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Ask Yourself These 5 Questions to Find Your Ikigai

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

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.

ikigai venn diagram
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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.”