It’s not uncommon to sometimes feel lost in life. We all have moments in time where we have to ask ourselves “What do I truly want to do with my life?”. This is true now more than ever, especially when the internet provides us with so much information on new hobbies, sports, careers and business ideas. We want to explore everything life has to offer before finding something we are super passionate about. We want to find something we can spend the rest of our lives doing because we currently work in a job we hate.
The problem with searching for a purpose is that you can lose sight of what truly matters in life. The brutal truth is, for most of us, there is no purpose. There is no one thing that we will do for the rest of our life to the point where it becomes our “thing”. Aside from a few very remarkable people who knew from a very young age what they wanted to do, we will most likely try a bunch of different things. Don’t get the wrong idea, this is how life is meant to be. Instead, you need to reframe your question. Instead of seeking a purpose, there are four questions you can ask yourself to get you closer to the idea of why you are here. The Japanese have explored this idea and created the concept of Ikigai which roughly translates to “reason for being”. Essentially this is your direction or purpose in life which makes your life worthwhile. It is the path in which you take willing and spontaneous action towards which gives you satisfaction and meaning in your life. Ikigai is the combined answer to four separate questions.
What am I good at?
What does the world need?
What do I love?
What can I be paid for?
Usually, when we think of a career, we ask ourselves “what can we be paid for?” and “what the world needs?” This is what is known as a vocation or a job. There is no passion in it. We do it purely to make ends meet. You can think of this as those jobs that society needs like bus drivers, waste disposal, postmen, cleaners and tradesmen. There is nothing wrong with these jobs but you will find very few people who are passionate about picking up waste or fixing pipes. They do it because it pays well and the world needs their skills.
Then there are those people that are able to get paid for the things they are good. These are marketing professionals, lawyers, engineers, architects and psychologists. They have often undergone years of training and they are very good at what they do. Not just anyone can walk into an office and declare themselves a lawyer or psychologist because they decided that’s what they want to be. It takes dedicated training. This is why we call these roles, professions. The world doesn’t need more lawyers, marketing professionals or psychologists but they certainly serve their purpose. While there are some professionals who might love what they do, most see it as something they do to make a living.
Then you have those things you are good at and you love doing. This is your passion. This is where creativity and skill combine. This could be writing, painting, sculpting or film making. For most people these activities will only ever remain a hobby, not because they are not good at them, far from it. In many cases the world doesn’t need the art they are creating. Some artists might go into professions where they are able to get paid for what they do but most often they won’t love what they create since they are serving clients.
Finally, what you love doing when combined with what the world needs is where you have your mission. This can be a social cause, a political movement or even a startup company. Your mission is a combination of something you get excited about and something the world needs. Oftentimes it won’t make any money but there are people that can turn social causes into non profits, political movements into a campaign and startup companies into thriving businesses. This is where the magic of Ikigai starts to come together.
To be able to master each of these elements and find your Ikigai, you need to really ask yourself these questions again and again. There is a reason why you don’t feel fulfilled in your job as a marketing consultant or why you can’t make money from your hobbies. You need to find a way to be able to tick all four boxes to put your life on a path of purpose and meaning. For example, if you are a working marketing consultant but you love creating music, imagine working for a startup company that uses music to help improve people's mental health? Just as an example…
There are tons of ways you can combine these elements to create a path for yourself. It starts by asking those four questions, even if it takes some time. It can be very rewarding and could potentially provide you with a lifetime of satisfaction.