How to use Ikigai to find your Purpose

If we have a sense of purpose in our lives, it is much easier to move forward as the direction is clear. Many of us spend years trapped in lives that don’t really fit who we are, and feeling like we are trying to go up on the down escalator, which is very hard work.

When we understand our reason for living, our reason for getting out of bed in the morning, our lives appear to flow more easily. In essence we are focusing on the things that we love and are good at.

Finding your reason for getting up in the morning
This brings me to what the Japanese refer to as Ikigai, loosely translated as ‘your reason for getting up in the morning’. It is the source of value in your life or the things that make your life worthwhile.
It is the convergence of :
• What you love doing,
• What you are good at,
• What the world needs,
• What you can be paid for


We are quick to talk about what bugs us, but find it much harder to list what we really enjoy. Some may get great satisfaction out of organizing and filing papers, whereas others may view this as drudge and boring. We are each different, and this is why it is important to draw up your own list of things you love doing.
What we are good at is basically a list of skills. If you are unsure, ask your closest friends. Start by asking what they value about your friendship. This will give some building blocks for your own list.

Finding out if the skills you have listed are needed in the world will probably require a google search. A simplified example is: you love animals, you find that you are good at understanding animals, you can then search for “working with animals”, and you will come up with lists of possibilities to research.
Now I would like to explore the overlapping areas.


The overlap between what you are good at and what you are paid for, is your profession. For example the accountant has passed professional examinations that prove he is good at what he does. He charges a professional fee for doing people’s accounts. You can vouch that he is good at what he does by looking at testimonials, hearing the opinion of others and also looking for his registration with the professional body for accountants.

The overlap between what you are paid for and what the world needs, is your vocation or calling. For example, the person who works as a nurse. She is paid for the work she does by the institution she works for or her private clients. We know that the world needs nurses to staff hospitals and clinics and to go out into the community and look after sick people.

Where what you love overlaps with what the world needs, is your mission. We can take the example of the nurse, teacher, doctor or policeman. Many people have a calling to these professions. We all know someone who is totally passionate about what they do and, there are some areas where people are not necessarily paid for this work, they do it on a voluntary basis because it is their mission.

The last overlap is between what you are good at and what you love, and this is your passion. The example that springs to mind is the artist. He simply loves creating large works of art and when people like his work, the feedback he gets is that he is good at it.

Let’s move to the next level of overlap, the overlap between 3 circles.


First let’s look at the area where you are good at it, you love it and the world needs it, overlap. I tend to define these areas by what is missing. In this case what is left is out is pay. An example would be someone who volunteers abroad – they are very good at what they do, they love what they do and the world really needs it. But they are not paid for it, so there is no wealth. If they are doing this for emotional reward and not money, then there would be wealth. The important factor is how are you expecting to be paid?

The second category is the overlap between you love it, the world needs it and you are paid for it. The circle missing here is you are good at it. This could happen when you are passionate about the cause that is the focus of a non-profit, say animals. You offer to do their fundraising because you are so passionate about helping the animals. They agree to pay you 10% of funds raised, but you are simply no good at asking for money. The realisation that you are not good at it will most likely result in a lack of confidence or uncertainty.

The third category is the overlap of the world needs it, you are paid for it and you are good at it. Notice that love is missing. These are the people who are excellent teachers or nurses but when you watch them you can see their heart is simply not in it and they are counting the days to retirement. They are, however, good technicians of their trade and they are paid for a service the world definitely needs, but there is a sense of emptiness.

The fourth category is the overlap of you are paid for it, you are good at it and you love it, but the world does not need it. If you are doing things for which there is no demand there is a sense of uselessness. It may be a situation where you are a small cog in a big wheel, you cannot see where you fit into the whole and therefore don’t see the world’s need. An example is the sweeper who works at Nasa could see himself simply as someone endlessly sweeping corridors and offices, or he could see himself as helping to put people on Mars.

The final point of convergence of all 4 circles is the sweet spot we call Ikigai, your purpose or reason to get out of bed. This is an activity that calls you, falls within your skills area, rewards you and ignites your passion. Those who reach this spot in their working careers will tell you that they never feel like they are going to “work”. When we reach it, we roll over in the morning, stretch and jump out of bed feeling excited about the day ahead.

Many people never reach this sweet spot in their entire working career because of the financial pressures and a self-imposed belief that they don’t deserve it.

Do you know what would light up your Ikigai?