If you’ve ever questioned ‘what is the point of all this’ then this post is for you…
My Introduction to Ikigai
Do you pay attention to those small coincidences in life? You know, the ones where you see something out of the ordinary and it doesn’t mean much to you. But then you see the same thing again a short while later, and all of a sudden it seems much more significant.
This is what happened to me with the Japanese word ikigai.
I first heard the term from my academic coordinator, explaining the concept in class one day. I was mildly interested in the concept. But promptly forgot about it and went on with my week.
The next week I was in a workshop and the facilitator spoke to us about the term ikigai. I straightened in my chair. I was ready to pay attention to this discussion.
A term I had not heard before presented itself to me twice in the space of a week. This was one of those happy coincidences in life which I enjoy and believe there is meaning to be discovered if I only look a bit harder.
What is Ikigai?
When I originally heard the phrase, I was presented with a similar description. That ikigai is about your life’s purpose. It is that which is at the intersection of four components:
- What you enjoy
- What you are good at
- What the world needs
- What you can be paid for
It was said that you will find your ikigai in life when you find something you can do that meets each of these four criteria. That is your true purpose in life.
At the time of hearing about ikigai for the first, and second, time I was in the headspace of wondering about my life’s purpose.
After an extended time living in fear, feeling my confidence drop and feeling I was not amounting to much I knew I needed to change. I stepped into my courage zone. I began a journey of self-discovery and search to define my life’s purpose.
Why is Purpose so Important?
Research into the world’s blue zones – those regions where life expectancy is greater than the average – identify a number of factors that lead to a long and healthy life.
Having an ikigai, or purpose in life is one of those factors cited as a key to longevity.
I believe we are here to evolve and grow into better versions of ourselves. Life presents a series of opportunities and challenges. How we navigate each of these experiences enables us to grow, to learn from our mistakes and to become more of our true selves.
Having a direction to channel our efforts is more rewarding than not. Have you ever felt that you are just going through the motions? Week in, week out, with not much to show for your life? This is a horrible feeling. I don’t want to feel my life is wasted. And I would hate to think you may ever feel the same about your life.
I am glad you are here. I am glad I am here. We’re both showing up and learning about how we can live to our potential.
A purpose in life is like having a map for our life’s journey. We know where we are going. And we can keep referring back to our purpose when we feel we are off-track.
Knowing where we are headed is such a powerful force. Once we know our purpose, the decisions we make in life can either help us get closer to achieving our purpose. Or they can take us away from it. This knowledge can help us determine whether our gut feelings are pangs of doubt, or our intuition and instinct, urging us forward.
At the time of my life I was ready to take action to find my life’s purpose, that is when the term ikigai was uncovered. I had to learn more.
I purchased a book, Ken Mogi’s ‘The little book of ikigai, the essential Japanese way to finding your purpose in life’.
Since then I have read it multiple times, seeking to gain as much knowledge and inspiration for my experience.
Within his book, Mogi describes five pillars of ikigai. I believe these pillars have greater substance and meaning than the four criteria described above.
The four criteria are a handy guide. They provide a helpful description to understand what our life’s purpose may look like. However, these five pillars feel more fundamental to experiencing ikigai on a daily basis, rather than working up to one unique experience.
The Five Pillars of Ikigai
This is about recognition that working towards your life’s purpose may not result in immediate accolades. Instead, it will take persistence with small steps over time to master our craft. We may set a personal standard or attitude to our work, and we will be curious to learn more, and unwavering in our attention to improving the details to reach our state of mastery.
This pillar is about learning to let go of ourselves, while also accepting us as we are. Instead of being concerned about how we may appear to others, we are more focused on our work, and in a state of flow. We are not seeking external reward, we are creating a rewarding life while carrying on with our tasks.
Harmony and sustainability
Being aware that our actions impact others and performing in a way that promotes harmony and sustainability. It is about nurturing and enhancing others, just as much as satisfying ourselves. Mogi encourages us to think of ourselves as a tree in a forest – we are individual, yet we are all connected and reliant on each other for our growth.
The joy of little things
Allowing our work to bring us satisfaction, even from the tiniest of details. The small acts or experiences that bring us joy. It is about appreciating the process rather than being concerned with the outcome.
Being in the here and now
This pillar recognises that when we are in the present moment, we can value what is before us. This is especially important if we are creating and being creative. Building on previous pillars, it is about being immersed in our effort and being aware of our senses. And allowing this experience to bring us joy as we produce our work.
Finding Life’s Purpose – Your Ikigai
Now you know more about ikigai, you may be wondering ‘what’s my life’s purpose?’ That’s great!
From my experience though, this is too big a question to answer in one go. ‘What is my purpose in life’ is a difficult question to answer without considering many factors.
Here are some reflection questions to help you get started:
- When I feel I don’t have enough time in life to do the things I actually want to do, what are those activities I wish I had more time to enjoy?
- What am I doing when I feel most motivated?
- When I am working in state of flow, what is the type of work I am doing?
- What values are most important to me? What activities do I do which make me feel in alignment with those values?
- When do I feel most at contented and at peace?
- What are my natural talents? What do people come to me for advice or assistance with?
- If I could do anything at all, money and time were no object, how would I spend my days?
- What have I always wanted to learn about but never got around to doing?
- When do I feel most alive?
Some of these questions are asking a similar thing, but from a different perspective. This may help you identify patterns and strong themes emerging from your response.
Take this as your starting point. Explore further what this means for you in practice, then observe how you are feeling as a result. If these activities fill you up, energise you and are something you find yourself thinking about and craving to do more of then this looks like you are on your way.
Which pillar of ikigai resonates most with you? Is there one pillar that you can identify yourself in and now it is opening you up to discovering your life’s purpose? Let me know in the comments below, I would love to know.