Uncovering your true calling, your ‘reason for being’, the thing that drives and fulfils you, can be transformative. Here, our expert columnist, Kieran Townsend, reveals just how you can unearth yours
While there is no direct translation, ikigai can be likened to a reason for being, and what gets you up in the morning. In their book Ikigai: The Japanese secret for a long and happy life, authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles explain that those who discover their ikigai have everything they need for a long and joyful life, attributing ikigai to explain the longevity of the Japanese population.
I’ve been fascinated by the Japanese model of ikigai since coming across it, and have been applying this to my own life since then. When coaching, I use this concept to shift young people’s way of thinking to start discovering their own ikigai. Knowing your ikigai gives you clarity, helps to shape your lifestyle, and find meaning.
How to find your ikigai
Our ikigai lies inside us, and requires introspection and self-awareness to discover it. In my experience, focusing on four key questions has been impactful. I adapt the wording slightly to make this resonate, and have found it to be a powerful tool for young people. So, to find your own ikigai, begin by asking yourself these questions:
What do you love?
Love can be a strong and sometimes confusing word. So if this feels like a sticking point for you, another way to frame this is thinking about what things you lose track of time doing, or what you truly enjoy. I find these reframes really help to generate lots more ideas, which really kick starts the process.
What does the world need?
This wording can feel slightly overwhelming, but you can dial this down by focusing on your own community first. Essentially break this big question down into smaller steps, which may start with doing simple acts of kindness, or service for others. Start small, then expand.
What can you be paid for?
We all need to pay our bills, so this is about finding out if the thing you take most joy in doing has career potential. Sometimes, our passions might not have a payday right off the bat – we may need to gain experience through volunteering, or expand our knowledge with a course first. Alternatively, it might turn out to be something you probably won’t make a living from, more a purposeful hobby, which is fine if it ticks other boxes for you, creating happiness and fulfilment in other life areas by exploring it.
What are you good at?
Self-awareness is key here. However, seeing it from another’s perspective can help us to generate more ideas. We are often reserved in saying what we think we are good at, or sometimes do things well and don’t realise. I liken this to Peter Pan, when the children ask him how to fly, he forgets how at first because it comes naturally! So ask around – you may be surprised at what people say.
Try it for yourself!
You can try exploring these questions either with a pen and paper, or digitally; simply split your pages into four sections, one for each question, and look for any overlaps in your answers. Then, you could take the ideas, themes, or things that come up, and drop them into a table so you can list them all in one place for clarity. Throughout this process, notice how you are feeling and any sensations in the body – are you feeling excited? What is your intuition trying to tell you?
If you have some items which tick every box, this could well be your unique ikigai!
Make the process fun – go somewhere to change up your energy, such as a coffee shop, put your headphones in, and order yourself a nice coffee on a Sunday morning.
Don’t discount two overlaps – they can build with time and effort.
Review this every six months. Add this activity to your calendar, because as life changes, so do our motivations.
Don’t get hung up on the “What can I be paid for” section, as this may come later.
See if you can bring elements of what you love or enjoy into where you are currently if you feel out of alignment, e.g. if you enjoy reading, can you start a book club at work?
Examples from my coaching sessions to give you an idea:
One client loves doing woodwork, and is very talented at creating unique furniture for display and storage. This is something the world needs, and so they are now experimenting with ideas to sell to their local community as a first step.
My client used to play handball back in his native country; this is something they enjoyed doing and were good at. We identified this could benefit the local community, encouraging them to socialise, be active, and try something new. While this might not be something he can be paid for, it is very much a purposeful hobby.
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Learn more about Kieran on the Life Coach Directory.