Ikigai: How to find your purpose

As we get into the swing of a January quite unlike any other – but strangely familiar in light of the past year – I’ve been reflecting on what gets me out of bed in the morning (other than a Zoom meeting or a hungry child/cat/dog). After experiencing so much change and uncertainty in the last few months, it’s hardly surprising that some of us are asking ourselves what it’s all about.

Finding our purpose

Understanding our purpose can feel overwhelming, insurmountable, or even a little indulgent as we continue to navigate our daily lives; fulfilling our obligations and trying to fit 48 hours’ worth of stuff into 24 hours. But it can also be something which gives a renewed sense of motivation, a spring in our step and enriches our lives longer term.

There are various ways we find our purpose. For some it is innate and never called into question. For others it’s the “squiggly path” of different careers and interests. For those still trying to figure it out, there are numerous tools designed to help.

On the latter, I was introduced to the concept of Ikigai a couple of years ago by Mavericks Unlimited. At the time we were working with them on a coaching programme, in part to help some of our Principals find their own ‘Aha!’ moment to support their personal development.

“Ikigai is a positive and effective way to capture and translate your personal thoughts, feelings and aspirations into something clear and concrete. By providing a guiding philosophy, it delivers an anchor point from which you can adapt your life – yourself, your environment and your approach, in order to become a happier person and achieve your own meaningful goals. Without it and regardless of how carefully considered and how well motivated, attempts to make positive change happen would be directionless, or worse – misdirected."

John Tearle, Principal at Incite

What is Ikigai?

The Japanese believe that everyone has a hidden Ikigai, and that it is found through deep, meaningful search and discovery. Once found, it is regarded to hold the keys to lifelong wellbeing, happiness and fulfilment. Although it has no literal western translation, it broadly means ‘why I wake up in the morning’, i.e. a reason for being.

Ikigai sits at the intersection of four components: identifying something you are good at, that you love, that the world needs, and that you can get paid for – simple, right?

Six tips for discovering your Ikigai

1 / Find a quiet place and give yourself the space to begin the thinking process.

2 / Go wide: include everything you love and are good at, and don’t put up barriers.

3 / Have some fun along the way; don’t just think about the things you are good at professionally.

4 / Don’t put pressure on yourself to change the world, become an overnight sensation or make millions – unless of course you find that’s your purpose. Keep it relevant for you.

5 / It’s a journey that can take time. You may need to revisit it to help define purpose as your life and priorities change.

6 / You won’t necessarily have an earth shattering revelation, but will find ways to live with more purpose and intention.

Although this way of thinking is focused on the individual, we heard time and again during our recent seminars on human-centricity that understanding and channeling the things people love to do can be just as powerful for brands and teams too.

So grab a piece of paper, find a quiet corner, start asking yourselves those questions, and see where it takes you. And if you would like to hear how we apply this approach to planning and strategy, get in touch.