Introduction to Ikigai

“Our ikigai is different for all of us, but one thing we have in common is that we are all searching for meaning.”

– Hector Garcia

If you are wondering what to do with your life, questioning if ‘this is it’, or yearning for a greater sense of purpose, discovering your ikigai could be the key to a life with greater meaning and happiness.

What is Ikigai?

In Japanese, ikigai (pronounced ick-ee-guy) means “reason for being” and is translated as “the happiness of always being busy”. The way of ikigai empowers balance, self-worth and purpose in life, and is attributed to the incredible longevity of the Japanese, for it is ikigai which shapes their lives. Having a sense of purpose is, ultimately, good for your health.

Why it Matters

Your ikigai is the reason you get up in the morning. It’s unique to you and combines your passion, mission, profession and vocation. This diagram (my version of Mark Winn’s interpretation) is a great way to make sense of it:

We all strive for balance. Think of ikigai as the intersection where what you love and do well meets with what the world needs and will pay for.

My Ikaigi

I discovered ikagai last year when I was deep into exploring my own sense of purpose. Way back when, I had left school determined to be a broadcast journalist and when I started having epileptic seizures at 18, it turned my life around. After thumbling my way through the career jungle as I battled with my self-esteem, I settled in HR and felt I’d found a place where I could challenge myself and climb the career ladder. It probably helped that I had found a job that focused on everybody else as I spent the next decade pushing my passions aside.

There was always something in the back of my mind wishing I had the confidence to explore more. It’s so difficult when you don’t know where to start, but ikigai has encouraged me think about how my passions aren’t and don’t have to be the same as what I am good at. It has also helped me to link these to what the world needs and how I can make a positive contribution in my profession. I feel like I am finally starting to connect the dots, but it takes time.

I’m Interested, Tell Me More!

If you are still reading, maybe it’s because you know what it’s like to yearn for more, to feel unfulfilled or to know that you are not ready to stop growing just yet. You only have to google ikigai to find a huge array of resources on the topic, but here are my first 3 steps to get you started on your ikigai journey:

1. Start by exploring your passions. To do this, make lists of what you love and what are you good at. Consider when you are happiest, those moments when you lose track of time and where your talents lie.

2. Now what do you value and how does that connect to what the world needs? Combining what you love and what the world needs will help you discover your mission.

3. Getting paid is important, but if we chase money without doing what we love we can feel empty or uncertain. Connect what you can paid for with what you’re good at for your profession, and with what the world needs for your vocation.

Community spirit is key: residents of Okinawa, Japan – where the percentage of people over 100 years old far exceeds the global average – live by the principle of ichariba chode, “treat everyone like a brother, even if you have never met them before”. Consider this as you move forward in your journey. Also key to ikigai are continuous learning, celebrating each day, optimism, friendship and simplicity.

There are those who discover their ikigais who never stop loving what they do. There is no reason why you can’t be one of those people.

I will write more about ikigai, but for now if you are interested there are some great videos, websites and books on the subject. One I really recommend is Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (Garcia, H. and Miralles, F. 2017, Hutchinson).

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Chinese proverb

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