day life, but it could instil a sense of harmony across your routine and lifestyle, bringing meaning to even the most banal of your tasks.
How to Find Your Ikigai
生き甲斐 ikigai (n.) a Japanese term that loosely translates to “reason for being”. It refers to the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.
As seen in the Venn diagram above, your ikigai lies at the intersection between four interdependent elements:
- What you love (your passion)
- What the world needs (your mission)
- What you are good at (your vocation)
- What you can get paid for (your profession)
Let’s break these down a little further.
What inspires you?
Forget the worries that plague your day-to-day and cloud your vision of the world. Picture this: money is no object, the opinions of others are irrelevant, and you can spend your time and energy on whatever excites you most. Explore the depth and scope of this passion. Distributing this across your commitments could enable you to enjoy an equally profound feeling of enthusiasm at work and in your downtime.
What makes you feel useful?
There is a special kind of satisfaction that comes from being able to make a difference in the world. Making a valuable contribution to something is admirable from a social, moral, and humanitarian standpoint. You don’t have to believe that you were “put on this Earth” to accomplish something in particular. But we all have it within us to share and give to the world around us.
What are you drawn to?
The very word ‘vocation’ is derived from the Latin vocatio, meaning ‘call’ (i.e. your ‘calling’). It refers to what you feel especially suited to, given your abilities, qualifications, experience, and personality.
What activities do you find most productive and fruitful?
This is the aspect that is specifically what you are paid for, and what is commonly understood as your primary (if not sole) source of income. But from a more meaningful perspective, your chosen profession should be the outcome of all of the aforementioned aspects.
“Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches.”
– Albert Einstein
Ultimately, the best approach to take with all of these 4 categories is a holistic one. Making the most of your purpose, or ikigai, requires a sense of motivation, self-awareness, and enthusiasm across your passion, mission, vocation, and profession.
Using Ikigai to Revitalise Your Career
To find true harmony across your life, consider connecting all 4 categories to transform your career.
Applying your ikigai to your professional life could mean the end of your work woes – for good!
Modern office work tends to connote extremely repetitive and mundane activity. It’s no wonder that words such as ‘daily grind’, ‘9-to-5’, and ‘pencil pusher’ are so common when we talk about our jobs.
The average full-time worker spends half of their waking hours at work on any given workday. This number then equates to 35% of their total waking hours over a 50-year working period.
Thus, without enjoyment and fulfilment at work, a huge part of our lives will ultimately feel like a chore. This can have a detrimental effect on not only your engagement at work but also your overall mental and emotional wellbeing.
Some even believe that ikigai can be the secret to a longer life!
So, if you also feel like you spend your work week stuck in an inescapable
cubicle rut, then chances are you’re missing not only motivation, but meaning.
Drawing upon all four aforementioned influences, ask yourself:
- Why doesn’t your job evoke feelings of joy?
- Why doesn’t your job inspire you?
- How could you better showcase your unique skills and strengths at work?
- What could you see yourself doing professionally on a daily basis?
Lost in Translation?
As with many other East Asian concepts, ikigai is best understood together with concepts such as mindfulness and introspection. Whether it’s Korean Confucianism or Buddhist doctrines, Eastern philosophy teaches us that a crucial part of life is understanding the self. It should be a never-ending process, as the self is ever-changing and elusive by nature.
When you unveil your inner ikigai, you establish a kind of symbiosis between the parts that make up the self – everything that makes you you, in all your glorious individuality!
What lights up your life? Have you discovered a way to incorporate it into your career, hobbies, relationships, and day-to-day life?