“I do my best thinking in nature” — Grinda, Stockholm Arhipilago

5 tips for discovering your purpose

In my last post I introduced Ikigai, a Japanese framework for re-discovering your purpose in life, work and everything. I promised that if people liked it I would share a list of concrete tips for how to write your own.

I did not however expect that almost 2000 people would read, like, comment and share the article. I’ve gotten lots of great feedback and questions, which I will try to adress in this post.

To summarise, Ikigai is a Japanese term that means “reason to be”. It is better known as a framework of four overlapping circles focusing on what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for. The idea is that if you get them all to overlap you have found your Ikigai, or in other words your purpose in life.

However, it’s not a static model. Our interest and skills evolve, and so does the world and the job market. I see Ikigai more as a compass giving direction and find it useful to re-calibrate the compass at least once a year.

But figuring out your purpose isn’t necessarily an easy task. It requires time and deep reflection. What works for me might not work for you, so it’s important that you experiment and find your own approach. But here are at least a couple of ideas to help you get started.

1. Break the pattern

It’s way to easy to get stuck in a pattern. You go to work. You do your thing. You come home tired. You eat, sleep, wake up. And then you do it all again. What we don’t notice however is how this repetitive pattern impacts the way we think. Have you ever noticed how you seem to have your best ideas when your on vacation, or perhaps when you’re sleeping? Go figure :)

So my first tip is to break the pattern. Physically. Take the afternoon off. Go for a walk. Sit in a café. I find I do my best thinking in nature, so last week I took a ferry out in the archipelago and spent the day on an island. I walked through the forest. I meditated on a cliff. I looked out across the water, and slowly my ideas started taking form. Experiment with what works for you, and then set aside some time to actually do it.

2. Clear the clutter

We live in a world of constant distraction. Be it social media, constant email notifications, kids pulling at your pant legs or the music blasting in your headphones. It becomes addictive and many find it physically painful if they forget their mobile at home or it runs out of battery. I used to be so continuously distracted that I was scared of what I would find if I let myself be alone with my brain for a couple of hours.

But deep thinking requires, well, deep thinking. More often than not we already know the answer. But there is so much noise that we don’t recognise it. The stress and clutter of everyday life get’s in the way and we can’t think clearly.

You don’t have to go all “hippie” and sit crosslegged in deep meditation.

So I challenge you. Turn off your phone (yes, physically). Find a silent space. You don’t have to go all “hippie” and sit crosslegged in deep meditation. But try just sitting and doing nothing. If you’re in nature, listen to the birds. If you’re by the ocean, listen to the subtle sounds of water. Allow yourself to just be, and see what happens. Commit to doing nothing for 20 minutes. I promise your mind will start making new connections, and coming up with awesome ideas. Ideas that you knew all along, but never had the time to listen to.

3. Draw the model by hand

Do you hear that voice in your head? That’s your conscious mind. Or your pre-frontal cortex. It’s where you find language, logic and reason.. and it’s super helpful on a day to day basis. But for this exercise we also want to tap into your unconscious mind. According to Wikipedia (which we all know is the absolute truth) “the unconscious mind consists of the processes in the mind which occur automatically and are not available to introspection, and include thought processes, memories, interests, and motivations.”

But because it is unconscious, we have to find a way to activate it. It’s not very good at language processing, so I find that drawing helps.

So resist printing a copy of the Ikigai. And instead try drawing it out by hand. Draw the overlapping circles. Colour in the overlapping parts. Write the titles of each circle, and perhaps the titles of the intersecting parts. Play with it. Integrate it. Not only does this activate the unconscious mind, it also give your conscious mind time to better understand the model.

4. Use a pencil and an eraser

This one is important. One of the biggest disadvantages you can give yourself is to use a pen. For one it’s almost impossible to draw a perfect circle, so you’ll need that eraser.

But jokes aside, you will not get it right the first time around. You have to get used to writing down a couple of notes, and then erasing them. Maybe you want to rephrase something, change the order, or move it to another part of the modell. Don’t try for perfection. Make lots of quick notes. then cluster and group them. Look at it from another perspective. Don’t be afraid to start over, or to explore new paths. Give it time and come back. Slowly you’ll see patterns emerge.

5. Share your Ikigai

Ok, so this Beatles song might not be the perfect analogy, but it’s a good song :) And hopefully it will help drive home my last point. Introverted reflection is absolutely necessary, but nothing is more valuable than sharing your Ikigai and getting input from your friends.

Firstly, just by presenting it to someone else, you will notice what parts excite you, and which ones are just for show. Saying it in your head just isn’t the same as sharing with someone else.

Secondly, your friends will be able to ask good questions, suggest improvements, and perhaps even share their story, ideas and perspectives.

Thirdly, when people know what you’re good at, what excites you, and how you want to contribute, opportunities start to appear. They’ll hear of something and think of you. Their network becomes your extended network and before you know it you’ll be rolling in meaningful, fun opportunities.

Wrapping it up

Ok, thats the list. Use it, loose it, or abuse it. If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments, and perhaps we can co-create a 10 point list for a future article.

My current version looks very different from the one I wrote on the island. It’s gone through multiple iterations. I started with lots of big and small ideas. Some I found were not true, and have been removed. Some I found to be clusters, so I’ve merged them. I finally I narrowed it down to three ideas per category, and created a digital version that I include on my CV.

Don’t worry if your’s doesn’t look like mine. There is no preferred format, or a final deliverable. You can follow my advice, or find your own approach. All I hope is that you actually do the exercise, and that you gain some valuable insight. Having iterated mine and shared it with a handull of friends, I know have a much better understanding of my direction.

I’ve also identified three potential career paths within my passion of Product Development:

  • Work with product development at an early stage startup
  • Find a role within an established product company (Google, Spotify, etc..)
  • Work with product development or innovation at a digital agency

These aren’t fully baked, and I don’t yet have a preference. So my next step will be to explore each of these options. If you’re interested, perhaps this will be the topic of my next blogpost. Hit that like button if you want to read more!