Ikigai: a guide towards balance and fulfilment

1 October, 2019

Quite often, when we talk to our candidates, we hear them saying “I am ready for a change, but I am not quite sure what I want to do next, what direction to go in?” It’s a good guess that most of us have been in that situation at one time of another. While nothing specific may be wrong with our current situation, we still long for something else, something more fulfilling and meaningful. Stepping away from a safe job, and taking on a new challenge is an important decision, and there are many considerations to make…how do we know if we are making the right choice?

When we stumbled upon the Japanese concept of Ikigai a few years ago, it made immediate sense to us. We think it is a great tool to use when thinking about life choices in general, and career choices in particular. It guides you towards making more balanced decisions based on what is good for YOU, in your situation, and based on who you are. Which we think is the best way to find happiness and fulfillment; “In is the only way out!”

Ikigai can be translated to “a reason for being.” It can also be expressed as a reason to be excited for Monday mornings, instead of dreading them. The ultimate question in following Ikigai, is: what makes you jump out of bed in the morning? In other words, what task, activity, idea etc. excites you so much that you can’t stay under the covers any longer?

This is what we all want to feel, right? But for some reason, many of us label that feeling as a “luxury”, because we have so many “to do´s” that we need to do first: earn money, keep control of things in our lives, improve something … and the “outside the box stuff” is often too outside the box, just out of our reach.

But it does’t have to be. How to get there, how to find your Ikigai, can be challenging. It is a heavy process of honest introspection and “self-search”, but we believe that asking yourself the right questions is a good way to start  – and the following guide might help you get more clarity about what direction to go in.

The Ikigai framework is broken down into four sections, or broad questions: What You Love, What The World Needs, What You Can Be Paid For, and What You Are Good At.

What You Love

  • Is what you’re currently doing something you’re truly passionate about? Could you enthusiastically talk about your role/profession for hours on end?
  • Could you enthusiastically talk about your currently industry/job for hours on end? If no, then what is an industry/job that you could talk about for hours on end?
  • Are you emotionally connected to the result of your work?
  • If you weren’t concerned about money, would you still do what you’re doing? If not, what would you do?

This will make it clearer to you how close or far away you are from your passion. Are you in the right industry, but you’re doing the wrong things? In a position that you have outgrown? Or the opposite, doing the right thing but in an industry you are not passionate about? Or none of them?

What The World Needs

  • Are there any social, environmental or economic problems that you would like to help solve immediately?
  • What issues in your community / the whole world touch you emotionally?
  • Will this work still be needed 10 years from now? How about 100 years from now? If not, will the value of your work today increase over time?
  • What does other see that you have to offer the world? Has anyone ever told you that you are good with children, animals, motivating young people?

These questions are meant to help you figure out what you can give to the world, your culture or your family.

What You Can Be Paid For

  • Is the marketplace demanding what you/the company you work for, have to offer? Are people willing to part with their resources (money, time, attention, trust, loyalty, love, etc.) to buy what you’re selling? 
  •  Have you recently been paid for what you do? Have you ever been paid for what you do?
  • If not, are other people being paid for this work?
  • Is there anything else that you have ever been paid to do that you have enjoyed immensely?
  • Are you already making a good living doing what it is that you’re doing?
  • Can you eventually make a good living doing this work?

Money is a necessity, and even if Ikigai is about finding your passion, – having an income that allows you to pay your rent is also an important part finding/keeping the balance.

What Are You Good At

This questions take into account your talents and skills. These can be things that you are paid for, but don’t have to be, so don´t censor yourself when answering. Think about prizes you’ve won, tasks at which you have excelled and times when other people admired the ease with which you did something they consider difficult.

  • What parts of your current job do you find effortless?
  • Are you useful? Is what you do something that your friends/family/community have sought your advice/opinion on before?  If yes, then who has asked you for advice or your opinion? 
  • Are you among the best at what you do in your workplace/community at this? How about in your city?  In your country?  In the world? 
  • With some more education and experience, could you be among the best at what you do?

Take a few minutes to write down whatever key words, phrases and ideas that come up for you in each circle. Then, start looking at the various places where they overlap. What you love to do and what you are good at identifies your passion. That which you love and that which the world needs is your mission. Those things that you are paid for and are also good at is your profession. And your vocation is the combination of what the world needs and what you can get paid for.

Think about all these elements and how they are connected to each other. The idea is to have all the overlapping sections in balance: Mission, passion, vocation and profession. 

In the very center of your chart is the answer to your personal Ikigai — that will be your key to a meaningful life with purpose and balance.

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