Finding Your Calling With Ikigai

photo by Vovkapanda

What is the purpose of life? This question has plagued mankind since the dawn of civilization itself, and much has been written in regards to what truly is the purpose of man’s life. Theologians have urged men to dedicate their lives in devotion to the divine, while humanitarians have suggested that the essence of life lies in displaying kindness and acts of service to fellow human beings. Many existentialist and nihilist philosophers have gone as far as to suggest that the life by itself holds no inherent value or purpose, and that ideas like ‘destiny’ are just fiction that men have created to humor themselves.

An ancient Japanese philosophy called Ikigai attempts to answer this age-old question in a humble and practical way. Literally translated, Ikigai means ‘reason for being’, where Iki means ‘life’ in Japanese and ‘Gai’ means ‘value’. Ikigai thus, is your unique life purpose and the key to creating your bliss. 

In the recent years, this simple philosophy has become extremely popular even outside of Japan, especially in the western world, because of its very versatile nature- while also spiritual in essence, the concept of Ikigai can very well be adapted to the modern life and can be especially helpful to youngsters in not just designing their dream career, but also finding their true calling. 

When working towards finding and designing your dream career, the Ikigai philosophy rests on four major questions— Do you get joy from what you do? Are you good at it? Is it possible to make money out of it? And finally, Is the world in need of it? At the intersection of all these four questions lies Ikigai, or your unique purpose for being. To find your Ikigai, you must ask yourself these questions, and you will know you have found your calling when the answer to all the four questions is affirmative. Even missing out on just one question will hinder you from finding your true Ikigai. For instance, you may be the best at what you do, enjoy it and be paid well for it too, but if it doesn’t solve a social, economic or environmental problem, you may start to feel useless in the long run. The problem at hand could even be a minor one, such as providing entertainment and joy to people. 

Let’s break down the four main questions to understand them better. You can use them to introspect or as a journaling prompts in order to find your own Ikigai.

  1. Do you enjoy your work?
    Do you look forward to doing this task? Do you find yourself completely absorbed in the task at hand while performing it? Are you emotionally invested in the process and result of this work?
  2. Are you good at this work?
    Does the skill-set required to do this work come naturally or effortlessly to you? Do you find yourself teaching others about this task? Do people often swarm to you for advice regarding this domain? Do you often receive compliments for your work in this area? Are you an expert at this job/hobby?
  3. Can you be paid for this work?
    Can you make a comfortable living out of doing what you do? Is there a healthy level of competition for this work?
  4. Is the world in need of this job?
    Is there a high demand in the market for this kind of work? Picture the future- will your work still be financially valuable 10 years from now? Does this task solve any economic, social or environmental issues? Does it bring joy, relief or pleasure to people?

If you answer in the affirmative while contemplating over all these questions, then congratulations, you’ve found your Ikigai! If you’re not already working in area of your Ikigai, you may find it quite fulfilling to actually take action and follow the path of your Ikigai. You can do this by sharpening your skill sets, setting small goals and forming a solid plan of action. It shouldn’t be so tough, after all, it is your Ikigai, it’s what you’re born to do, and do well!