Updated: Aug 13
Asking and answering powerful questions is the key to finding and living your ultimate, authentic life.
Life is certainly upside down.
For many, it’s a time of extreme financial stress. Nothing is more important than ensuring you’re able to provide for yourself and your family. It is also the perfect time to take a deep breath, pause and reflect on what you ultimately want for your career. Rethink your purpose in life.
If you don’t love your job, you’re not alone. Gallup’s most recent Employee Engagement Survey shows that only about one-third of Americans are engaged at work.
So, what can you do? While your first instinct may be to “play it safe”, there’s never been a better time to start planning for a more fulfilling life.
When this is all over, do you want to be the same? Or do you want to be better?
There are certainly many small steps you can take to be happier at work. But, what if you want more? What if you actually want to do something you love? As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
To start your journey of discovery, it’s important to first understand the Japanese word, “Ikigai” (pronounced e-key-guy). It essentially means “reason for being”, and it’s best depicted by a beautiful Venn diagram.
To find your ikigai, you search for the intersection between what you love to do, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for.
Although the diagram is beautiful and makes sense “on paper”, is it actually possible for anyone to find their ikigai?
Jennifer Freed, author and psychological astrologer believes it is. She was recently interviewed on The goop Podcast, where she talked about how she believes every human being has a unique life’s purpose.
Freed says, “Everyone has a role to play…no one has our part to play. If we don’t play it, no one will.”
So you might be wondering, how do I find my ikigai?
You’ve probably been asked this question before: “What is your five-year plan?” I’ve been asked some derivations of this question many times.
It always made me feel like such a strategic failure. I never had a good answer. Why? Because it’s not the right question.
Finding your ikigai isn’t about a five-year plan. Instead, it’s about continually experimenting, pivoting, learning, and testing until you find that perfect center place of purpose.
However, if you’re impatient and want to get there faster, here are five powerful questions that will speed up your discovery and set you on a path to finding, and pursuing, your ikigai.
1. What is your best day?
What happens on a day where you virtually dance out of work with a smile on your face? It can be tangible or intangible. Was there a specific interaction that lit you up? Was there a certain project you worked on?
When I ask this question to people, it doesn’t take long for them to answer. Although the question isn’t meant to literally recount a singular ‘best day’, most people quickly recall a specific event or day that made them glow.
Asking this question helps you start to understand what lights you up...what puts you in your “flow”. Once you know these basic components, you have the building blocks for the first component of ikigai - what you love to do.
Write down a list of the components that make up your “best day.”
Include tangible things that happen as well as action verbs that define the day, e.g. executed, created, solved.
You can even take immediate action - start looking for more assignments, people, or jobs that give you more of what’s on your ‘best day’ list.
2. What are people constantly coming to you for?
What are people always asking you for advice about? Why do people want time to meet with you? What have you overcome that others struggle with?
It’s really important to open up this question broadly; think about situations that occur at work and outside of work. This question will help you better define the ‘what you’re good at’ circle of your ikigai.
For example, after I asked this question to a friend, she realized that she had become the go-to person for new residents in her community. She is a financial executive, and she and her family relocated to Florida a few years ago.
When moving, she found it difficult to find the information she needed to help her family fully acclimate to their new community. For example - where could they find the best doctors, most affordable grocery stores, and best performing hairdressers?
She had been so diligent, organized and tenacious that others wanted her advice and guidance. She had developed a “system” that others needed and loved.
More importantly, she loved sharing her information and working with others to make their move as smooth as possible. Could combining this hobby with her financial background be the foundation to her ikigai? We will see.
Reflect back on your ‘best day’ list.
Highlight the things on the list that also come up here.
In addition, include any new items you discovered by answering this question to your list. These items are all critical in helping you find your ikigai.
3. What breaks your heart?
What do you hate seeing happen? What is something you notice and/or despise? If it breaks your heart, then it’s likely a candidate for the third component of your ikigai - what the world needs.
Personally, it breaks my heart to see so many people who are stuck and frustrated at work. And I know that much of their frustration is due to the bureaucracy, egos, and inauthenticity that plague the working world. I also feel like I conquered this issue myself; I learned how to succeed without selling out. I didn’t conform to create success...for myself or for my business. I want to help others do the same.
Sit back and think about what breaks your heart.
Add these to your list.
Circle the ones where you can picture yourself jumping out of bed every morning, inspired to tackle the issue head-on.
4. What have you secretly wanted to be your whole life?
I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “When I retire, I’m going to do blah, blah.”
Here’s what I want to scream from a mountain top: “DON’T WAIT!”
What is a “silly” dream you have always had? What is your “retirement job?”
I once was talking to a successful executive that wanted to learn more about my decision to retire early from my corporate job. She was considering doing the same and was seeking inspiration and guidance.
One of the first things she said to me was, “This is pretty silly, but I’ve always had a dream of opening up a gardening center where there were also places for people to eat, drink wine, and learn about gardening.” She then quickly wanted to move on to discuss what she should really do if she decided to leave her job.
I said, “Why not open the garden wine bar?!”
This was a woman that had been mega successful at everything she had put her mind to doing in the past. What made her think this wouldn’t also be successful?
Write down your crazy dreams.
Cross out things on the previous list that don’t match the level of excitement you have for this dream.
Shape and build out details of your dream using details from your previous lists.
Start to play with sketching out your own ikigai Venn diagram.
5. What holds you back and always has?
Do not skip this question. Deep down inside, everyone has something that holds them back from creating the best life possible. And the barrier(d) has likely lingered for some time, in various shapes and forms.
If you’re like most people, money is likely one of your barriers. In nearly every conversation I have with people that crave pursuing a new vocation, money is a major factor.
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to compromise money to follow your ikigai. Money and purpose are not anti-correlated. If you’re able to find the other pieces of your ikigai - what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs - making a great living doing it is completely possible.
In fact, it’s never been easier to make money doing what you love. In the U.S. alone, over one-third of people are freelancers. There are hundreds of websites like Upwork that connect people and businesses. Building the infrastructure needed to support your ikigai-driven venture has also never been easier. There are a plethora of companies, technology and people that make it incredibly easy to build a website, take payment, sell stuff, etc.
In the end, only you can take the action necessary to pursue your ikigai.
What’s holding you back from taking your step forward?
What two-minute task could you do to start doing to follow your dreams?
What one thing could you invest in to learn more?
What barrier do you need to overcome to build the dream life you deserve?
Most importantly, what is the price you pay if you don’t pursue it?
We are already experiencing incredible innovation that has been catalyzed by this pandemic.
The same can be true for you.
Often it’s action-forcing events that are critical for change to happen.
Let this time also be a catalyst for your own personal growth and innovation. Don’t end up the same after this is all over. End up better.
Erin Hatzikostas is a former corporate CEO turned career coach, speaker and podcast host. She is the Founder & CEO of b Authentic inc. You can listen to her offbeat career podcast,b Cause with Erin & Nicole, or you can start pumping up your career with her FREE guide,”10 Simple Steps to a Rich Career”.