What is Ikigai? The Key to Work-Life Balance

Imagine smiling when your alarm goes off on a Monday morning? Or feeling energized and satisfied at the end of your work week? The Japanese life concept known as ikigai may just make it possible.

By Donna Sozio
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What is ikigai?

"Ikigai is the synergy between doing what you love and what the world needs — and discovering a meaningful way to express it in the work place in order to receive a satisfying income,” says Julie Haber, Inspiration and Wellness Specialist at Lake Austin Spa Resort. “Everyone has an ikigai. It’s unique to each person, deeply personal and is not linked to one's financial status." Ikigai doesn’t attempt to explain the meaning of life. Rather it gives depth, insight, and context into the meaning of your life and your unique place in the world.

To help me find my ikigai, Haber led me through a process that involved writing the answers to four simple, but profound, questions:

What do I love? (Passion)

What am I good at? (Profession)

What does the world need? (Mission)

What can I be paid for? (Vocation)

What is Ikigai Diagram

The ikigai diagram: Finding my reason for being

After diving deep, I looked at my answers and pondered their sum. Surprisingly, the answer shot to the surface. Sharing. My ikigai is sharing all that I’ve learned with the world. This thought instantly warmed my heart and felt so familiar. It had the feeling of coming home. Haber reflected this back to me when she said, “Finding our ikigai makes us feel congruent and connected. It gives us strength and knowing about what to do with our lives. It anchors and supports us and gives us the resilience to keep going.” 

After I discovered my ikigai, I felt centered. Past insecurities about what people thought of me and my work kind of melted away. My job in this world is to share. And as long as I’m sharing, what critics think isn’t my responsibility. In that moment, a huge weight was lifted off me.

What ikigai means for my future

Haber invited me to examine how my ikigai was expressed through how I made a living. It was clear that in some ways, I was in alignment. In other areas, however, I was off the mark; for example, sharing what I do for a living with people who could benefit from my services. Interestingly, self-promotion was the part of my job that I liked the least and chronically procrastinated doing because it felt pushy. But I'm getting on board with doing it now, because it actually feels logical. Of course, I'm meant to share my unique contribution to the world!

Haber advises regularly checking in with your ikigai. And if you're not in alignment with it, ask yourself what gentle steps you can take to nudge yourself back into being in sync. Why? Because she insists that making a living doing what you love, and that which you’re naturally good at, while providing what the world needs is the closest formula to happiness she’s ever seen. Sold! But she says it's a process —  a doorway into a lifelong journey that continues to unfold and deepen. But one day, when you find yourself thinking I can’t believe I get paid for this, you’ll know that you’re in the ikigai sweet spot. To learn more about ikigai, read Héctor García’s Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

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