5 Steps to Discover Your Purpose (Japanese style)

5 Steps to Discover Your Purpose (Japanese style)

I frequently refer to the Japanese concept of ikigai as a tool to help you define your purpose and thought I would take the opportunity to delve into the process to discover your ikigai more deeply.

I defined my ikigai after a coaching session with my coach, it really helped me to understand what is driving me to get out of bed in the morning and take the longest commute from my bedroom into my office and build my coaching business.

What is IKIGAI?

There is no simple, direct translation into English for the Japanese word ikigai. It roughly means the “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you get up in the morning.” It encompasses the idea that happiness in life is about more than money or a fancy job title.

It’s easiest to think about ikigai as an intersection, the common ground between:

  • What you love
  • What you are good at
  • What the world needs
  • What you can get paid for

Ikigai has a few essential qualities that separate it from the idea of “follow your passion” as we conceive of it in Western culture:

  • It’s challenging – your ikigai should lead to mastery and growth
  • It’s your choice – you feel a certain degree of autonomy and freedom pursuing it
  • It involves a commitment of time and belief – perhaps to a particular cause, skill, trade or group of people
  • It boosts your wellbeingikigai is associated with positive relationships and good health. It gives you more energy than it takes away.

In some sense, an ikigai can serve as a compass to navigate both career and life decisions, which it seems people crave for now more than ever.

5 Steps to find your ikigai

Discovering your ikigai doesn’t happen overnight; rather than being something that you magically discover, your purpose unfolds and will evolve over time. Finding it requires a willingness for self-exploration and experimentation. Thoughtful reflection combined with taking action can help you to uncover how your values, strengths and skills can be brought to the foreground to help you find more meaning in your life and career.

Try this 5-step process on how to foster the right mind set to let your ikigai develop.

1. Start with questions

Grab yourself a blank piece of paper and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you love? (These speak to your passion)
  • What are you good at? (These speak to your profession)
  • What does the world need? (These speak to your mission)
  • What can you get paid for? (These speak to your vocation)

Don’t force yourself to come up with all your answers in one sitting, it’s more productive to take your time. Over the course of a few days or weeks, take notes as ideas and insights come to you. Be radically honest with yourself. Don’t be afraid to jot down whatever come to mind, no matter how preposterous it might seem right now.

It can be hard to see yourself objectively, which is where getting outside feedback comes in. Ask friends and family to tell you what they see as your three best qualities. If you have documentation from previous performance reviews and 360° Feedback, this can also help you to see yourself how others see you and create a vocabulary around your skills and traits.

2. Map it out

Write all of the above into the relevant section of the Venn diagram. This doesn’t have to be beautiful, it just has to organise your thoughts. This is a living document, so will change and evolve over time. As you start to test your ikigai in the real world, you will cross things off and add others.

If you are much more of an experiential learner rather than a logical planner, spend some time thinking through and mapping out your ideal day by describing what your ideal typical workday looks like in as much detail as possible.  This may be miles away from your current reality.

3. See if it feels right

Reflect on what you have written and do a gut check – how does this make you feel? Does it feel right? If so, great. If not, take another look and try and figure out what is bothering you.

Remember that your ikigai evolves with you as a person, it just has to be right for now.

4. Test it

Like any aspiration, it doesn’t happen through introspection alone. You have to commit to consistent action in order to move towards achieving it and make adjustments along the way to continue to grow.

Once you’ve arrived at a working idea about your ikigai, it’s time to take some action in the real world to test if following this life purpose is actually something you will find meaningful and fulfilling. This may involve shifting priorities or exploring new directions. For example, you may opt to travel less and focus on creating more family time or you may start a business, you may even find yourself changing careers entirely.

Saying ‘yes’ to your ikigai may require you to say ‘no’ more often. You may have to eliminate certain commitments in order to fully focus on your priorities. Create boundaries to protect your time and enable you to enter a psychological flow state where your ikigai could come to life.

5. Build your support system

As with most life transitions, it’s critical to have support while consciously developing your sense of ikigai. If you’ve decided to work towards another career, it’s crucial to have mentors guiding you as well as to have caring people in your corner.

Cultivate a relationship with someone who has made a similar career transition. Ask about their experience making the leap. Which aspects of it were the most challenging and the most rewarding?

Let your ikigai be your guide

An ikigai is like a compass. As your career or your business evolves and you’re presented with more opportunities, you can rely on your ikigai to steer you in the right direction.

When you see your purpose, how does it make you feel? Let me know in the comments below. If you would like me to be part of your support system, please do get in touch to see how I can help.

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