IKIGAI — Finding your true purpose in life.

Graphic by Nicki Traikos

Most people don’t have their shit together. And that’s alright. Many people might look like they do, but internally they aren’t as fulfilled as they lead everyone to believe. We realise that in adulthood we’re all just bluffing our way through life; good things happen, bad things throw a spanner in the works, we get knocked about a bit and we figure out how to keep going as best as possible. We try to make plans, but life is unpredictable and many things feel out of our control. Leading to depression, frustration, bad decisions, resentment, low self-esteem, a feeling like we aren’t being fulfilled, etc.

It’s important to remember this, especially nowadays with social media showing us the bright shiny lives of all of our friends 24/7. Behind the scenes, even those who are seemingly successful in life, still have their ups and downs, their trials and tribulations, and countless difficulties. But some have managed to get to a point where they’ve achieved the right balance in life and that’s what we should all be aiming for.

Ikigai — your reason for getting out of bed each day.

This balance is what the Japanese call ‘Ikigai’ and is demonstrated in the diagram above. It’s the reason you get out of bed every morning. A concept that pulls together all that is needed to reach a sense of fulfilment or purpose. There are self help books galore out there, claiming to have the key to happiness, gurus, thousands of holistic practitioners, diets, exercise fads, you name it, there’s something for everyone. Yet Ikigai is as close as I have ever seen to answering the hardest question we have in the simplest way… “What will make me happy?”

A sense of purpose is that hole we all have that needs to be filled. It’s the answer to loneliness, to over eating, to drug abuse, to so much of the suffering we see around us. Needless to say it’s a somewhat of a luxury too. Thinking of Malsow’s pyramid of needs, of course you can’t begin to contemplate “what the world needs”, when you’re at the bottom of the pyramid; trying to find shelter, food or water for you and your family, or having to flee a war torn country as a refugee. Most of us are lucky enough in modern society to have the basic needs covered, between 1990 and 2015, the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty fell from 37.1% to 9.6%.

So you’ve got the basics, then what? Many people feel that making as much money as possible will make them happy. That they will gain the love and respect of their peers. Does that really help over a certain point? A slightly bigger car each year, a slightly bigger house. Pursuit of more stuff… a never ending hole that cannot be filled because there is more to life than most people realise and the other areas are being neglected.

What is your definition of success? If it is just about money, perhaps you need a new definition that thinks more about helping others? If it is just about helping others, then maybe you need to look after yourself a little more, and maybe find ways of earning more money?

Spending time thinking about Ikigai over the last ten years has helped me redesign my life to continually get a bit closer each day. I use it in self review, I have created my own techniques and adapted other ones to figure out for myself, and for friends and clients, where we are missing focus and what needs more work. Life’s purpose doesn’t just appear from out of nothing, it takes time, effort and fortitude. But fundamentally, it is everything and worth every second I’ve given to chasing Ikigai.

Businesses are nothing much more than a group of individuals doing stuff together. You can look at businesses as a product, or a brand, and easily forget about the people who make it run. You can forget that each and everyone of them need a purpose; to come alive, to be happy, to even be more productive. When managers and owners forget this, those businesses are unhappy places to work in and tend not to resonate with their customers. People are not satisfied with spending the greater part of their waking lives just to make someone else money to their own detriment. People now expect their companies to provide the opportunities to help them realise their purpose. We want to feel this purpose, autonomy, a sense of achievement, that we are making a difference in the world, that we are improving, that we’re happy, that we’re recognised and considered useful.

So why don’t more businesses help people do this? It should be baked into the business’ DNA so the staff all experience Ikigai; into its product offering so its customers are also helped closer to their Ikigai. It isn’t impossible, nor is it hard. But it does take a sense of courage to say that your business could be better for everyone involved. John Browne, former CEO of BP calls it ‘radical engagement’ in his book. The beneficial output means less staff turnover, greater productivity, customer engagement, loyalty and even more profit. It’s the scenario in which everyone wins and no one has to lose.

I like to find ways for people and businesses to find their Ikigai. I’ve consulted dozens of people and start ups and loved every moment where I show a path and the people find their own way. I make suggestions and they pick what works best for them. I give them the tools to collaborate and discover this themselves. If this sounds like the way you’d like your life and/or business to go, then get in touch via my website here.

My team and I have also created a digital platform called Anew Mission — it’s for collaborative innovation amongst many citizens for social good. And it can help you and all your colleagues find your Ikigai together. I will be writing more on that soon.

I truly hope you do find your purpose. Tell me below where you are at in your life and what you think is missing in the comments section and I’ll respond to everyone. Make your own luck, and ask me to help — it’s part of my purpose, my Ikigai.