11 secrets to finding your purpose in life, based on Ikigai principles

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“What am I doing with my life?”

Chances are, this question is ringing in your head right now. 

And then there’s the routine of waking up, doing our daily responsibilities, getting in a bit of fun in there if we’re lucky, and then sleeping.

Only to wake up to do it over and over and over again. It’s a difficult cycle to break and it feels like we’re just getting by. 

Like we’re living but not feeling alive. Like an aimless existence. Purposeless.

Sometimes, the routine disguises the purpose. It makes it hazy and out of reach.

It can get frustrating. I get it. I feel you.

We can spend our entire lifetimes wondering about our purpose. What’s our reason for being here? Truly, what’s the driving force?

What’s our “Ikigai”?

Finding purpose 

Ikigai /ee-key-guy/ is a combination of the Japanese words “iki” (生き), meaning “life,” and “gai” (甲斐), meaning worth. Ikigai then translates to “a reason for being” or “a reason to live”. 

A purpose in life, if you will. The stuff that keeps you from giving up, the things that propel you. Those that give it value.

There are many takes on this ancient Japanese philosophy, all of them thought-provoking, but we’re going to focus on the most widely discussed approach. 

Said approach consists of finding the overlap between what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be rewarded for, and what the world needs. 

It’s going to take work and a lot of honesty. 

And to be square with you, you might be a lot closer to your truth than you think. 

What you love

1) Figure out what you love.

What makes your heart sing? For you, what makes life bearable?

What’s that thing you go back to over and over? What helps you make sense of the here and now? What’s that that gets you excited? 

List them if it will help. No matter how big or small it may be. Even the “normal” or “common” ones. 

In this video, Japanese senior citizens were asked about their Ikigai and there was one answer in particular that struck me. At around the 17th-minute mark, Toshie-san said that she thought Ikigai was something exaggerated or grand.

Turns out, it’s just their daily lives! The feel of the soil between their fingers as they farm, to have someone say that the vegetables they’ve grown were delicious, being a parent, or writing in their diaries to prove that they’re still alive.

To have experienced war and now grateful for the ease of having food on the table, a warm place to sleep, and even a pension! 

I realized how much beauty there is in our realities, no matter how monotonous it might seem. It only takes paying attention. 

What about you? Is it the way you make your coffee? Buying books? Reading them? Solving a math problem? Movies? 

2) Try new things until you find what you love doing.

In case you haven’t figured out what you love doing, try new things. Broaden your perspective. 

There are two ways this could go:

  1. You discover what you love and it’s something you’ve never tried before.
  2. You realize you have already found it because you go back to it repeatedly.
  3. You get to have fun trying new things just the same. 

3) Do more of what you love to do. 

And of course, you gotta do more of what you love. Make time for it. 

In between the urgency and monotone of the daily grind, find your peace. Seek joy. 

Be intentional about it, too. 

What you’re good at

4) Figure out what you’re good at. Be honest. 

Sure, there are the common (and valid) ones like being good at your job or being good at your craft. But have you considered other possibilities?

For example:

  • You’re good at giving compliments that make people’s day.
  • You make the best cup of coffee.
  • You’re good at connecting people.
  • You’re great at thrifting clothes.
  • You write amazing speeches.
  • You somehow know the right film or song to recommend to someone.
  • You’re good at making people feel appreciated.
  • You’re good at recalling random facts.
  • You can nurse any plant back to health.
  • You find the best deals during a sale.

Don’t discount the small things you’re good at, because tiny ripples make big waves, you know? 

5) Try new things until you find what you’re good at.

Similar to trying new things to find what you love, try new things to find what you’re good at. 

There are three ways this could go:

  1. You discover what you’re good at and it’s something you’ve never tried before.
  2. You realize you have already found it because you go back to it repeatedly.
  3. You get to have fun trying new things just the same. 

6) Don’t feel bad if you haven’t found it yet.

I would go so far as to say it’s fine to just be mediocre with a lot of things instead of constantly chasing to be the best at one thing.

In reverse, you can be good at many things. It doesn’t have to be just one thing.

There can be many intersections to your interests and skills. Remember, you are never just one thing.

Perhaps your purpose in life is “discovery”, to bring to the table what you have learned from your previous endeavor. To connect.

Perhaps the journey is what you’re good at, you know?

What you can be rewarded for

7) Be honest about what kind of “reward” is the most important to you.

In most articles and videos about Ikigai, they wrote this as “What you can be paid for”. I’m choosing to deviate from that. 

I got it from this TEDx Talk where musician and broadcaster Tim Tamashiro used the term “rewarded” instead of “paid”. (I urge you to watch the video after reading this article, it’s very insightful.) 

We all want to be rewarded and recognized with different things. Saying that, it’s also perfectly okay to choose money as the means. 

But some would want recognition or fame. Compliments? That, too. 

My only gripe about the Western approach to Ikigai is that it seems so career-focused when Ikigai seems to be holistic. Not everyone is focused on their career. 

There’s a chance you might be one of those people, and that’s fine. If career is what propels you, that’s okay, too.

8) Figure out what that is that you can be rewarded for.

This might take a bit of trial and error, mostly because the feeling of fulfillment from a “reward” can change (see #7)

It’s also possible that that one thing could just be the bridge. The way towards what you can be rewarded for. 

For example, money might not be the reward that motivates you, but its comfort and convenience can give you the free time that you long for.

It might be what’s necessary for you to pursue what will feel rewarding. 

What the world needs

9) Figure out what the world needs. 

You know the saying, “Stop and smell the roses”, right? About how we are urged to pause and appreciate the goodness in our lives. 

So let me ask you this, if you were allowed to take a rose, to whom would you give it?

Gets you thinking, doesn’t it? I ask this because figuring out what the world needs is such a mammoth task and going about it arbitrarily could be overwhelming.

But if you only stopped to smell the roses and were allowed to take one of the said roses, to whom would you give it? Why? 

Now, replace roses with what you’re good at or what you love, to whom will you give it to now? To whom will you share your light? 

Why do you think they need it? Why do you think you must share your goodness with the world?

The reason doesn’t have to be noble or grand. 

The world needs many things, after all, not all of them grandiose. It could be laughter, more love, more stories, more art, more thought-provoking articles, more baked goods, more music, more appreciation for nature.

More love. It could be any of those or you can carve your own slice of magic. 

Now you have all four, find the overlap.

Or not. 

Bear with me as this is also where I find myself deviating from the common thinking of Ikigai, that it’s in the overlap that you find your purpose.

The purpose could be in all four, individually. 

The purpose could be an overlap of any two of these as well.

  • What you love + What you’re good at = Passion
  • What you love + What the world needs = Vision
  • What the world needs + What you can be rewarded for = Vocation
  • What you can be rewarded for + What you’re good at = Profession

Any overlap can be your Ikigai, as it’s so broad and all-encompassing

See? I told you, the truth is closer than you think, you only need to pay attention.

And remember:

10) It’s okay to change your mind.

This shouldn’t be a stressful endeavor. It’s not something you should chase, just find out.

The meaning in your life shouldn’t rattle you. It’s something that just is.

And, if you change your mind somewhere along the journey of life, that’s okay, too. You’re allowed to grow and find new things to keep the fire in you going. 

You’re not stagnant water just waiting for meaning. You have inherent meaning and purpose as you are, you are just changed by your environment, like a tree.

We grow in different ways, changed by the seasons, and resilient to the core. 

11) Be patient with yourself.

With all of that said, be patient with yourself. 

We’re all headed in different paths and the only thing we will have in common on the road is the willingness to try. Even trying takes strength and perseverance, so be patient with yourself if you trip and stumble along the way.

Life is too fleeting to chase perfection, to get it right all the time. 

‘Cause you know what? We won’t. 

We find meaning where it is already planted, we just happen to realize that it’s been inside us all along.

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