Over the past year, I’ve seen COUNTLESS books, posts, articles and resources talking about the Japanese concept – Ikigai – to the point that I began to dislike it.
I felt like it was becoming a buzz-word that was being butchered by westernised philosophy and ideals, rather than being an innately beautiful concept of life and meaning.
I wanted to explore Ikigai and understand it better, to the point where I could comfortably share my honest insights and opinions on the philosophy.
The Shocking Truth About Ikigai As We Know It
Ikigai is the Japanese word that upon translation means, “Reason for Being” – a philosophy to find purpose and meaning within your life.
Within Japanese culture, this is less about finding specific or satisfying work but instead living in daily, habitual patterns that make life meaningful and worth living. It’s a concept that is explored and understood over a lifetime of learning, collaboration and exploration within the culture and is an incredibly subjective experience overall.
WE MISUNDERSTOOD IT.
If you’ve heard about or seen Ikigai in the past, you’re likely familiar with the Venn Diagram and/or the 4 dimensions that connect together to find a purpose that resonates with you and delivers a level of impact upon the world. (See below)
This was actually developed in 2011 by the Spanish author and psychologist, Andres Zuzunaga, who then allowed this model to be shared within the 2012 book ‘Qué Harias Si No Tuvieras Miedo’ by Borja Vilaseca. (TRANSLATION: What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?)
It was then translated into English and blogger, Marc Winn, replaced the central word from Zuzunaga’s diagram from ‘purpose’ to… you guessed it – IKIGAI.
For accuracy and clarity, I’m going to use Zuzunaga’s ‘purpose’ as the central point of the diagram and within the rest of this article rather than the misunderstood version of ‘Ikigai’ as we typically know of it.
(The truth is, many people within Japan wouldn’t even recognise this model as Ikigai!)
Using Zuzunaga’s Model Of Purpose:
The dimensions involved with the diagram are:
- Things You Love
- Things You’re Good At
- What The World Needs
- What You Can Be Paid For
The fundamental idea is that by incorporating these dimensions in an overlapping manner, you’ll be able to find meaning and purpose in your work and life – an incredibly fulfilling approach to career development.
If you can find work that allows you to use your skills in a way that you’re passionate about, to help provide value and benefit for others with financial compensation, then you can identify an area of purpose within your career.
When you begin to look at some of the intersections within the model, you’ll notice significant elements that contribute to a life of purpose and meaning:
- PASSION: When you combine what you are curious about and enjoy alongside what you’re skilled or proficient with, you can begin to identify and explore your passions.
- MISSION: As you pair your curiosities with what the world needs, you can go deeper into finding your mission and direction for your life and work.
- PROFESSION: You can naturally pair your skills with opportunities for financial compensation and encounter jobs and your overall profession.
- VOCATION: If you explore what the world needs and opportunities for financial compensation, you look bigger than yourself at a new world for yourself and others too.
In combining your Passion with your Mission, you can piece together a Profession that will become a powerful Vocation and fuel you with a powerful purpose behind your work.
To put this into a useful and practical perspective, you can divide this into a few key stages;
- Deep Reflection
- Clear Visualisation
- Useful Attention
I live by a 2-Step Methodology that is at the heart of Stop Existing; Point & Shoot.
The idea is very much applied to stages 2 and 3 in this process. Stage 2 (Clear Visualisation) contributes to the direction and the POINT involved with the life-changing process, with Stage 3 (Useful Attention) representing the second element – SHOOT.
If you’d like to learn more about this methodology, I’d love you to listen to Episode 002 of my podcast, ‘The Stop Existing Show’ in which I dissect the methodology in minute detail.
Here is the link: Point and Shoot – The SE Method To Living Your Dreams
Stage 1 – Deep Reflection
Before we start taking action to find our ‘purpose’, we need to work out where we are currently within our own world and understand our relationships with each dimension in the model.
Begin by looking at each dimension in turn and asking yourself questions about your beliefs and understandings of each, being sure to give highly specific answers to each question.
For example, if you’re looking at ‘What You Love’, you may ask yourself something like; what do I spend most of my time learning about, even if I don’t need to?
If you’re not familiar with the Passion Recipe by Steven Kotler, I would strongly recommend that you explore this avenue to find out more about your true passions and interest whilst also exploring your opportunities to fix large-scale problems through your MTP (Massively Transformative Purpose).
This is a much more scientifically-supported approach to ‘purpose-finding’, though each element can definitely apply within Zuzunaga’s model too.
Don’t rush this process.
Finding your life purpose shouldn’t be a quick decision, it should be carefully woven throughout your experiences too so take your time to really explore each dimension.
I would also recommend that you seek out feedback from other people too.
Ask people you trust about what they have noticed that you’re the most passionate about, what your strengths and skills are and perhaps even what they feel are big problems within the world.
Stage 2 – Clear Visualisation
Now that we’ve explored each of these dimensions and formulated our personal answers, we need to test that it feels right and relevant to us.
Condense any extensive notes into clear thought processes and sit with each dimension.
- Does each dimension feel right to you?
- Is there a clear opportunity to overlap all 4 aspects?
- Does the core purpose make sense and feel empowering, yet challenging for you?
- What would it feel like to take immediate action towards this mission?
- How would a day in your life look, if that was your purpose?
Use your intuition or ‘gut-instinct’ when visualising this purpose.
I would strongly recommend taking a meditation or a visualisation exercise such as Vishen Lakhiani’s ‘6-Phase Meditation’ to explore this future vision and come to terms with your current thoughts.
If there is an area that doesn’t feel right for you, feel free to revisit and adjust the relevant dimensions – or even restart the process!
There is no benefit to struggling through the ideas that you currently have when you might have new or exciting insights by reframing the exercise and looking at it from a different angle.
Stage 3 – Useful Attention
Now you’ve found a purpose that you feel comfortable exploring, it’s time to take action and test it.
The way that you start taking action will vary depending on your situation, your purpose and your personality but you can expect to reshape various key priorities and reconsider areas that are not as fuelling as you’d like them to be.
Perhaps you feel that your current job isn’t right for you and your mission so you need to adjust and find a new way of working?
If so, I would recommend that you listen to Episode 003 of my podcast in which I explore what it means to quit your job and the process required to make it happen.
(Visit Quit Your Job With A Plan for more information)
Your aim is to reprioritise areas of your life that are not contributing to your growth and purpose and start to make intentional changes to improve your life in as many areas as required.
Make some small changes and see how they feel first, then take bigger action – or vice versa if you’re particularly motivated and self-aware!
Aim to connect and work with people that believe and support you in your decision to chase a greater purpose but know it’s not easy. Many people won’t understand your decision either.
When I first started to share my personal MTP (Massively Transformative Purpose), I was laughed at, called “over-ambitious” and many just didn’t understand why I wanted to chase that mission.
But then a few months passed by and I was able to quit my job, start 2 companies and connect with some of the most amazing people in the world – all whilst spending each day chasing my purpose, my mission – my Ikigai.
We’ll explore this in a later blog but know that although it hurt to hear such confusion from so many of my closest friends, I kept going and I felt fuelled and energised by a purpose that I am working towards, each and every day.
They now appreciate and accept my decisions, though many haven’t verbalised it just yet.
And I’m okay with that.
Ikigai: In Summary
I love and hate it at the same time.
Although Westernised culture confused the true meaning of Ikigai with another sense of finding your purpose (using Zuzunaga’s model instead), I do think that the model is really useful for people looking for fulfilment within their career.
Zuzunaga’s model incorporates several aspects that I explored in Episode 004 of my podcast (The 5 Keys To A Fulfilling Career) and has become a popular term in Western culture for a reason – it works!
For those that are new to the world of career development and exploration, this can be a really powerful tool because it allows you to look BIGGER by looking DEEPER into yourself and beliefs – a skill that is rarely encouraged within traditional organisational culture.
If you’re an entrepreneur, team manager, Director or just someone looking for fulfilment within the work that you do – I would highly recommend that you explore Zuzunaga’s model and use this to your advantage when considering a career that works for you.
For those looking for a deeper life of meaning without the interest in chasing careers or finances, I would highly recommend that you explore Ikigai in the true sense of the word.
Either way, I hope you find a purpose that drives you, fuels you and EXCITES you in whichever way you choose.
Do you want to take Ikigai a step further?
I’m about to release a complete guide to Ikigai and finding a meaningful career and I’d love you to have it – FOR FREE!
Included in the eBook:
- Essays exploring the Ikigai concept, Zuzunaga’s ‘Purpose’ diagram and the purpose of finding a purpose.
- Practical exercises that will help you find your true purpose, take powerful action to a fulfilling career and start living the life you deserve.
- The Career Diagnostic: A simple tool to troubleshoot your work and career that will help you take action and find fulfilment.
- Access to my private community of like-minded dreamers from the Stop Existing community to support your action towards a life of meaning.
If you’d like me to send this eBook to you once it launches, click here to sign up:
- Chris Myers (2018) How To Find Your Ikigai And Transform Your Outlook On Life And Business, Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrismyers/2018/02/23/how-to-find-your-ikigai-and-transform-your-outlook-on-life-and-business/?sh=2868c7892ed4 (Accessed: 20th February 2021).
- IkigaiTribe (2019) Ikigai Misunderstood and the Origin of the Ikigai Venn Diagram, Available at: https://ikigaitribe.com/ikigai/ikigai-misunderstood/ (Accessed: 20th February 2021).
- Jeffrey Gaines, Ph.D. (2021) The Philosophy of Ikigai: 3 Examples About Finding Purpose, Available at: https://positivepsychology.com/ikigai/ (Accessed: 20th February 2021).
- Kyle Kowalski (2019) The True Meaning of Ikigai: Definitions, Diagrams & Myths about the Japanese Life Purpose, Available at: https://www.sloww.co/ikigai/ (Accessed: 20th February 2021).
- Lucy Dayman (15th January 2020) Ikigai: The Japanese Concept Of Finding Purpose In LifeAnd How This Age-Old Ideology Can Help You Find Happiness, Available at: https://savvytokyo.com/ikigai-japanese-concept-finding-purpose-life/ (Accessed: 20th February 2021).
- Melody Wilding (2017) The Japanese Concept ‘Ikigai’ is a Formula for Happiness and Meaning, Available at: https://medium.com/better-humans/the-japanese-concept-ikigai-is-a-formula-for-happiness-and-meaning-8e497e5afa99 (Accessed: 20th February 2021).
- Yukari Mitsuhashi (2017) Ikigai: A Japanese concept to improve work and life, Available at: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170807-ikigai-a-japanese-concept-to-improve-work-and-life (Accessed: 20th February 2021).