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Using the concept of Ikigai to excel your career and improve your wellbeing

Unlock the ancient Japanese secret of Ikigai to supercharge both your career and well-being. This comprehensive guide breaks down the four core pillars of Ikigai, offers real-world case studies, and details how targeted mentorship can help you find your unique path to professional success and emotional fulfilment.
Dmitri Hall

Programme Manager, Kingfisher PLC

Introduction - The Ancient Japanese Secret to a Purposeful Career and Life

When it comes to achieving extraordinary feats in both your professional and personal lives, the Western world often glorifies the hustle culture—relentless work until you drop. But what if the secret to a well-lived life isn't found in the extra hours put into your job but in an age-old Japanese philosophy? Welcome to the concept of Ikigai. Hailing from Okinawa, Japan—a region famed for having some of the world's longest-living people—Ikigai serves as a daily compass for a life lived with purpose. It isn't just a guide for individual achievement, but a path to holistic well-being. Today, you'll uncover how to decode your own Ikigai and how this can turbocharge your career while bringing a new level of wellness into your life.

Unveiling the Four Pillars of Ikigai: Love, Mission, Vocation, and Profession

At the core of Ikigai lies a Venn diagram, comprising four overlapping circles. Each circle represents a fundamental pillar of life:

  1. What You Love: This is about your intrinsic motivations—the activities that make you lose track of time.
  2. What You're Good At: These are your natural talents and acquired skills.
  3. What The World Needs: Think of the societal gaps you can fill or problems that need solving.
  4. What You Can Be Paid For: This pillar brings economic reality into the equation. It's your marketable skills and services.

While each quadrant has its merit, your Ikigai resides at the intersection. Here, you find the elusive balance between your professional ambitions and personal passions, creating a purpose-driven life.

Ikigai diagram showing Ikigai being at the intersection of four key areas of life. 

Harnessing Ikigai for Career Success: From Passion Projects to Corner Offices

The real-world applications of Ikigai are boundless, affecting career transitions, work performance, and even life outside the office. I've worked with many individuals who were stagnating in their careers and though coaching and mentorship, I've helped them to find their "Ikigai" and excel to the next level.

Let's explore its transformative power through different scenarios (names have been altered to protect client confidentiality):

  • Career Transition: Meet Anna, a software engineer tired of the corporate grind. She identifies education as her true passion and transitions into EdTech, marrying her tech skills with a passion for teaching. Anna's move offers her a renewed sense of purpose, aligning her career with her Ikigai.
  • Finding Purpose Outside Work: Consider Tom, a marketing executive who loves his job but feels something is missing. Instead of a drastic career change, Tom discovers that volunteering at an animal shelter fills the emotional gap. While his job aligns with his skills and offers financial rewards, the voluntary work completes his Ikigai circle by addressing "What The World Needs" and "What He Loves".
  • Reframing Approach to Work: Then there's Lisa, a healthcare professional who's good at her job but lacks enthusiasm. Instead of seeking a new career, she reframes her approach to her work. She focuses on the impact she makes—saving lives—and aligns this with her mission in life, thus discovering her Ikigai without changing her job.

Actionable Tip: If you're on the fence about your next career move, draft your Ikigai diagram and consult trusted mentors or colleagues. Is your Ikigai achievable through a career transition? Or can you reframe your current job or find external projects to complete your Ikigai circle?


Ikigai and Well-being: More than Just Job Satisfaction

Unlike the narrow concept of job satisfaction, Ikigai permeates all aspects of life, including emotional and psychological well-being. Research reveals that people with a strong sense of purpose experience lower levels of stress, anxiety, and are generally healthier. They exhibit resilience in the face of adversity, a skill highly valued in today's fast-paced world. So, Ikigai doesn't just set you up for professional success; it prepares you for life's inevitable challenges.

How Mentorship Can Help: Unlocking Your Ikigai Through Guided Exploration

While the journey to uncovering your Ikigai is deeply personal, it's not a road you have to walk alone. Mentorship, especially one that's tailored to your unique circumstances, can provide invaluable support. For professionals in the 25-35 age bracket who are often navigating significant career crossroads, mentorship can be the tipping point between stagnation and transformative growth.

How I Work With Clients to Identify Their Ikigai:

  • Initial Assessment: Our journey starts with an in-depth analysis to understand where you're coming from—your current role, your passions, and your life circumstances. This serves as the blueprint for our Ikigai exploration.
  • Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses: Leveraging various psychological tools and methodologies, we'll explore your natural aptitudes and areas for improvement. Knowing yourself is the first step to finding your Ikigai.
  • Unearth Hidden Passions: Sometimes our true passions are buried under years of societal conditioning or personal fears. Through guided questioning and reflective exercises, we'll unveil what really makes you tick.
  • Unearth Hidden Passions: Sometimes our true passions are buried under years of societal conditioning or personal fears. Through guided questioning and reflective exercises, we'll unveil what really makes you tick.
  • Market Analysis: We'll also look at market demands and opportunities that align with your skill set and interests, bringing practicality into your Ikigai equation.
  • Strategic Planning: Armed with this holistic understanding, we'll formulate a concrete action plan that balances career aspirations, personal desires, and societal needs—your roadmap to Ikigai.
  • Ongoing Support: Once the plan is set, regular check-ins will serve to refine your direction and ensure you're on the path to fulfilling your Ikigai and achieving both professional success and personal well-being.

Conclusion: Your Path to a Successful Career & Unshakeable Well-being Through Ikigai

As we wrap up this deep dive into Ikigai, it's clear that this isn't just another self-help fad. This is a time-tested philosophy that invites you to marry your career ambitions with your quest for inner peace. If you're wondering what the next step is in your professional journey or how to attain a richer, more fulfilling life, your Ikigai could hold the answers.

If any of this speaks to you, or if you find yourself at a juncture needing clarity and direction, don't hesitate to reach out. It could very well be the next critical step in your journey towards a life of purpose and fulfilment.

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