Ikigai: What It is and How It Can Help You Find Meaningful Work

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Ultimately, we are all want to find meaningful and fulfilling work in our lives.

The question is what does that look like for us.

And the Japanese concept of Ikigai provides a fantastic framework to helping you discover your own best fit work.

Throughout this post, I’m going to introduce the concept of Ikigai, discuss what it means, and then dive into how it can be used to help you find your ideal work.

Let’s get started.

What is Ikigai?

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that roughly translates to “reason for being.”

It represents the intersection of four key area:

  • What you’re good at
  • What you love to do
  • What can generate income
  • What the world needs

The core idea is that your Ikigai, or reason for being, is at the intersection of those four points.

ikigai

If you can find work checks all four of the boxes for you, then it’s quite likely that you’ve discovered your best fit work, and will enjoy a feeling of meaning and flow in what you’re doing.

To find your Ikigai, you’ll ultimately need to generate a list of items that apply to you in each of the four areas, and then try to discover the points of intersection.

Let’s quickly go through all four of those areas, what they represent, and some recommendations for exercises you can complete in each of them.

What You’re Good At

You can start at any point in the Ikigai diagram, but I think the best place to start is with “what you’re good at.”

The reason is I think your skills, or what your good at, is the foundation of work.

In my view, your work is the effort that you put forth to produce good.

And to do work, the foundation is leveraging (or learning) a skill that enables you to produce good in the right context for you.

After all, it’s difficult to produce anything without having a skill to do so in the first place.

So I think figuring out and listing out what you’re good at is the place to start here.

And with that being the case, we put together a more detailed post that walks through some recommendations for how you can figure out what you’re good at.

What You Like

The second part of Ikigai is “what you like.”

And this is probably the trickiest part of Ikigai because there is lots of debate as to whether you should mix “what you like” with your work.

For me, if you can, I think you ultimately at least trying to do work that you like, whether that’s in the form of a topic of interest or a skill that you enjoy using.

Otherwise, the hours spent on that activity will feel more like an obligation, rather than something self-directed or enjoyable.

Worst comes to worst, if you find doing the thing you like in a work context saps your joy of the thing itself, you can always pivot to something else.

Here is a detailed post of with recommendations and methods to help figure out what you love doing that could be applicable to a work context.

What Can Generate Income

The third leg of Ikigai is most practical one. And that’s simply assessing what you know how to do that you can get paid for.

Ultimately, you do need to make money from your work. If you have a family, you have a responsibility to them. And you have a responsibility to any financial commitments that you’ve made as well.

Similar to the what you’re good at portion, I’ll have a full post coming out on this in the future, but there are a couple of quick things that you can do to help figure this out in the meantime.

The first one is to think about what you enjoy doing that feels like work to others.

Generally, people are willing to pay for or outsource things that they either don’t like, or that they’re not good at.

So create a list of what you like that others don’t, and you have a good set of candidates.

Here is what an example list could look like:

  • Writing
  • Building websites
  • Public speaking
  • Building rapport with others

The second exercise you could go through would be to think about what skills have you been paid for in the past, or for which you know there is an established market?

Thinking through what you’ve been paid for in the past is the easy part.

It’s a bit tougher to know about skills for which there’s an established market.

However, you can tools like Fiverr, Upwork, or TaskRabbit, to see what things people are outsourcing to others and paying for.

Similarly, you can look at tools like Indeed to see what skills are required in different types of jobs.

From there, you just make a list. It could look something like this:

  • Marketing
  • SEO
  • Running paid advertising
  • Copywriting
  • Organizing events
  • Project management
  • Leadership
  • Web development
  • Teaching
  • Coaching

What the World Needs

The final area of Ikigai is thinking in terms of what the world needs.

When you think about your skills as a way to solve problems, or to make the world better for some reason or another, that can be a wonderful way of framing things to help you find work that is meaningful.

Where I find people often get hung up in this area is they think a bit too big. They think in terms of needing to solve a massive societal problem.

If you think too big, it’s hard to know where to start.

So instead of thinking about solving the problem for everyone in society, poverty or war or climate change, as examples, I like to think of terms of trying to solve a problem for a group of people that you understand deeply.

To that end, we wrote a detailed post about how you can find meaningful work here.

Bringing It All Together and Using Ikigai to Select The Right Work For You

The last part of this exercise is bringing it all together. Basically, all you do here is you look at all of the lists that you created across the various categories and compile possible combinations that could form your Ikigai. From there, you’ll have strong candidates for what you can do for work.

Here are some examples of possible Ikigais that could come out of your exercise:

  • You leverage your math skills (what you’re good at) to become a software developer (what you can be paid for) that creates products (what you like to do) that saves people time at work (what the world needs)
  • You use your passion for kids (what you like to do), and degree in child behavior (what you’re good at), to create info products (what you can be paid for) that teach parents how to raise their kids well (what the world needs)
  • You leverage your relationships and skills in organization (what you’re good at) to run a non profit (what you can be paid for) that provides group workout classes (what you like to do) for adults with disabilities (what the world needs)
  • You apply your friendliness (what you’re good at) to build rapport with others (what you like to do) as a barista (what you can be paid for) that builds relationships with folks in the local community (what the world needs)
  • You inspire others (what you like to do) to live better lives (what the world needs) by creating websites and info products (what you can be paid for) that answer people’s questions. You grow them via SEO and other digital marketing strategies (what you’re good at)

From that list, you just rank order, and then pursue that path in a low risk way to see if it feels like the right fit for you. If it doesn’t, you move onto the next.

Conclusion

Ikigai is a wonderful framework for finding your best fit work.

If you can find what it looks like for you, I think you’ll find that work truly can be deeply fulfilling, rewarding, and enjoyable.

So work through the suggested exercises above and see if Ikigai can help you discover and thrive in your best fit work.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and a marketer and business professional with over 10 years of experience. Dan writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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