What is ikigai?
The word ikigai originates from Okinawa, the same Japanese island where karate comes from. Okinawa is also the place where centennials are common, happy and independent. I’d say that if they live that long, and live happily for that long, they must be doing something right – ikigai.
Before we get into the meaning of ikigai let’s get clear on how to pronounce ikigai. It’s pronounced as ee-key-guy with an emphasis on the first syllable or the first i and it shouldn’t sound like and icky guy.
ikigai pronunciation: ee-key-guy
Ikigai is made up of two words that clearly describe and define ikigai:
- iki, which means life and
- gai which stands for worth or purpose.
Ikigai stands for life’s purpose.
The meaning of ikigai can be roughly summarised as the reason you get up in the morning, your reason for being. It refers to having a direction or purpose in life, to living a meaningful life.
Ikigai, just like a meaningful, intentional life is not a destination. It’s a journey. It is a choice, a habit and an action you take every day. It is an ongoing process and as such ikigai is a verb; to teach, to serve, to make art, to bring people together etc.
Finding your ikigai
We are really bad at figuring out what makes us happy and somehow conditioned to believe that a bigger paycheck, a bigger house or a fancier house will do just that for us. And while that might be the case sometimes, it usually isn’t the end goal.
Finding your calling, finding your life purpose, your ikigai is what truly brings meaning and happiness to your life. And not just finding it, the process of searching for it is just as valuable and rewarding.
To find your ikigai you must find the sweet spot between what you’re good at, what you like doing and what brings value to the world.
First you need to find what you’re passionate about. Then you’ll need to find a way to express that in a way that you and the world find meaningful and valuable.
The ikigai test
The ikigai test has been designed to help you find your ikigai, that is the intersection between what you love, what you’re good at, what brings you meaning and what others value.
Answer the questions below and then look for any overlap in your answers.
1. What do you love doing?
What is it that makes your heart skip a beat?
What do you dream of?
What would you be doing with your time if money and reputation meant nothing?
2. What are you good at?
What are your unique strenghts?
What comes easy to you?
What advice do people come to you for?
What are you willing to learn?
3. What does the world need?
What value can you bring to the world?
What frustrates you?
What change would you like to see in the world?
How can you help others?
4. What can you get paid for?
What services or products can you offer that people would be willing to pay for?
Can you create a foundriser?
What job could you do?
Can you create a new job?
5. Find the overlap
Evaluate your answers and try to find an overlap as per the ikagai chart below. This might be easier said than done but try to keep digging and uncovering layers until you do find something.
Clarity comes from action. This exercise is extremely helpful to get started but the only way to really find your ikigai is to take action on it. And there are several reasons for this:
- as discussed, ikigai is a verb and a continuous process
- the more you take action, the clearer it becomes what you do or don’t love, what skills you have, and how the world responds to it
- as you take action you learn and you grow which in turn opens up new opportunities and new knowledge
It would be great if this ikagai test could solve the big question of what’s the purpose of life but in reality we need to put ourselves out there and test. As we do so we expose ourselves to new information and new experiences. You might be lucky and get it right at the first try but more often than not you’ll have to rinse and repeat.
Now let me get you in on a little secret. This diagram which is often referred to as the ikigai test isn’t actually what the Japanese believe to be ikigai. If I’m not mistaken it was created by a blogger a while ago who took the Venn diagram and swapped out purpose for ikigai. He basically turned an ancient Japanese philosophy around so that it would better resonate with our capitalist society.
Ikigai, like purpose, is the reason to get up in the morning and it does bring meaning to life. However, traditionally, ikigai does not need to bring you money, it does not need to bring tangible value and you certainly don’t need to be very good at it. You just really need to love it, be willing to get better at it and needs to bring meaning to your life.
But hey, you’ve just found your purpose, or at least took a big step in the right direction … guess that’s also worth something?
As per ikigai, as already said, clarity comes from action. Try new things, try the same things differently and see what brings you that sense of meaning, peace and joy. Then do more of it.