For most professionals, the decision to seek a career change is often accompanied by much agonising over what they want to do or should do in life. Aligning professional and personal goals is a challenge that calls into question our individual purpose. On the Japanese island of Okinawa, which has one of the largest numbers of centenarians in the world, the solution is a tangible and practical concept: Ikigai. The etymology of the word literally means life’s purpose: iki = life, gai = worth. Far from being a frustrating existential mission, Ikigai offers a practical route to turning your day-to-day job into your ‘life’s work’ by aligning your purpose with what the world needs. In other words, Ikigai is a tool that can help you take the leap into the next stage of your professional life by combining spiritual and commercial priorities.
Although aligning your passions and career seems to be much more of a 21st-century problem, we tend to search for meaning in our ancestral wisdom. Ikigai is a concept that has been around since the first century. The Japanese believe that it can be achieved by fulfilling four main concepts simultaneously: what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can be rewarded for. Simply put, once you have found a profession or role that sits perfectly across these areas, you have found your reason for being (easier said than done).
As a recruitment consultancy, we take pride in working closely with consultants; we hear about not only their career ambitions but also their life goals and aims. Every so often we become confidants of our candidate’s missions/purposes –how they come to realise it and how they’re putting it into practice. For instance, independent consultants typically find fulfilment in working independently (i.e. being able to see the impact of their work in a more meaningful way) or have their consulting day job whilst they focus on their passions in their spare time. The main question, though, is how to do it. Linking our experience with independent consultants to the Ikigai concept, we would like to share a few insights on how you can put this into practice:
1) Find your purpose
For some, it will be obvious; for others, it may come after a life-changing experience. For you, it may be the case you’ll need to sit down and write a list of what you love until it makes sense. And this is the first practical tip: put pen to paper and create a list of what you are passionate about.
2) Start now
Rather than waiting for the best moment, for when you have more time, be proactive and start today. You can try a ‘part-time Ikigai practice’; start with step 1. If you’re passionate about too many things, narrow it down to 2 or 3. The best way to make progress is to put ideas into practice; start doing them until you can decide which one makes sense for you.
3) Discuss your journey with like-minded people
Chances are someone around you has already been on a similar journey, or at least looked into ways of trying it. Talk to your peers, colleagues and especially those with a similar passion or who have gone down the same route, as they will have valuable advice to share.
4) Accept that things will go wrong
As obvious as it may sound, setbacks during the process are quite normal and shouldn’t stop us from moving further and insisting on it. Most of the consultants in our network share that they have failed a few times before experiencing success.
In essence, whether you’re looking for your purpose or for ways to implement it, focused work, persistence and resilience will be part of your journey. Ikigai is not a quick solution, but it is a very effective one. As many famous sayings teach us: fulfilment is not a destination, but rather a journey in itself.