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OK, Now What?

It is the start of the new year, but you are far from excited. Perhaps you fall into one of these categories:
1. Recently retired and feeling uneasy about what to do next. You have experience, skills, and energy all in abundance Yet, you do not know what you will do to still feel the satisfaction of contributing the way you did at work.
2. You are still at work, but you dread having to go into an office in the soul-crushing, conflict-laden, political minefield, etc. that is your workplace.
3. You have lately been thinking about being your own boss and doing business in the way that you believe it should be done.

You just wish you could figure out how to either achieve for the first time, or resurrect that elusive feeling you once had for putting your time and expertise into doing something that truly felt satisfying for you and was rewarding in ways beyond the pay or salary you received.  What you seek is that certain something that compels you to get out of bed in the morning excited to greet the day. A reason for being that is your own and personal, and not dictated to you by others (family, boss, friends, etc.) telling you what you SHOULD do or feel.

There is a Japanese Concept – Ikigai

Ikigai graphic

Figure 1.The ikigai concept seeks to combine the essential factors needed to reflect one’s purpose in life.

What you are experiencing is the pursuit of the Japanese concept of: Ikigai.  Loosely defined, it is the living a life with a purpose.  The concept is often applied in studying people who have lived well past 100 years old to understand some of the factors that lead to a longer life.  In a professional context, it can be broken down into:

  1. What do you love?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What does the world need?
  4. What can you be paid for?

Notice that this is a concept very much grounded in reality.  Rather, it looks to combine the very real and practical concerns we all have of aligning one’s skills and preferences with the needs of the market, and identifying a way to make a living while doing it.

Looking at Figure 1; it graphically depicts the outcomes of any of the four elements not being aligned.  If a person is doing what they love and are good at; but are unable to be compensated for it satisfactorily, they may experience passion and they even have moments of delight.  However; they will not accumulate wealth and may feel a sense of uselessness.  Looking elsewhere within the graphic, a common feeling among employees is that they be considered good or competent at a particular job or skill, and they do receive a paycheck for their efforts. Yet, even though they are comfortable, they still feel a certain emptiness or lack of fulfillment.

Core to the successful achievement of ikigai is the confluence of all four factors in one pursuit.  It is following your heart to do what feels good and is rewarding AND recognizing that it must also provide value to others so that it meets the need of customers/the market, while also providing income.

Is It Stable?

One’s ikigai may change over one’s lifetime.  In fact, it would be expected to change.  What a person is focused on as a student is likely to be very different than as a mid-level employee or someone looking to retire and seeking a second career.  Additionally, it may take some time for one’s ikigai to become clear to him or her as one’s life experiences may bring that passion or purpose into sharper focus over years.  Lastly, an ikigai may be relatively simple and concise.  It need not be grandiose and complex.  What it does take is a thorough self-assessment and clarification of how each of us answer the four question elements shared above.

David Zahn