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Lacking fulfilment? How ikigai can help to find your raison d’être

[4 min read]

How to find your purpose and inspiration to jump out of bed.

With the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in full swing, many of us are also being introduced to Japanese traditions and their ways of thinking. Among many concepts that we can adopt to increase our wellbeing and improve our mindset, ‘ikigai’ stands out as one that we can greatly benefit from in our professional environment.

In Japanese, ‘ikigai’ means living with a strong sense of purpose and bringing meaning and joy to your ‘being’. This concept embodies happiness in living, and the reason we get up in the morning. It is about identifying our purpose or passion and using this to achieve greater happiness and satisfaction.

“This word [ikigai] is really like a treasure map. And, this treasure map can help you find your way to finding wonderful things about yourself that you can share with the world, and the world will say ‘thank you’ for it.”
Tim Tamashiro

Although ‘ikigai’ is usually a Japanese way of life concept (something we particularly enjoy doing, our family or our life’s dream), cultivating our inner potential can certainly be extended to our professional life, considering how many hours we invest in making a living.

Incredibly, according to a Gallup’s world poll, we currently face ‘the world’s broken workplace’, with only 15% of the world’s one billion full-time workers being engaged at work. Many of us work countless hours and are miserable; we go to work to pay our bills and completely lose our purpose in the process.

Sadly, we live a ‘box life’, where we:

  • Wake up in a box
  • Eat breakfast from a box
  • Travel in a box to work
  • Travel up some levels in a box to get to our office
  • Work in a box
  • Type on a box
  • Enjoy a meal from a box
  • Travel back home to our box
  • Stare into a box
  • And one day end up in a box.

And more often than not, we call this a successful life… We might spend time in a career or organisation that we somehow ended up in, but that may not fit our strengths or personality. Every day feels like a struggle, but we continue on that path because we don’t know how to break free.

So, sometimes we must step back and ask ourselves: “What is working for me and what’s not? What am I tolerating right now?” These days, people in general crave a purpose-led career that provides them with fulfilment. Maybe, we even need to re-define the word ‘career success’?

“Success without fulfilment is the ultimate failure.”
~ Tony Robbins

So, how can we fix it? Well, this is where ‘ikigai’ fits in; ‘ikigai’ that has been described as the:

  • Reason for being.
  • Source of value in one’s life.
  • Things that make one’s life worthwhile.
  • Art of staying young while growing old.


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This highly effective Japanese concept can assist us in finding the career that is aligned with our values and authentic self, and if we are an entrepreneur can be a tool to create a viable commercial product or service that reflects what we stand for.

To discover our ‘ikigai’, we must:

  1. First, explore what we love doing
  2. Second, find the medium through which we can express our love and passion.

To do so, we can ask ourselves:

  • “What does the world need?”
  • “What are people willing to pay for?”
  • “What am I great at?”

ikigai - japanese concept - 4 areas overlapping - professional development - leadership skills - entrepreneur

Once we have answered these questions, we can explore our ‘ikigai’ by analysing where the 4 areas overlap.

The overlap between ‘what you LOVE doing’ and ‘what the world NEEDS’ can be defined as the HIGHER PURPOSE. It is here that we need to take a close look at how we can merge what we like doing with what benefits the greater good.

Between ‘what the world NEEDS’ and ‘what people are willing to PAY for’ is the VOCATIONAL FULFILMENT, the area of constantly challenging ourselves to get better.

Between ’what people are willing to PAY for’ and ‘what you are GREAT at’ lies the PROFESSIONAL TALENTS, where we must try out new things that we love.

And last but not least, the area between ‘what you are GREAT at’ and ‘what you LOVE doing’ is defined as the PERSONAL PASSION. This is where we need to figure out what the world really needs and how to make money by using our passion.

In a next step, we can create even more self-awareness of what would happen if we ignored only one of the four areas in the ‘ikigai’ concept - let’s call it the ‘study of consequences’…

We would be happy, but poor if we:

  • Do what we love
  • Do what the world needs
  • Do what we are great at
  • But people are NOT willing to pay for it

Our work or product/service would be useful but uncertain if we:

  • Do what we love
  • Do what the world needs
  • Do what people are willing to pay for
  • Are NOT great at it

We would experience stability, but feel unfulfilled if we:

  • Do what the world needs
  • Do what people are willing to pay for
  • Do what we are great at
  • NOT do what we love

We would feel smart but useless if we:

  • Do what we love
  • Do what people are willing to pay for
  • Do what we are great at
  • Do what the world DOESN’T need

The following overview shows all of these overlapping areas, and ‘ikigai’ right at the centre where everything aligns:

ikigai - japanese concept - all areas complete overview - professional development - leadership skills - entrepreneur

So, the question you must ask yourself: Do you live to work or work to live? You owe yourself an honest answer. And if it is the former, use the above concept to gain clarity on your purpose in life, and find the position, the organisation or the product or service that is right for you. This will allow you to live ‘on purpose’ and:

  • Do what you love
  • Use your talent
  • Finance the lifestyle you’re looking for, and
  • Contribute to a better world

We hope this article will help you to find YOUR reason to jump out of bed in the morning and live a fulfilled life!


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