My wife first introduced me to this word several years ago and its importance has only grown as I realize that my own life 1/3rd the way over. It might be absurd for a thirty-something-year-old man such as myself to say, but life is short. Too short to be spent on pursuing the unimportant, the shallow, the meaningless. Ikigai is one of the most important concepts that I’ve been dealing with lately, and I think it forms the core essence of what my worldview is all about.

So what is it?

Many people I’ve discussed the concept of ‘ikigai’ with seem to think of it as being analogous to purpose. Yet it is so much more than that. Ikigai is the very reason(s) for which you live. Ikigai is that which makes your life worth living.

Think about it for a moment. What makes your life worth living? Is it your family? Your work? Your art? What is it that makes you slug your way through all the muck of daily life for?

Now what you’ve answered implies the necessity of taking actions that lead you to that ikigai.

Say you got a degree in finance and you pursued a career in personal financial planning. You’re not married and don’t have any children. Is this the kind of career that can sustain your level of ambition? Does it fit with any sense of purpose? For some, it may not. There are long hours, lots of research, different expectations from a variety of clients. Maybe the pay isn’t what you thought it would be, or maybe the pay is great but you feel disconnected from any sense of meaning or purpose. On the other hand, maybe you find great purpose in helping other people with their finances as they move through the various phases of their life. It might be that you feel a lack in your life outside of work. Perhaps you want to become a husband and father, or there’s a void in your world that you desperately need to address.

Your ikigai has three dimensions to it.

  • Who you choose to be as a person
  • The people you choose to have in your life
  • Your own chosen vocation

If you notice the way I worded everything, the common element to each is your power of choice. You can make better choices that result in you becoming a better person, to keeping friends and family that you value and who support you while letting go of those who don’t, and you can choose to take the first steps toward pursuing a career that utilizes your own strengths and propels them toward the desired goal.

If you want to find your ikigai, just look at the past major choices that you’ve made in your life. Major life choices are usually rooted in either fear of a negative consequence, or out of a desire for growth and change. I know that for me, personally, every choice I have made based on fear worked only to the detriment of my character, my relationships with friends and family, and have limited my options. The decisions I’ve made from a desire to grow and change have benefited me in opposite ways. Yet by examining all my decisions, good and bad, I learn about my own strengths and weaknesses. I discover where my true passions lie. It was through intense introspection that I discovered that even though I had musical talent, I did not want a career in music. It didn’t map to what I saw as being the most valuable use of my mind and other talents.

Finding your ikigai is just the beginning. Pursuing all of it takes a lifetime of difficult work and patience, yet you will feel the reward in the very depth of your soul. If you want to know my ikigai, it’s in my byline.

Adam Buker is a freelance author living in Springfield, MO. When he’s not writing he’s usually cooking, playing with his kids, making music, taking photos, or otherwise pondering the mysteries of life.


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