What’s your Ikigai?

By Catherine Pope

January 25, 2019

Do you spring out of bed in the morning? Or do you burrow further under the duvet when the alarm rings? If you’re a burrower, you need to find your Ikigai. The Japanese word Ikigai roughly translates as “reason for living,” or reason to get out of bed. There are four elements to Ikigai: what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. At the intersection lies your perfect career or business. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, the concept is simple, but the practice is tricky. Let’s look at those elements in more detail.

Ikigai diagram

What you’re good at (Profession)

This is usually your professional experience. Where have you built up significant skills and expertise that sets you apart from others? Of course, the rarer the skill the better. Most people can wrangle with a spreadsheet, but few can create a decent database from scratch.

What you love (Passion)

As you’ll know, it’s much easier to get going in the morning when anticipating a challenge that you’ll enjoy. You might be really good at bookkeeping, but is that through necessity, or because it’s actually fun? You’ve probably spotted that it’s already hard to find something that you’re good at and you find pleasurable. Now it’s time to make it harder …

What the world needs (Mission)

Essentially, clients or employers hire us to solve their problems. If you can’t identify a genuine problem, it’s difficult to sell a solution. To compound matters, if there’s already a clearly defined problem, there could be an oversupply of people hellbent on solving it. It’s tough to stand out in a crowded market. You have to be clear on how your offering is different or better. If you can’t do that, you’re not serving a need. Are you still reading? I hope so, as you nearly have your Ikigai.

What you can get paid for (Vocation)

Photo of cafe cat
Photo by Takashi Hososhima [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Here’s where it gets sticky. What the world needs and what it’ll actually pay for don’t necessarily overlap. For instance, it’s abundantly clear that we need more social workers, but budgets have evaporated over the last couple of decades. Conversely, people spend good money to visit cat cafes, ((If I want cats to ignore me or knock over my cup of tea, I can just stay at home)) or will happily stump up £5 for a bowl of cereal in a trendy part of London. So, there’s an ethical consideration here, too. Is your venture a cynical marketing exercise or a deeper goal to address a real need? That’s up to you, but you need to feel motivated.


How was that? Tough? It’s unlikely that you’ll immediately light upon your Ikigai. However, considering your initial ideas in relation to these four elements should help you build something more sustainable and meaningful. Undoubtedly there’ll be some experimentation required. You won’t know what works until you try it.

This exercise helped me enormously when I was establishing the direction of my coaching and training business.  There were lots of areas that interested me and in which I had strong skills, but there was either far too much competition or those particular areas weren’t priorities for my clients. With ikigai as the foundation, I was able to build a career I love, that fulfils a need, uses my skills, and pays me a good living. This certainly wasn’t an overnight transformation – it took a couple of years – but having a strong sense of direction was wonderfully motivating. I now use Ikigai with clients who are establishing a freelance business. By considering these elements, they can avoid pursuing the wrong ideas. The biggest mistake I see in the self-employed community (and it’s one I’ve made myself) is trying to find clients for a service, rather than designing a service that suits the clients.

If you’d like to give this a go, download my Ikigai audit sheet (PDF). Jot your career/business ideas in the boxes on the left, then tick the boxes on the right to indicate whether they meet the ikigai criteria. Hopefully, you’ll soon be springing out of bed in the morning.

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash

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