Why You Should Know Your Ikigai

Find your ikigai

The word “Ikigai” has been featured in prominent publications and Ted Talks, and it is often translated as a “reason for living” or “your why.” I like to use the phrases “your passion” or “your purpose,” but either way, it describes what gets you out of bed in the morning. 

Some people’s purpose is very strong. Famous people like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. showed us their ikigai by fighting for a cause that they believed in. Parents, in particular, do everything they can to care for their children. I have no kids, and have often thought of my career as being a reflection of what is important to me. My career is a way for me to use my talents and get affirmation that my skills are needed in this world. Personally, I have a strong desire to make a difference in this world, and I use my job as a way to do that.

We don’t have to save the world in order to experience ikigai; it is unique and very personal to each of us. Read on to delve deeper into the world of ikigai and see how simple (but maybe not easy) it is to find your own.


WHY should I know what my ikigai is?

In one word: happiness. 

I believe that knowing your purpose will let you experience emotions such as joy. Even better, that joy is contagious. If you’re happy, then you help others in your own, unique way. 

So how to find your ikigai? 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What do you like to do? 
  • What is fun for you?
  • What is one activity that when you do it, you lose track of time?
  • What activity is so important to you, that you think about it all the time?

Some may think of their hobbies, such as gardening, because they get lost in it. It can also be an idea that you feel strongly about, such as encouraging others to vote. Yet others can find their ikigai in their art, where they can start a painting project, for example, and don’t realize they’ve been painting for hours until they get hungry. 

Various sources show your ikigai as a Venn diagram where the following intersect:

  1. what you are good at, 
  2. what you love, 
  3. what the world needs, and 
  4. what you can be paid for.

It is a combination of your passion, mission, vocation and profession – and the result is your happiness.

Ikigai & money

Your ikigai does not have to be linked to your career: your ikigai can be salsa dancing after work, or traveling on your days off. But as you can see, I focus on jobs via this blog and my speaking engagements, and I further focus on job-seekers who want to use their Japanese and English skills in a career.

We need to work; it’s a fact of life. Many people feel that we shouldn’t be picky when it comes to finding a job, especially due to competitive markets and the need to pay the bills. 

But what if you actually liked what you did at work? It would make waking up, getting ready, going to/from work, and spending 8+ hours at work more enjoyable. It would give you a sense of purpose and joy.

I use the word in my company name because I truly believe that we should enjoy our jobs. We spend so much time at work, and we might as well enjoy it. However, not only should we enjoy it, I believe we should thrive in it. 

I focus on Japanese/English bilingual/bicultural job-seekers because I repeatedly hear that they don’t think they can use their language or cultural skills in a job.  And yet, these people are absolutely in love with Japan and its language and culture. They worry that a Japanese major/minor on their resume will be viewed as an expensive hobby. 

In this global economy, however, I believe that having multilingual and/or multicultural skills will make you a greater asset in any organization. If you have Japanese studies paired with another skill, you bring extra value to an organization that needs a strong bridge between two diverse business cultures.

“But how do I know what my ikigai is?”

I get this question all the time. I don’t have an easy answer because only you know what you like, and I can’t tell you what it is. Also, stop being concerned that there is only one answer, and that it must apply to the rest of your life! We as humans grow and change over time, and we are allowed to have different ikigai throughout our lives. 

Just think about your ikigai for right now. Today, you may be mesmerized with Topic A, and you’re allowed to take a lesson/class to see if you like it. In fact, you can dabble it it for a bit before deciding that you want to get serious. It’s almost like dating, but for life purposes!

“But Kasia, what do I need to do?”

  1. Get quiet. Go for a walk. Meditate. 
  2. Leave your phone. DO NOT THINK ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE. Don’t think about how successful so-and-so is in their field, or how happy someone looks on their Instagram feed when they do x, y or z. Yes, you can look at other people’s feeds to see if it rings a bell with your ikigai (i.e. for ikigai research purposes), but you’re on your phone all the time anyways, so it can be a relief for your brain to stop. You already know what you like deep down inside, so turn off the external noise and listen to your own voice.
  3. Brainstorm. Grab a journal and jot down what’s going through your mind. Talk to a counselor or coach. 
  4. Don’t think about “shoulds.” You may feel pressure from well-meaning individuals like parents or teachers, but try to imagine the pressure doesn’t exist and allow yourself to think of just your intentions.
  5. Take one baby step in any direction to test. If you haven’t tried tacos, you will never know if you like them or not. On the other hand, you can also be absolutely certain that you want to be a _______ (fill in the blank), but if you’ve never explored that career field via an internship, you may be heartbroken and lost when you do finally get there and realize it’s not for you. You have to try, try, and try again so you know what you like and what you don’t like. It’s like the yellow brick road in Wizard of Oz… Dorothy won’t know her destination until she takes one step… and then another… and then another. 
  6. Reading recommendation: Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life, by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. My book review is here – I really enjoyed it and think it could be helpful!


What do you think? Are you confused as to what you actually like to do? Or are you absolutely certain what it is, and moving towards it steadily? Let me know in the comments, and reach out if you have any questions!


Photo by Randalyn Hill on unsplash.com

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