Business & Careers

Why “Ikigai” Is Key To Success

BY Kay Makishi

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I was lost with my life direction.

Ever feel like this? I didn't feel aligned with my calling.

So I resorted to a word I've heard all my life growing up: ikigai. Ikigai is the Japanese concept of “reason for being”. And here's why it may be key to our success.

Ikigai: Your “Reason for Being” 

My Japanese relatives believe everyone has an ikigai. It's similar to raison d'etre in French. It combines passion and a sense of purpose for something greater. It can be broken down into two parts iki 生き meaning “life” and 甲斐 meaning “worthwhile”.

A “life worthwhile”. Dang. Oh okay. Well, if you're anything like me, you like big abstract concepts like “a life worthwhile” broken down into tiny, bite-size, comprehensible pieces. (Domo arigato)

My Lack of Ikigai

I got my masters from my dream school. I had it all mapped out. I'd work at a top institution for a few years. I'd then start my own business. I always knew I wanted to start my own business but I didn't know in what. I just knew I wanted to start a business. Sound familiar to anyone? Or is it just me?

My friends were all jetting off to great, high-paying, prestigious jobs while I still felt lost. I was interviewing for jobs. I wanted to have impact. Use my energy for good. If I'm honest with myself, there was definitely a part of me chasing after money and prestige too. Traditional metrics of “success”. That's not necessarily bad per se, but…

I thought after I got into a top school then that was it. Everything would be clearer afterwards. Next steps would magically appear somehow. Well, I was totally wrong.

4 Questions to Find Your Ikigai

I was looking outward when I really needed to look inward. I was so lost and didn't know where to start. So I turned to my Japanese family for some answers.


Why Ikigai is Key to Success

By en:User:Nimbosa derived from works in the PUBLIC DOMAIN by Dennis Bodor (SVG) and Emmy van Deurzen (JPG) ( [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

What did I get in return? Questions. They like to do this to me. Always answering questions with questions. Here are the 4 questions they asked me and essentially the 4 parts to Ikigai:

  1. What do you love? (your passion)
  2. What does the world need? (your mission)
  3. What are you good at? (your vocation)
  4. What can you get paid for? (your profession)

It's the nexus of all four parts that is your sweet spot. They say it takes deep enquiry and ‘lengthy search of self' to find it. I realized I lacked a greater ‘purpose' in my pursuit at the time. I lacked my ikigai.

Why Ikigai is Key to Our Success

Because ikigai is a more structured, clearly defined ‘why' that we can implement. It's what motivates us. And we are our businesses. Ikigai is our north star and guiding compass. Without ikigai, we can get lost in others' or society's definition of success. With it, we can stay genuine to our selves. Meaning, we can stay genuine in our businesses ultimately leading to our success (defined here in terms of monetary compensation, societal impact, and personal fulfilment. Or, however you choose to define it).

Ikigai is our passion combined with purpose framed in practicality. 

I definitely don't have everything figured out in life. I'm in the same boat as you. Just going for it. Finding a way. But I can say that after a few years ‘searching for self' and defining my ikigai, it has given me unshakeable inner confidence to keep going even when I am unsure at times. That's why I created this exercise for you to print out and complete. I hope it helps you find your ikigai and give you strength to keep on your journey too no matter what.

As always, would love to hear about you and your stories. What is your ikigai? Comment below!


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