With so many options for how we can spend our time, how do we find something which not only provides value to us, but is also motivating to do.
Research has found that when people feel motivated by making progress against something they find meaningful, not only does it make them happier, it also makes them more creative.
The challenge becomes how we find something where we find meaning, but which other people will also support us doing.
After all, not every passion is practical for making enough money to support yourself and those who depend on you.
To help you think through it, there is a concept in Japanese culture called “ikigai” which provides a framework for the questions to ask, to help you identify some options.
Ikigai translates roughly from Japanese as a reason for being, and refers to finding something which provides all of the bases for doing something which gives you everything you need.
It means finding a central role which satisfies all of the following four criteria:
- What the world needs
- What you can be paid for
- What you are good at
- What you love
If an activity only satisfies a number of those criteria but not others, it is not ikigai. So for example, if you have something you are good at and which you can be paid for, but which you aren’t necessarily in love with, it is a profession. [Nick: not saying that some people do not also love their profession]. Or if there is something you love and which you think the world needs, but you are unlikely to be paid for it, that is a mission.
But the ambition is to find or develop something which satisfies all four criteria.
The two hardest sets of questions will usually be the two which are most personal:
- What are you good at?
- What do you love?
Something important to think about here is that the questions you ask about yourself should focus not on the specifics of your current identity you think you love or are good at. Instead, try asking which types of outcomes you are good at achieving, or which situations you feel good in.
Many people can set their identity and passion based on their current job or hobbies. They might say “I love painting Australian animals” or “I am good at using formulas in excel for finding automobile manufacturing references“. If you do that, it narrows the scope of the overlap of significantly.
Instead, if you think about outcomes, you might expand those to “I love the feeling of exercising my creativity” or “I help find answers in complex data”. That way, you might find situations outside of your current job or hobbies where those would also apply, and give you the opportunity to change what you are currently doing.
The question might however also become, whatever job you are currently doing, is there a way to bring more meaning into it? Is there a way to tell your superiors that you are willing to take responsibility, if it means you are allowed to do something more aligned with your drivers?
Also remember, it is ok if you are currently not 100% satisfied that you are getting all the criteria from a single source. There are a lot of internet “gurus” online and on social media telling you to quit your job and do what you are “passionate” about. Usually, they will also offer to sell you a course or have you pay them to be your mentor on your journey. They do not care whether or not you end up with ikigai, they just care about you giving them money so they can live the lifestyle they love. In most cases, I would advise against jumping out of a plane without a parachute, which is what this is.
Instead, there are may ways to try things out before fully committing.
Some people do a profession to get paid based on what they are good at and what the world needs, but have another hobby, community or family activity or “side hustle” which fulfills the criteria of what you love. Or some people start a side business which fulfills all four of the criteria, and grow it until it might eventually be their main source of income.
And some people make slow, steady gains towards ikigai their entire life. Don’t worry if you aren’t there yet.
Just get creative on how you might get closer.
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