Finding Your Ikigai (sense of purpose)

Ikigai is a Japanese philosophy for discovering your purpose and building self-awareness. Your ikigai is something that gives you a sense of purpose. It sustains you and matches with your heartfelt desires and personal definition of success. It’s not always about goals or accomplishments.

True productivity is not just about getting more stuff done effectively and efficiently. It also involves creating a meaningful and satisfying life. This doesn’t mean you always get what you want or that everything comes easy to you. Hardships can build appreciation for life itself. 

Words like purpose and calling are nebulous. They are associated with living authentically, with integrity and in alignment with your core values and commitments. 

Ikigai is a Japanese philosophy for discovering your purpose and building self-awareness. Your ikigai is something that gives you a sense of purpose. It sustains you and matches with your heartfelt desires and personal definition of success. It’s not always about goals or accomplishments. 

There is no perfect English translation for ikigai. Roughly speaking, Iki is "life" and Gai is "value or worth." It is your reason for being, your reason for living. You can find your ikigai through natural evolution or active contemplation. It is can include divergent interests and doesn’t have to be one thing.

In episode 29 of The Incrementalist podcast, you will learn:

1) What ikigai means from a traditional perspective compared to the Westernized version

2) The limits and benefits of the Ikigai Venn Diagram, which includes four elements:
  • What you love, e.g. your activities or interests that trigger flow
  • What you're good, e.g. your skills, talents, expertise, knowledge
  • What the world needs, e.g. what you can contribute to your community, your group, and your market in terms of skills, talent, expertise, knowledge
  • What you can be paid for, e.g. earning real money to meet your needs and be financially sustainable
3) The Venn Diagram shows your ikigai as being at the center, where the four elements intersect:
  • Passion is what you love and are good at 
  • Mission is what you love and what the world needs
  • Profession is what you’re good at and what you can get paid for
  • Vocation is what the world needs and what you can get paid for
4) Your ikigai may come from small, daily joys in life as well as from a role or activity that combines all four elements. A quick example:
  • My long-time friend and piano teacher, Sebastian Brian Mehr, just released his debut album, Olemus
  • His ikigai is in composing and making original music. It’s what he loves, what he’s good at, and what his audience needs. 
  • If he can make a sustainable income through this path, all four elements will intersect. 
  • It’s ideal to have them all, but you can usually find purpose with one or all of the first three.  
5) Your ikigai may come from different sources, such as pure enjoyment of an activity, regardless of whether you’re good at it, you get paid for it, or the world needs it. 

6) Your ikigai doesn’t have to be what you love. It’s a reason to live, which can come from hard things, like being a parent to a child or a caregiver of a disabled, aging parent. These roles and responsibilities bring meaning, but are not always fun. 

7) The source of your ikigai may come from difficulties, obstacles, struggles and tragedies. It might even arise from daily chores or mindful rituals. 

8) 10 ways to keep finding and experiencing your ikigai:
  • Start small
  • Let go and release what you don't want
  • Aim for harmony and sustainability
  • Be present with what is
  • Take time to interact with nature
  • Keep a healthy diet
  • Stay active
  • Give thanks for the small victories and gifts you have
  • Sleep well for rest, recovery and rejuvenation
  • Cultivate a sense of wonder and curiosity
9) Your ikigai can evolve and change over time, depending on the context, circumstances, and season of life.

Read the Transcript

Resources cited:
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