From Wiki, "Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means 'a reason for being.' The word refers to having a meaningful direction or purpose in life, constituting the sense of one's life being made worthwhile, with actions (spontaneous and willing) taken toward achieving one's Ikigai resulting in satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life." In this article, we review what the term "Ikigai" means, the origin and operations of it, and how you can achieve it by considering four questions.
The definition of Ikigai
From IkigaiTribe we learn that Kamiya had two forms or definitions for ikigai: (i) Ikigai: something that is a source of Ikigai—for example, my child is my joy, and (ii) Ikigai-kan: the state of mind of when one is feeling Ikigai associated to a source—for example, what I do is an expression of my joy.
In 1966, Mieko Kamiya was one of the first researchers to write and publish about Ikigai in her book titled, Ikigai-ni-Tsuite (What Makes Our Life Worth Living). Kamiya wrote that for an individual to experience Ikigai-kan, that seven types of personal needs are simultaneously satisfied; namely:
The need for life satisfaction
The need for change and growth
The need for a bright future
The need for resonance
The need for freedom
The need for self-actualization
The need for meaning and value
Kamiya's work is often compared to Viktor Frankl's concept of finding meaning in life, and the importance of finding one's purpose as the vector leading to life's happiness. You can read more about this with Frankl's seminal work: Man's Search for Meaning (1959).
Operations of Ikigai
There is nuance to the various operations of Ikagi that have been summarized in the illustrations below.
The center of the concentric circles is where Ikigai lives, and it is the point at which all factors come together in unity and purpose.
In 2009 Dan Buettner gave a Tedx Talk on "How to live to be 100+." In this talk, Buettner explores the planet's blue zones where there are communities of centenarians living well beyond their 100th year of life—one of which is in Japan. In his findings, Buettner shares how diet, sleep, motion-focused and routine exercise, and restfulness helped one live many years longer. During the talk, the Japanese ethic of Ikigai was also mentioned. Inspired by Buettner's talk, Marc Winn prepared the following diagram to illustrate the concept and overlaps of the several drivers of Ikigai.
In achieving Ikigai, the four attributes of being and doing must be considered (as shown above) and are typically expressed by most authors in this order:
Are you doing something you love?
Are you doing something the world needs?
Are you doing something that you are good at?
Are you doing something that you can get paid for?
Those who answer ‘yes’ to all four questions, in the order provided above, are truly the most happy and prosperous according to Ikigai. For some like Mozart, Van Gogh, and Tiger Woods, Ikigai has been achieved as they all did, or are doing, what they love and were paid for it. However, many do not answer ‘yes’ to all four questions. Instead, they focus on how to get paid and ensure to be good at it, then focus on what the world needs and what they love. For these individuals, which make up most of society, how can Ikigai be reached?
Prioritizing dreams and aspirations in the right order
Allen Hill, a previous mentor of Severin Sorensen, Curator and Host of the Arete Coach Podcast, gave sage advice that applies to the idea of achieving Ikigai: “You can have everything in this world if you put the things you want in the right order.” In achieving Ikigai, it’s all about re-ordering or repatterning one's life to get more of what you want.
For example, if your goal was to have a Ferrari sports car in your youth, it could be possible, but at a great expense and peril to all other goals. You would likely have to forgo college and need to work several jobs just to pay for the vehicle along with a space to safely store the car. Putting this goal too early in life's earning cycle would likely strip all other goals from the horizon.
However, what if you re-ordered this goal and bought an affordable automobile in your youth, went to college, started in a marketable career of your choosing, worked hard, progressed, along the way invested in more education and certifications, and built your career gaining some expertise? Your life earnings and earning power would increase. Eventually, if you still had the goal of owning a Ferrari, you might be able to do so with a much lesser percentage of your income expended on the vehicle in your later life. And hence the concept, if you put more of your dreams and aspirations in the right order, you will find you can reach more of them.
Bringing Ikigai into your coaching practice
Using prioritization methods and marketability signals as governors and guideposts for entrepreneurial journeys, follow the questions below to guide your career, or your coachees’ careers, in such a way that what you end up with is something that is needed, that you can get paid for, that you are good at, and is already (or becomes something) that you love to do. And when you find these things, you can reach your own state of Ikigai.
From an economist's viewpoint, there are too many widgets made for which there are no viable markets. An idea does not become a product until somebody pays for it. Therefore, if we want to more productively help our coaching clients reach their own Ikigai, we might suggest a reorder of the selection process for approaching Ikigai this way:
What does the world need? Be curious about what's selling now. What hard problems can be solved? What can't we do now that we might like to do in the future to create a better life?
What can you get paid for? Lean into the concept of micro experiments: failing fast, failing cheap, and failing forward with minimally viable products (MVP) ideas and test them early on. Few people are smart enough to know what the market is willing to pay for, so test, put up your MVP and see what people will buy. The evidence of a paying customer is evidence of a market.
What are you good at? After you have determined where the market is and what people will pay for, determine your own skill sets of what you are good at, what others tell you that you are good at, and explore with great curiosity all your passions, capabilities, and skills to see what things you are good at could earn you either a hobby income or full-time income or business in the future.
What do you love to do? When our avocation equals our vocation, we are most happy. However, if you find that what you are good at, or what the market will pay for, is something you don't love to do, then perhaps ponder a way to leverage what you like to do and what others are good at. For example, consider organizing others to work in the areas that you are good at, and this will give you more time and maximize your contribution to the world in what you are best.
Getting clients to think earlier like an entrepreneur about what the world needs and what people will pay for, will frequently lead to a higher opportunity for individuals seeking to find their own Ikigai.
García, H. (2016, April). Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.
IkigaiTribe. (2020, March 23). Mieko Kamiya – The Mother of Ikigai Psychology. IkigaiTribe. https://ikigaitribe.com/ikigai/mieko-kamiya/.
Kamiya, M. (1966). Ikigai-ni-Tsuite (What Makes Our Life Worth Living).
Tilly, M. (Unknown). What Ikigai Means And How To Find Yours. The Institute of You. https://instituteofyou.org/what-ikigai-means-and-how-to-find-yours/.
Buettner, D. (2010, Jan 6). How to live to be 100+. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_buettner_how_to_live_to_be_100.
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