Steps to find your ikigai |
Understandably, once people become familiar with the concept of ikigai, they want to dive right in, tackle defining it like a discrete project, then leap into action based on the results of that project.
But it is important to understand that figuring out your ikigai does not happen overnight. Rather than being something that you magically discover, your purpose unfolds and will evolve over time.
That is not an excuse to sit back and expect your ikigai to present itself. Finding it requires a willingness for deep self-exploration and experimentation, and there are ways to work on that. Thoughtful reflection combined with action-taking can help you to uncover how your values, strengths, and skills can be brought to the foreground to help you find more meaning in your life and career—and the balance of ikigai.
Here is a 5-step process on how to foster the right mind set to let your ikigai develop.
1. Start with questions.
Grab a journal and ask yourself the following questions:
What do you love? (These speak to your passion.)
What are you good at? (These speak to your profession.)
What does the world need? (These speak to your mission.)
What can you get paid for? (These speak to your vocation.)
You do not have to force yourself to come up with answers in one sitting. In fact, it is more productive to take your time.
Over the course of a few days or weeks, take notes as ideas and insights come to you. Most importantly, be radically honest with yourself. Do not be afraid to jot down whatever comes to mind, no matter how crazy or irrational it might seem right now.
If those questions are not sparking as much insight as you would like, try these:
What would you like to see change in the world?
What, in your life as it is now, makes you happy?
Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
Have you had any life-changing moments that provided a lightning bolt of clarity?
Be sure to include other life or career experiences that significantly inform your values.
After you have answered these questions thoughtfully, start to look for patterns.
What kinds of themes are apparent?
Are there obvious intersections among categories, or do they seem disparate? If clear links are not evident, do not worry that is normal. This process will take time.
It can be hard to see yourself objectively, which is where getting outside feedback comes in. I asked family and friends to anonymously tell me what they saw as my three best qualities. Taking assessments like StrengthsFinder and the VIA character strengths survey also helped me identify (and create a vocabulary around) my skills and traits.
Ironically, qualities about myself that I took for granted were precisely what others saw as unique and valuable. Instead of downplaying my knack for empathy, their comments nudged me to look deeper at how I could leverage my sensitivity as a strength and pivot my career to focus on coaching, teaching, and writing.
2. Map it out.
Mapping out your answers to the questions above is helpful, especially if you feel stuck. There are all sorts of ways to create a map; experiment with whatever makes visual sense to you.
Some people find it helpful to draw interlocking circles for each category (a Venn diagram, like the one above), while others like to map it on a quadrant, writing ideas that meet multiple criteria near the intersection of the axes. The map does not have to be beautiful. It just has to organize your thoughts. This is a living document, so it will change and evolve over time. As you start to test your ikigai in the real world, you will strike out things and add others.
Because I am much more of a experiential learner rather than logical planner, I spent some time thinking through and mapping out my Ideal Day. This involves describing what your ideal typical workday looks like in as much detail as possible (remember, an ikigai is pragmatic). In other words, you visualize what an energizing day living your ikigai might entail.
When I went through this exercise, it was eye opening. I realized I had love nothing more then to start my day at the gym, followed by working from home. I had alternate between days of deep work on creative projects and days filled with coaching clients.
Although this was a far cry from my current reality of frantically commuting back-and-forth to New York City, I started making small changes by picking elements of my ideal day to bring to life. For example, I took back control of my calendar, blocking out two hours a week to focus on writing projects.
Over time, these incremental adjustments add up and move you closer to living a more personally meaningful life.
3. See if it feels right.
Whether you are holding a list or a map or something else from the steps above, reflect and do a gut check.
Gordon Matthews, an anthropologist and ikigai researcher, says he uses an intuitive approach to examine his own life. On an occasional basis he checks in with himself about his ikigai: How is it going? What is bothering me? What is really going on now?
These are worthwhile questions to ask, whether you determined your ikigai forty years ago or you are just learning about the concept now. If you are on an initial ikigai fact-finding journey, integrating instinctive nudges with logic-driven thinking can lead to a deeper, more coherent sense of purpose.
One of my favorite tools for straddling left- and right- brain perspectives is a design thinking tool called the Odyssey Plan, created by Stanford professors Bill Burnet and Dave Evans.
In an Odyssey Plan exercise for ikigai, you try on three different paths, or in this case, three different visions of ikigai, to see what they feel like.
Start by listing three different descriptions of your possible ikigai. The first one should reflect your current path, while the second and third should reflect what you had choose if money or other people expectations did not matter. Most of my clients prefer to use the worksheet available on the Designing Your Life website or you can sketch your own. Then, rank how you feel about each ikigai path based on:
How much you like it
How confident you are in it
Whether it fits with your life-, work-, and world-view
Burnett and Evans note that approaching your purpose as an odyssey is not only a playful way to evaluate your current path, but it is also a reminder that your ikigai evolves as you grow as a person.
4. Test it
The payoff to finding your ikigai is in living it out. Like any aspiration, it does not happen through introspection alone. You have to commit to consistent action in order to make strides and also to make adjustments along the way to continue to grow.
Once you have arrived at a working idea about your ikigai, it is time to take some action in the real world to test if following this life purpose is actually something you will find meaningful and fulfilling.
This may involve shifting priorities or exploring new directions. For example, maybe you opt to travel less and prioritize family time. Perhaps you start a new business that combines multiple interests. You might find yourself changing careers entirely if your current focus does not overlap with your ikigai.
In my case, saying YES to my ikigai required saying NO more often. I had to strip away certain commitments in order to fully focus on my priorities. It meant creating rock solid boundaries to protect my time and allow me to enter a psychological flow state where my ikigai could come to life.
When you begin to take steps towards your goal, your ikigai will be tested, and that is a very good thing. Author Neil Pasricha suggests running your ikigai through the Saturday Morning Test:
The Saturday Morning Test is your answer to one simple question: What do you do on a Saturday morning when you have nothing to do? Make sure your ikigai is something you had find yourself blissfully drawn to on a rare day off.
5. Build your support system
As with most of lifes transitions, it is critical to have support while consciously developing your sense of ikigai.
If you have decided to work towards another career turning a side project into a full-time endeavor, for instance it is crucial to have mentors guiding you, as well as to have caring people in your corner.
Cultivate a relationship with someone who has made a similar career transition. Ask about their experience making the leap. Which aspects of it were the most challenging and the most rewarding?
I use author Molly Becks RO (Reach Out) strategy to build meaningful relationships with other coaches, writers, and thought leaders I admire. Many of these have blossomed into great friendships with people I can turn to with questions or for moral support when I hit inevitable rough patches.
Reminders on the road to finding your sweet spot
Try to be non-judgmental about your ikigai.
If you find your sense of purpose through devotion to your career, that is wonderful. It does not mean that your family, friends, or spirituality are not important to you, and that you should not make time for them. It simply means that a large part of the thing that you live for stems from the sense of reward and accomplishment you get from the things you take on through your vocation and profession.
Not every moment of every day will be blissful.
Keep in mind that even as you pursue your sense of purpose, not every moment of every day will be easy or even enjoyable. Regardless of the changes you have made in your career or life, you will likely still have to make tradeoffs and compromises from time to time. If you are connected with your sense of purpose most of the time, thouigh, you will be more resilient and keep bad days in perspective.
Let your ikigai be your guide
An ikigai, in some ways, is like a compass. Aligning your actions with the thing that you live for helps you navigate life ups-and-downs. As your career evolves and you are presented with more opportunities, you can rely on your ikigai to steer you in the right direction.
Remember to evaluate your sense of happiness and purpose at every step along the way. By seeking growth that fits your sense of purpose, you pursue health and happiness as well.
Text by Melody Wilding , Dec 1, 2017