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  • Writer's pictureAllison Styffe

Ikigai: explore your purpose

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

The older we get, the more we start asking ourselves questions like "why am I here?" or "what is my purpose?" In Japan, there's a one-word answer to these wonderings: ikigai.

It roughly translates to "reason for being," or "life's value" and involves finding a balance between yourself and the world — what you're good at and what the world needs; what you love and what others will pay you for.

When searching for a career path that will be fulfilling, enjoyable, exciting, and lucrative, exploring your ikigai is an excellent place to start.

Ikigai isn't merely a formula to finding a fulfilling career, though. That would be far too limiting to what ikigai is all about. It's more like a process through which you can uncover and live a fulfilling life — not just through what you do as a job, but what do you do as your life's work.

As Tim Tamashiro says in his TedTalk, "Ikigai is a verb, an action."

To delight. To serve. To create, nourish, provide, teach, heal, connect, build.

To _________. What fills in your blank? Is it one of the words above? Is it something else? In order to find the answer, take on one circle at a time:

  • What do you love? What aspects of your life make you come alive? What activities bring you joy?

  • What are you great at? What unique skills do you have that come most naturally to you? What talents have you cultivated and what do you excel at even when you aren’t trying?

  • What cause do you believe in? What breaks your heart or pulls at your gut? What change would you most love to create in the world?

  • What do people value and pay you for? What service, value, or offering do you bring, or could you bring, that brings real value to others? Something people need and are happy to pay for or share some value in exchange?

When you start to write it all down, it can be like watching pieces of a puzzle come together. Pieces that don't look like they belong in the same picture somehow join together to create a work of art. Uncovering your ikigai often isn't as simple as journaling, though — it takes hard work and time to uncover your authentic purpose, the thing that gets you out of bed each morning with joy and excitement.

If you're not sure how to answer some of those questions, I encourage you to do some exploring. Not sure what your strengths are? Ask others what they think you're good at or put regular practice into your potential talents. Not sure what you love to do? Try out new hobbies. Not sure what you could be paid for? Start a side-hustle and see where it goes. Not sure what difference you'd like to make in the world? Consider volunteering in different settings to discover first-hand which world issues light a fire in you.

And if all that feels too big, then how about this: for today, what's one simple thing you could do to express your ikigai?

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