How the Japanese concept ‘Ikigai’ can help transform your career


The perfect career is a sort of mythical prospect, the Holy Grail of the business world, in that it’s both life-giving and hard to find. Could there be some kind of surefire metric for discovering the perfect job? It’s hard to say, but the Japanese concept of Ikigai gives it a good try, assessing careers using a metric that tries to determine whether certain aspects of someone’s life are being fulfilled.

Ikigai revolves around the idea that life can be split into four realms. What you love, what the world needs, what you’re good at, and what you can be paid for. When these four sections are properly fulfilled, you’ve got your Ikigai, or reason to wake up in the morning. A focus on meeting these needs can be used to direct your career toward a truly fulfilling place.

How the Japanese concept ‘Ikigai’ can help transform your career

What you love

Ideally, you’ll love what you do. This doesn’t mean that you have to love every aspect of your job, or that it need hardly ever feel like work, because that’s a little unrealistic. Passion, however, is imperative to happiness, and to your success. Ask yourself if you feel connected to the work you do and care about the results you produce. Does doing your job feed your soul and actually make you feel good? If it does, identify why, and focus on increasing the presence of that variable in your work life.

What the world needs

We can’t all have a job saving the world, but that doesn’t mean our work can’t have a positive impact. Consider whether what you do fills a real need, and whether people would be worse off if you suddenly stopped. This can manifest in numerous different ways. For instance, although an artist isn’t stopping natural disasters, they enrich lives by creating works that touch people, and feed their souls a little. If your work makes someone’s life better or their day a little brighter, figure out how, and try to crank up that aspect of it.

What you’re good at

Addressing this sphere means, in part, considering your importance in the work process you contribute to. Are you a vital player, or do you feel like you’re just there to fill space? If so, think about your skills. Is there an area where your expertise really would be invaluable, where people would rely on you to solve a problem or offer advice? A job that lets you actively develop your strengths will provide a much more satisfying work day.

How the Japanese concept ‘Ikigai’ can help transform your career

What you can be paid for

Everybody would love for money not to be an object, and to pursue their passions without considering profit. Unfortunately, money still makes the world go around, so it’s important to have a job that’s going to let you live. This means asking whether your work is providing, or can provide you, with security and appropriate remuneration. Are you, or could you be, paid well for what you do? Can you be paid well for what you love? If not, it would be wise to figure out if, and how, that could be made the case.

Fulfillment is hardly an easy thing to find. If it were, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Nonetheless, we can always try to point ourselves in the right direction. Following the concepts addressed by Ikigai can provide you with a solid way of checking, from time to time, whether what you do is actually making your life better.