The Japanese concept Ikigai, holds for some time more and more entrance, in our western world.
But it struck me that we Westerners have imported this concept too - what would be the right word to describe it correctly - "clumsily". Too unreflective, respectively not holistic enough. And that brings problems with it.
If you're not familiar with the concept yet, here's the quick version of what Ikigai is (but don't worry, we'll look at the whole concept in more detail):
The idea behind Ikigai is to find meaning in life. This lies in the intersection, of the following four areas: Things you are good at. Things you can get paid for. Things that bring benefit to the world. Things you love. Where these areas intersect is the personal Ikigai.
I'm a big fan of this concept and was able to gain an incredible amount from it, but I also encountered one or two problems, or rather, one or two difficulties and challenges.
Next, let's take a closer look at the four areas (or aspects) of Ikigai. In particular, some tips on how to find your personal Ikigai. And then we'll look at the challenges that often prevent us in the West from finding fulfillment.
Of course, if you are already familiar with Ikigai, you can scroll right down.
According to the famous founder of Morita therapy and Naikan Zen master, Shoma Masatake Morita, we should be aware of what we should be doing right now and what steps are necessary to do it. The key to finding our Ikigai is to be brave enough to look at our inner self.
So let's do just that 🙂 .
1. things you love
The Ikigai aspect "What you love" describes activities that give you a lot of pleasure. You may well be able to identify several such activities. But even a single one is more than enough to find your Ikigai. You will notice in the article that you are very close to finding it, or have already found it.
Don't have an activity in your life that you love? We will find one. And I have to say: trying new things can be a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding.
- What activity makes you feel good? Do you have something through which you feel something like happiness and contentment?
- What activity do you find valuable? Which activity enriches your everyday life and is a highlight for your day.
- What do you volunteer to do? For example, without payment or other benefit.
If you have a hard time thinking of something specific, you can use these examples as a guide. But remember that they are only examples and not the measure of all things - you may find something completely different:
- Read aloud
- Babysit children
- Creative writing
- Working with wood, stone, metal, etc.
- Comedy / joke telling
- Media Design
- Organize (events, household, etc.)
- Live Action Role Playing (LARP)
- Horse riding
- Animal Care
If you have identified something that you love, you now know the first aspect and are already a big step closer to finding your Ikigai:
2. things you can do well
This means that you should identify which activity you are particularly comfortable with and which you are particularly good at.
These types of activities, in my experience, fall into two categories:
- Learned (through school, job or hobby)
- Assessment (things that come easily to you)
Although there is no particular order in which to look at the four areas, this area is usually the easiest to identify.
Don't worry if this is not the case for you. Here are some questions that can help you notice what your talents are?
- What do you do a lot? Maybe there's something you do regularly and a lot.
- What do you do better than others? Maybe you have something you're better at than average.
- What have you invested a lot of time in? For example: Hobby, education, work
- What comes easy to you? Is there anything that takes you relatively little effort?
In case of doubt, you can ask your environment if they can answer these questions about you. Often the people who are close to you see things that we do not even notice.
And remember: you don't have to be an expert in the field. It is also enough if you are enthusiastic about this activity.
The mix, of what you love and what you're good at, by the way, is your passion.
3. things that bring benefit to the world
It is somewhat subjective to determine what the world needs and everyone can come to a different conclusion for a certain activity. But since it's about your personal Ikigai, only your personal feeling is decisive.
The beauty of this point is that in most cases, "what you love" translates relatively easily to "what the world needs."
Take cooking, for example. If you love to be creative in the kitchen, rediscovering your dishes with fine spices, improving them further and further, and getting more and more delicious results that make your mouth water, then one way would be to extend nourishment from yourself to others.
Cooking for others can take this activity to a whole other level of fulfillment. It's an insanely good feeling to provide for others. Especially when you look at the satisfied faces of your guests after the meal.
If you still need a few questions to help you get your bearings and find value:
- Would you possibly enjoy passing on your skills to others? The teacher role can be very fulfilling (but it's not for everyone - and that's okay).
- How can I, through my skills, advocate for my beliefs? Do you have an ethical view that is particularly important to you? Then you can consider how you can pursue this with your activity.
- What problems, can and do I want to address and what skills can I use to do so?
- With which category is my ability particularly compatible?
Don't drive yourself crazy if you don't think of something right away. Some things take time. Once you have found a use, you now know the third aspect for your Ikigai and can pursue it further:
By the way, if you have something you love and the world needs, but it doesn't pay you and/or you're not good at it, that's your mission. You can expand it accordingly by finding a way to slowly and steadily improve your skill and/or discover ways to make money. We'll look at the latter in the following aspect:
4. things you can get paid for
If your activity does not give you some financial reward, you will not be able to pursue it fully and, according to the concept for Ikigai, you will not find complete fulfillment. I would find it extremely unfortunate if you were not as happy as you could be just because the financial situation puts a stone in the way - and I am sure you would find that unfortunate as well. But you are probably standing exactly at this point. Just like the vast majority of people.
The intersection, by the way, of what you're good at and what you can get paid for is called the Profession is called. A condition that is okay, but far from fulfilling.
The same is true, by the way, for the intersection between what you can get paid for and what the world needs. This is commonly referred to as Appointment.
It is therefore elementary to learn how you can make money with your activity. The possibilities for this are as varied as the different activities themselves. And maybe you already have an idea or even a plan on how to make money from what you love.
If you are unsure how to make money from your chosen activity, the following questions may help:
- Is there a need for my activity? This question may be obvious, but can be difficult to answer without deeper analysis. You can proceed in layers for this:
- Does anyone in my area need my activity? In my country? Anywhere else in the world? Through the achievement of the Internet, you do not even have to go on site to help there. However, if the activity is needed, this can also be realized. But you can also search for other aspects:
- Does anyone my age take advantage of what I do? If not:
- What about younger or older?
- Wealthier or less wealthy?
- Can you provide your skills to communities, or volunteer (and fund yourself through a donation network)?
- Is there someone who already earns money with your activity? Finding a mentor, or at least a role model, can save you an enormous amount of trial and error.
If there is someone you can look to for guidance, I would encourage you to contact that person. For example, by e-mail. This is unobtrusive and usually costs less effort.
You could write something like this:
Dear(r) So and so,
I've been watching your / your work with much admiration for quite a while now.
I also love to ... and spend a lot of time doing it.
My dream is to make this my profession. Just like you / you. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to go about it. I have already XY and YZ but I am not sure if this is the right approach.
I know you are / you are busy and I would understand if you don't find the time to answer me, but I would be unspeakably grateful to you for a few lines.
As a compass on my journey, so to speak.
Thank you very much for your time.
With kind regards
You will be surprised how many people actually take the time to write a reply to such a short mail. And if not, that's not so bad. It wasn't a big effort, was it?
If you deal with your subject often enough, the solution will eventually occur to you.
Then you have worked out the fourth aspect and can begin to shape and advance it:
Now that we have learned about the concept, as a whole, let's look at the misunderstandings and difficulties mentioned:
Ikigai is not a method
Another point that stands out about ikigai is that it is usually referred to as a method. At best, it ignores what Ikigai is beyond that, and at worst, it is edited to fit the modern urge to do something and check it off.
Whatever the background, it unfortunately gives the impression that it is a means to an end. Apply method. Identify Ikigai. Result achieved. View next popular lifestyle method.
While this is admittedly a somewhat drastic portrayal, it remains true at its core.
The problem is that it ignores the fact that although Ikigai has its methodology, it goes beyond that and is a holistic concept that provides a lifestyle that should not be discarded.
Identifying the Ikigai is only the smallest part of your journey. It is only the beginning. Everything that comes after that is what will bring you actual fulfillment.
This actually becomes clear when you take a closer look at the meaning of the word:
Iki = Life
Gai = value
So it's about giving value to life. This implies finding your Ikigai but also keeping it with you for the course of life, letting it grow and growing with it.
To be good at something
In most accounts of ikigai, the first aspect of ikigai ("things you can do well") is interpreted as requiring a skill at which you are already good. Even reports that do not explicitly state this often give the impression in an undertone.
This is wrong and a problem, because we often exclude things that could be our ikigai. Simply because we have not (yet) mastered them.
However, an integral part of Ikigai is to continue to improve your skills over the course of your life. It doesn't matter if you don't know gardening yet, or can't dance. It's more important that you like to be outside, like to take care of things, love to see things grow, and therefore want to work on that skill. This also applies to the example with dancing: if you are musical and like to move, you actually have everything you need to start dancing.
However, the higher your skill level is, the faster and better you can level up the "things you can get paid for" and "things that benefit the world" aspects.
Finding time for your own Ikigai
We will also discuss this point in detail, as it can often cause us the greatest problems in the West. Although this point is actually the easiest nowadays. At least in theory.
What do I mean?
Well, we live in a world where you can make money with almost anything. Sounds a bit too theoretical, I know. But in fact, there have never been so many ways to shape jobs.
For example, just a few years ago, it was unthinkable to make a living playing video games (let alone inspiring thousands of viewers in the process).
This fact makes it relatively easy to cover this area of the Ikigai. Nice when something is not too difficult for once.
That which you are good at and that which you can get paid for is your profession. By the way, this is the point where we often find ourselves.
Often, however, our jobs lack the two aspects of "what the world needs" and "what you love. If you are lucky enough that your current job has potential for these areas, you can start working towards them.
But what if you are not in such a situation? How do you go from your current job to forming an activity that makes money and ultimately becomes an ikigai?
The most obvious option is to pursue your Ikigai in your free time at the beginning, and then make the transition later. But depending on how busy you already are in your free time (family, friends, household, etc.), the free time available for this may be quite limited.
Then how do you have time to find your ikigai?
One strategy might be to position oneself to devote time to one's desired activity on a part-time basis for the time being. Until it becomes profitable enough to replace your current main job. For example, you could cut back to 80% with your current job (or 90% if you're more comfortable with that).
The only problem is that the thought of it can make you feel uncomfortable. I, for one, know this feeling.
This is mainly due to the fact that we are socially shaped in such a way that we have the expectation of earning our money with a single job.
That somehow feels reasonable and right.
On second thought, however, it may actually be more reasonable to draw income from multiple sources so that a loss of one source can be easily accommodated.
The following metaphor fits perfectly here:
Of course, this approach is not always, in all situations, as easy to implement as the theory suggests. But you should, in one way or another, create time to follow your Ikigai and ultimately be able to earn money with it. Believe me: it is worth it.
The claim of exceptionality
What is possibly the most serious mistake one can make in the search for one's ikigai is to maintain the widespread thinking in the West that everyone must achieve something extraordinary. This is in stark contrast with classical Japanese frugality and love of simplicity.
This does not mean that we cannot achieve something great. On the contrary. In fact, it is relatively likely that by naturally reaching our peak form, we will accomplish tremendous feats. Rather, it is that the great achievements should arise from our ikigai and not be the actual goal, standing like uneasy shadows in the background over our quest for fulfillment.
Moreover, the dream of great wealth becomes obsolete when we already find happiness in the execution of our activity.
A great example of this is the sushi restaurant in Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo, which gained international fame through the documentary "Jiro dreams of Sushi" and has since been considered the best sushi restaurant in the world.
The Ikigai of the owner Jiro Ono, is to provide his guests with the best possible sushi. And for this very reason, it has never become necessary for him to expand with his restaurant concept and turn it into a restaurant chain. Instead, he continues to devote his energy to preparing food for guests in his small 10-seat restaurant.
Reaching the Ikigai
The final difficulty, or obstacle if you like, is that it is misunderstood that one is not automatically fulfilled by one's ikigai immediately after one has identified the four aspects. One must also still bring them into harmony. That, in turn, is a process that often takes time. And may also take time.
It probably sounds a bit trite, but: the journey is the destination. Or is at least also the target.
All phases of the Ikigai play their role and are important:
- Find something that has all four aspects of Ikigai: "What you are good at", "What you love", "What the world needs", and "What you can make money with".
- Balancing the four aspects: it's okay if it takes a long time to make enough money doing what you love, or until you get really good at it.
- Continuing to practice, your Ikigai, once formed: this part will come easily - it has long become a habit at this point and ultimately you do what brings you fulfillment.
How do you reconcile the aspects of ikigai?
In order to harmonize the Ikigai aspects, it is important to reflect how the four aspects look like, respectively how they are weighted. By being aware of what one's four aspects are, this observation is relatively easy.
If you stop regularly and are honest with yourself.
You can also ask family, friends, and acquaintances how they feel about one aspect or another. But be careful: their opinion should only be a food for thought for you and not the measure of all things, because as mentioned before, it is about YOUR Ikigai. And only you can determine and feel it.
A good method of assessment is to think of the aspects as the classic Ikigai diagram, with the four (ideally) overlapping circles.
But this time you weight the different aspects. The better an area is, the bigger you imagine it to be. The worse, the smaller.
This could look like this, for example:
In this way, you can easily determine which areas need more attention. For example, in the above example, you might consider what actions you can take to focus more on "what the world needs". This will often have an effect on the fourth aspect, and will also lead to you making more money.
By the way, you can also increase the "What you can make money with" aspect by lowering your expenses. Many people observe this automatically when they find their Ikigai. The reason is quite understandable: the urge for materialism is often an attempt to get fulfillment by buying things. But when you are already fulfilled, these purchases often fall away, or at least become less.
Further, the achievement of Ikigai, generally requires a certain commitment, which can be described as follows:
Tamashiro used this equation in his Ted Talk presented. It means that you will find the Ikigai if you dedicate your excess time to it, use your talent for the activity and the rewards (e.g. progress of your skills) you get from this effort and reinvest it.
With the appropriate effort, you will achieve it: your personal Ikigai - of that I have no doubt.
For the most part, the benefits of Ikigai are obvious: satisfaction, a sense of happiness and appreciation.
But there is also a less noticeable but considerable, positive effect. I'm talking about the rejuvenating... or rather young-keeping effect that Ikigai brings.
This is achieved by frequently entering a state of flow in one's Ikigai, which in turn is based on the fact that the zone reached, between over- and under-challenge, provides a mental stimulus. Such a stimulus is, according to the authors Shlomo Breznitz and Collins Hemingway in the book "Maximum Brainpower", crucial to prevent mental decline.
If you want to reach the Flow State more often or in general, I recommend you Luke's article, which goes into detail about this.
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