A guide to find meaning and purpose in your life in the most unlikely circumstances, including a global pandemic, through Ikigai
In this post, you will learn how to find your purpose in life amidst chaos, through a Japanese method called Ikigai. After finishing reading you will have defined:
- What is that you love and you are good at
- What is that the World needs right now
- Define a problem to solve that matters to you
- How you can make an income by doing something you care about
- Your ultimate life meaning and purpose
I am going to be honest with you: I didn’t see this coming. In my usually carefully planned, organized life, I have never considered that I, along with half of the world, would be a prisoner of an invisible enemy that goes by the name COVID-19. All of the things that I gave for granted, from meeting friends to ordering a matcha latte in my usual cafe, are gone. Now I am happy to go grocery shopping once a week because it means I can go outside.
Suddenly I have to put on hold my usual life, in which I pile up one thing after another, busy being busy, and I am forced to take a pause, whether I like it or not. I look around me and realize that, when all else is stripped bare, the simplest things are the ones that are the most important. I need to find purpose in life amidst chaos.
This is a wake-up call. What will the World be like when all of this is over? Would it go back to the way things were before or would things change? I am passionate about history and extensively researched patterns throughout our millennial-long civilization. And one such pattern is this: the greater opportunities, the one that shapes new realities, always follows a period of intense crisis. What we are living in today is a health and an economical crisis, all rolled into one.
Doctors and nurses fight for people’s lives risking their own, while many others are laid off because social distancing has brought down entire economic business models, forcing company’s to shut down.
And yet even against those odds, every single one of us can be the key to help to reshape reality once all of this is over. However, we are not going to reshape reality unless we figure out ourselves first.
I believe we have a choice. We can see this period only as a dark time, or as an opportunity to bring clarity, to face our fears and emerge stronger than before. If you choose to stick with the second option, this is indeed a time where opportunities lie just beneath the surface (and not just if you manufacture toilet paper or sanitizers).
How to live a life of purpose
A tool to help us find our purpose in life amidst chaos is Ikigai, a Japanese model that considers four different areas to help us find and live a life of meaning and purpose. The goal of Ikigai (literally it means a reason to be) is to help you discover what will make you jump out of bed each morning feeling excited for the day ahead. I first came in contact with this model a few months back and since then it has brought clarity regarding who I am and where I want to go.
At its core, Ikigai asks you to find an answer to the following four questions:
- What do I love?
- What am I good at?
- What can I be paid for now — or something that could transform into my future hustle?
- What does the world need?
Asking those questions sounds simple enough and yet it’s incredibly difficult. And asking questions, I believe, is actually the key to unlock your Ikigai. From the question we ask ourselves, comes the quality of the answer we are going to get.
To help myself figuring out my Ikigai, I created an example in Notion to visually organize the answers, however, this works as well with a piece of paper:
On finding your Passion
Let’s say that you would like to open your own company, change your job, change lifestyle, but you are not sure where to focus or what exactly you are passionate about.
In this section we are going to figure out exactly your passions by focusing on the first two circles, “what you love” and “what you are good at”.
Questions to ask to help in finding what you love:
- What did you like when you were a kid, who did you want to become?
- What energized you and what instead sucks your energies?
- How do you spend your free time?
- If you knew you have only one year left, what would you do?
- What would you do if you wouldn’t have to worry about money?
Now consider taking a piece of paper and divide it into 4 columns as follow:
- The first column is “What I Love and I am Good at”. List all of the things you love doing and that you know you are also good at. This is going to be your passion
- The second column is “What I Love and I am not Good at” and it’s going to be your potential. Those might also be skills you might want to learn but have not mastered yet. For example, I am really keen to start a Podcast but I am have never done this before therefore although I love the idea I don’t know if I am going to be good at it.
- The third column is “What I don’t Love and I am Good at” and it’s what might help you in paying the bills until you find your Ikigai
- The fourth column is “What I don’t Love and I am not Good at” and those are all activities you should consider to delegate or eliminate.
Of course, we want to focus on the first column because this is our passion and comes easy to us, however, let’s also keep an eye on the second, as things that have potential in the present might become your greatest asset in the future. Eventually, we want to minimize, delegate or get rid of what we write in the third and fourth columns, this is why this exercise is so powerful because it also highlights areas in your life that sucks your energies so that you can do something about it.
Below is my personal example of the “Love/Good Intersection”:
On finding your Mission
How does it feel to be aware of what is your passion? Feels good, right? Well according to the Ikigai method, this is not enough. Finding your passion but not getting paid for it, in fact, can lead to frustration. At the same time, researches have shown us that the key to happiness is proportioned to the contribution we are able to give to society.
To find your purpose, we now take a look at what the world needs and what you can be paid for. Here are some questions to help you through the discovery of these further pieces of the puzzles.
Questions to help you reflect on what the world needs:
- What is the next big thing?
- What are the emerging needs, the opportunities that lie just beneath the surface?
- Is there any trend out there that you are able to spot?
- Is there a market that is overserved? What about one that is underserved?
- Are there any social/ environmental or economic problems you want to help to solve?
To help visualize the answer, I have created the matrix below using Miro.com, which links trends with the current status in the market of a certain initiative by distinguishing between underserved and overserved (e.g. due to high competition). Focus on things that are underserved in general and on-trend, because they have the highest potential.
Below is an example at the time of quarantine during COVID-19:
Your goal is to fill this matrix with the various options for each quadrant and find out what you can be paid for based on the problem you are feeling a call to solve that are in the leverage quadrant and/or in the opportunity quadrant, based on the knowledge that what is not trending today might be trending tomorrow (hello, toilet paper?).
To help you determine what you can be paid for, I have posted below a few more questions:
Questions to find out what you can be paid for:
- How would you evaluate your current career path?
- Are there talents that you can develop more?
- Are you working in an industry that is on-trend?
- Is there a sector or an industry that you are knowledgeable about?
- Can you easily leverage this knowledge or are there high barrier entries (e.g. competition, capability to acquire further knowledge/skills)
- Pick three values that are important for you. Does your current job align with your values?
- Is the job that you are doing afloat with the competition? This will impact your salary negotiation power
- Are there other opportunities around you that you can leverage?
- Are there any overlaps between your career and the other 3 elements of Ikigai?
Bringing it together
Now that we have taken a look at each element that forms the Ikigai, it’s time to bring it all together:
The example above is based on my own Ikigai.
I love learning new things and I have the complementary skill of being good at creating something from scratches and shaping it by giving it structure (e.g. creating a new project to learn about cryptocurrency and then organize it in Notion). I can be paid and would enjoy working as a Product Manager, which is also my current position and in line with my passion and coincidentally this is very much a position that is high in demand in the market, as COVID-19 and social distancing have made self-evident the need to rethink most traditional businesses in a digital way.
To be more specific for example, I could determine in which sector/industry/company I would like to offer my help or I could spot a need in the market that is underserved and try to open my own business to fill the gap (e.g. a tool to help remote workers in the example above).
Now it’s on to you. What is your Ikigai? Share your story and your journey to find your own purpose in life.