This past week I had dinner with a friend who had recently returned from Japan. While hearing about her trip, the Japanese concept of Ikigai came up and had stayed on my mind for days. I found it really compelling and couldn’t help but delve into the topic.
Ikigai, pronounced (ee-kee-guy), translates to “One’s Reason for Being.” It is believed that everyone has an Iikigai and discovering it brings satisfaction and meaning to life. The challenge is to find it since it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self.
I invite you to explore whether you have found your meaningful work- your Ikigai- because if you haven’t then you might be working to help someone else achieve theirs.
Not too long ago, I was going through my own career struggle. I was extremely unhappy and disconnected to my work. I only wanted to wake up inspired and enjoy what I do, instead of playing various scenarios in my head telling my manager that I was ready to quit.
I had no clue what would be the best fit for me. I craved a meaningful career, not just a job to get by. I tried testing different options, but as time went by I lost hope that I would ever be able to discover my life’s work.
I was desperate for clarity, but instead, I was getting more and more confused. Later on, it became clear to me I was doing it all wrong. I was influenced by countless opinions and suggestions of others, all showing how work should be, which eventually resulted in a total choice paralysis: Should I start a business? Should I try to establish myself in a company? What was I even interested in? What was I truly good at?
When it finally became clear, I couldn’t believe it took me almost two years to figure it out, because it was so simple.
The one strategy I needed was starting backwards.
I started by unwinding my creative imagination and used a design thinking approach. I knew once I crafted a vision about work which could get me excited, I would be on the right track. In the beginning, I was trying to create my life around a career, instead of doing just the opposite. I had to first design the life I wanted to have and then search for what careers fit that lifestyle.
“The life you want begins by embracing the life you have.” – Rob Bell
I had to start backwards from the bigger vision of what I wanted my life and work to look like. Not many people will implement that approach, but for me, it made all the difference. I took my time to articulate my own perspective on life and work. I figured I should be asking myself different questions which would help me understand what I wanted for my life as a whole, not just my career, family, or social life.
Truth be told, our work consumes a huge amount of our time. Spending it asking the wrong questions won’t get us any further. The key to a happy and fulfilled life is to create a way to integrate all areas of life into a coherent lifestyle. A life that allows us to fully express ourselves and our beliefs in order to be content with how we spend our time. Essentially, all of us want to live a happy and fulfilled life as opposed to a mediocre existence.
I started with the bigger vision in mind and asked myself the following questions:
- What is the lifestyle I want to have?
- What do I want my day to day activities to be?
- Where would I like to work from?
- What hours and intensity of work do I want to commit to?
- What is my social and family life going to look like?
- What are the fields of interest that I would like to develop, learn and grow in?
- Who and what is supporting my values and interests?
- What is making me proud to say what I do for a living, and why?
- What impact do I want to create for the society and for the community I am a part of?
- How do I want to make money and how much money do I need to feel comfortable supporting myself and my family?
Once I reflected on all of these questions I was able to look at my life from a much more creative angle. I gave way to my imagination and curiosity, because I saw my life as a joyous experience I wanted to intentionally design. I was approaching my career with a whole new perspective, which allowed me to see opportunities I didn’t think existed before.
I have come to realize that our school system is more often preparing us for a scripted life. It isn’t set up to propel asking the important questions. In fact, there isn’t a class which teaches how to discover meaning and fulfillment. Climbing the corporate ladder only to wake up bored every morning isn’t what we signed up for, but somehow most of us end up doing just that.
“Create the highest grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.” – Oprah Winfrey
Today, I dare you to create your Ikigai- by getting clear on what you desire your life’s work to be. Start designing your vision with intention and you’ll encounter wonderful serendipities. The right people will come your way, opportunities will align and eventually, you’ll find yourself on the right track.
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