Ikigai – Finding and Crafting the Perfect Career

What do money and happiness have to do with each other? Well, money is a tool that can help you achieve your desired level of happiness. But money won’t buy true satisfaction if it’s not used for the right purpose. That’s why so many people are turning their backs on their traditional office job and pursuing a career that makes their money meaningful. It may be taking up a side hustle, becoming an entrepreneur, or starting something new and innovative, but crafting a perfect career means finding your Ikigai – finding joy and purpose in life.

Finding and crafting the perfect career

Finding and crafting the perfect career may be easier said and done. While it may seem that some people have it figured out, it’s not surprising to find the same people choosing to switch careers along the way. The main reason is that they are unhappy with their initial choice and are not getting as much fulfillment and joy as they would like. 

For example, in this era of YOLO (you only live once), it’s no longer surprising to find a fully certified engineer choosing to move from Auto-Cad to start a landscaping business. Or, a nurse giving up seeing patients in favor of an apron, spending their days baking because pastries brings them more joy.

The perfect career comes in many shapes and forms, and what is ideal for you may not be for another. Thus, no matter the profession, a perfect job should bring happiness, fulfillment, and success. So, how do you identify the perfect career for you? 

Ikigai presents a framework for assessing where you are in your career journey and helps you determine what changes to make based on a more long-term outlook. 

What is ikigai?

Ikigai is a Japanese concept loosely translated as ‘a reason for being.’ According to Japanese culture, we all have an ikigai, something that makes us happy, that we’re good at, and allows us to contribute to our community. Finding your ikigai involves a continuous journey of self-reflection and personal growth that leads to the ultimate reward; a happy and fulfilling life.

What makes you jump out of bed every morning? Do you look forward to going to work or prefer the evening when the day is over? If you have a strong connection with your job, you are more likely to jump out of bed every morning. This connection brings you happiness, and the motivation to keep going, which leads to higher success and fulfillment. It gives you purpose. However, when this connection is not there, you won’t be able to derive any joy from your work.

Finding your purpose is an empowering process. It’ll help you reflect on what you’ve achieved so far, assess where you are currently, and clarify which direction you want to give to your career and life. It will provide you with a basis for all your future decisions.

Steps to finding and crafting the perfect career using the ikigai model

According to the westernized version of ikigai, you find your dream career when you love what you do, are good at it, are paid for it, and it is what the world needs. Follow the following steps to find your dream career:

1) Know yourself

Knowing yourself is the first step to finding and crafting the perfect career. 

When you combine what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and your strengths, you can find your ikigai and craft the perfect career.

What do you love?

There are things that you love. Whether it is your current job, the company, colleagues, or hobbies. Take your time to examine your situation and list everything you sincerely appreciate. Ask yourself these questions to help with the process

  • Are you passionate about what you are currently doing? Are you more excited about getting to work or leaving?
  • Do you have an emotional connection with what you do? If you weren’t being paid to do what you are doing, would you still do it?
  • What fascinated you the most as a child? Are there activities that, when you focus on, you lose track of time?

What are you good at?

We all have skills that make us unique. What are yours? Over time through education and professional experience, we build competencies that make us good at what we do. These include hard skills built through training and work experience. It is easy to prove that you have hard skills. For example, you either know how to write code or you don’t, soft skills that focus on personal attributes and traits. Use these questions as a guide:‍

  • Do people seek advice from you on matters related to your work?
  • Are there parts of your job that come easy to you, or are you one of the best at what you do?
  • Do you want to be better at what you are currently doing?
  • What do you want to be remembered for in life?
  • What do others say you are good at?

Can you be paid for it?

This one requires a bit of deeper thinking. If you’re a web designer, what are the in-demand skills? Do you have them? For this section, take what you love and are good at and use those to search for what the market needs based on what you can do. Guiding questions include:

  • Are you currently making a good living from what you are doing, or do you envision eventually making a good living from your profession?
  • Are there people doing the same work you do, and is there healthy competition?

What does the world need?

Figuring out this section involves identifying the current trends concerning your profession. What are the in-demand skills? Can your skills and passions can drive positive change. Other questions to ask include:

  • Is your profession or work in high demand in the marketplace? Do you think it will still be valuable 10 – 30 years from now?
  • Are you solving a social, economic or environmental problem?

If your answer is yes to each of these questions, kudos, you are on the right track. However, if the answers were mostly no, move on to the next step.

2) Brainstorm to find your ikigai

Visualize your day from morning to evening, and pay attention to how you feel. What makes you feel good at work? Who do you love talking to and why? Go back to the above questions and brainstorm on steps you can take to align with your mission or what you love. 

For example, if you don’t like your job, do you have hobbies you love? Can you turn these hobbies into income-generating activities? If the answer is yes, you can turn your life around and turn the hobby into a rewarding career.

If you don’t emotionally connect to your work, find out why this is so. Is it because you don’t interact one on one with potential clients? Or would you feel much happier if you were in a leadership role? If the work environment is the one stifling you, consider changing it. Talk to HR about what the company can do to make you feel more engaged. If changes are not possible, consider getting a different job at a company that offers what you need.

During this brainstorming session, the aim is to find your center or ikigai. To have a basic understanding of what you are passionate about, love, and do naturally. Be honest with yourself, no matter how scary it may seem. You are more adaptable than you think.

3) Ensure alignment on your journey.

Once you figure out your ideal career, it’s time to craft a way to achieve it. The strategies may include returning to school to get that MBA or taking professional courses to advance your skills. You can also consider hiring a career coach or a mentor to help you achieve your dreams. 

4) Keep experimenting until you discover your ikigai

If you go through steps one to three and find that your vision meets your real-life expectations, good for you, it means you have found your ikigai. If not, it’s okay. You can keep going through the process with different jobs and hobbies until you find one that works for you. Keep experimenting until you find something that works for you. And don’t worry, that time is running out for you.

  • Vincent van Gogh created his most recognized pieces well into his 30s
  • Vera Wang, a renowned fashion designer, designed her first dress at age 40.
  • Henry Ford created the revolutionary Model T car at age 45.
  • Toni Morrison, a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, her first novel at age 40, won the Pulitzer Prize at 56 and Nobel Prize in Literature at 62.
  • Martha Stewart found real success at 41 when her first cookbook was published.
  • Donald Fisher was 40 when he and his wife, Doris, opened the first Gap store in San Francisco. 

Final thoughts on crafting a career based on ikigai

It might take years, even decades, to discover your ikigai. But you owe it to yourself. Focus on finding what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. The perfect career will create a state of mind that can transform your life. 

Related Reads:

Free or Cheap Ways to Develop or Grow Professionally

Free Downloadable Guide to Making a Career Change

Salary Negotiation

Online Courses to Grow Professionally

The Importance of Networking

10 Ways to Start Over in a Career You Will Love

What to Do Before You Quit

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