Today, scrolling through my linkedIn feed, I came across a post on Ikigai or the Japanese philosophy that helps people find purpose in life. It had an interesting Venn diagram of overlapping circles, with Ikigai in the center. What I could surmise from the diagram, the post, and some subsequent reading on the web, is that Ikigai is about combining your passion, profession, mission, and vocation for a purposeful existence.

What you love doing and do well can be called your passion; what you do well and are paid for doing, is your profession; when you are paid for doing what helps others, you’ve got a vocation; and when you love doing what helps others, you’ve got a mission.

Finding your Ikigai is finding them all, either together or separately.

Ikigai answers the existential question, “why do we exist?”

According to Ikigai, we exist to do things that help us achieve all of the following:

  • help us earn our livelihood
  • we love/enjoy doing
  • we are good/skilled at
  • improve the lives of others

It’s quite a formula.

And yet there’s a bit of reality that we conveniently forget to talk about. The reality that most of us question the purpose of life only when we have spent half our lives either experimenting (present company included) or living inside the box, running the treadmill, and ticking the earning box again and again…until we are thrown off the treadmill to land in the middle of our lives. We then look into the mirror, check our thickening midriffs, lusterless careers, dying relationships and wonder whether running the treadmill is indeed the true purpose of life…it is then that we begin asking those existential questions.

We then browse for inspiration and find “Ikigai”, “How to discover the purpose of your life in twenty minutes”. “What are you doing with your life”, and so on. By then, for many of us, it’s already too late. What we once loved doing appears to be a distant dream, what we have become good at is a skill that cannot be used outside of work, and we find a gross disconnect between our skills and how we might become instrumental in improving the lives of others.

I read a few books and realized that while they present an inspiring concept beautifully illustrated with dozens of examples, it’s nearly impossible to use those concepts in real life. The feel-good-factor has the half life of a day or two, after which it gets tossed into our mental attic, where it jostles with all those other half-forgotten joys that we seldom find time to remember.

Ikigai is a beautiful concept – and while it works for the Japanese for whom it’s a cultural value that’s absorbed and practiced by everyone right from their childhood, applying it with similar finesse and achieving equivalent results, may not be easy for many others. 

Image Credit:

Photo by Tatiana Parubenko on Unsplash