Whether you're just beginning your career and have no clue what you want to do or you're halfway through it and slipping into a directional crisis, no one likes the feeling of uncertainty. Not knowing where your career is headed can be a scary feeling, and not in a fun, roller-coaster way—it’s usually more of a thrum of ongoing anxiety that can easily become panic.
But there’s no need to panic. If you’ve been struggling with figuring out where you belong in the corporate (or small business, or academic, or startup, or entrepreneurial) world, you’re definitely not alone. And while it’s normal to waver from here to there over the course of our careers, it’s nice to feel a sense of certainty.
Fortunately, a lifestyle trend in Japan influenced by traditional Okinawan culture promises to find your life’s purpose.
What is ikigai?
Ikigai, pronounced [ICK-ee-guy], means “reason for being.” This lifestyle practice seeks to balance practical and spiritual well-being.
Your ikigai is your reason for jumping out of bed in the morning, what motivates you to revel in and appreciate life every day. Ikigai is the confluence of what you love, what you're good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.
Ikigai is a beneficial practice in career growth because like your own passions and needs, and what the world needs—the meditation of ikigai grows and changes with you. There's not necessarily an end to your ikigai practice, it's an ongoing journey.
The questionnaire: Ask yourself these 4 questions to find your ikigai
According to the Japanese culture, everyone has an ikigai and is able to find it by meditating on these four probing questions:
What do I love?
What am I good at?
What can I be paid for?
What does the world need?
When I answered these, I expected to feel an “aha!” moment at the end. I didn’t, nor should you. Consider these ikigai questions a prompt to begin your journey.
Ikigai is not a quick-fix or immediate solution to a windy or unstable career path. It is meant to be a long-term practice, a means of exploring your purpose and identity. You should be searching for and fulfilling your ikigai every single day—and it may chance. The answers to those questions will come later and full circle, probably when you least expect it.
I will tell you how I answered the four ikigai questions, though:
I love when my writing helps people realize things they wouldn’t have realized on their own. I love writing to evoke emotion.
I’m good at being empathetic, listening to people’s stories and struggles while remaining neutral and open-minded.
I can be paid to write in a variety of ways (website articles, magazine features, eBooks, novels).
The world needs truth and relatability, especially on subjects that aren’t represented in the media.
The whole idea behind ikigai is finding out what makes you happy and keeps you motivated, but it goes deeper than that.
In essence, ikigai is a practical approach to figuring out that nagging question in the backs of our minds— What should I do with my life? —once and for all.
Read more: How to Find a Job You Love (No, Really)
The 5 pillars that enhance your ikigai
In addition to answering those four questions about ourselves, there is another layer to the ikigai concept: It is much easier to feel ikigai when we create social connections. This explanation is perhaps due to the ingrained social connections that Japanese society promotes and is conditioned to seek.
Ken Mogi, a neuroscientist and author of Awakening Your Ikigai, advises us to focus on what he labels the five pillars, which are:
- Starting small
- Accepting yourself
- Connecting with the world around you
- Seeking out small joys
- Being in the here and now
To make the most of the five pillar method, Mogi suggests incorporating this mindset in the first couple of hours after you wake up to start your day on the right foot and get your brain accustomed to this way of thinking.
Time to find your ikigai
Keeping the five pillars in mind, take 10 minutes to ask yourself those four core questions. Be honest in your answers and see what you come up with.
Over the next several weeks, set aside time to ponder these questions. You might even consider journaling your answer and thinking on how your answers change over time. Revisit them a month from now. Six months. A year.
We cannot expect to find our ikigai once and for all overnight. Ikigai is an understanding of our own unique life mission, and for most, that takes many years—and it often changes. However, the more determined you are to find your ikigai, the more quickly you can do so.
In the meantime, if you need inspiration, try browsing some of the job opportunities on InHerSight. You can get matched with companies and positions that fit your interests and priorities, which might help spark an idea or provide you with new opportunities if you’re feeling like you’re in a rut.
Cheers to being well on your way to conquering your goals, your work and your life through a purpose-driven approach. Happy ikigai-ing!
By Ashley Alt
Ashley is a creative writer specializing on topics all self-driven women can relate to. She is known for her fashion forward sense of style, obsession with healthy snacking and honest life advice. Her dream of living in NYC will become a reality when her toddler goes to college. Her past work can be found at https://www.ashleyalt.com/.