One of life’s biggest ironies is that while it’s usually very easy to pinpoint what you don’t want, figuring out what you do want can feel so much harder. If you hate your job and want to change to a new career, but have no idea what you want to do with your life or how to find your passion, we’d like to introduce you to a Japanese concept called ikigai. Roughly translated, it means “reason for being”, and it’s said to be the reason its place of origin the Japanese island of Okinawa has the largest population of happy and healthy centenarians in the world.

So what is ikigai, and more importantly, how can it help you find your passion and work out the best new career for you?

Ikigai proposes that four factors come together to create the holy grail for anyone looking for their passion and purpose in life. These are:

  1. What you love
  2. What you believe the world needs
  3. What you’re good at
  4. What you can get paid for

But how can these four factors help you figure out what you’re meant to do with your life?

How to find your passion and purpose

Start by writing down answers to each of the following questions:

  1. What do you love to do? What activity do you find fascinating and time flies when you’re doing it. You may suck at it, but you continue to do it for the sheer pleasure of doing it.
  2. What do you strongly believe the world needs? What injustice in the world really gets your blood boiling? What can you rant about for hours on end? You don’t have to think big here it could be something small and local (like people dropping litter in your local park or how you can’t find a decent dairy-free cheese anywhere)
  3. What are you naturally good at? You may not like doing it, but it seems to come to you easily and people tend to ask you to help them out with this activity.
  4. What skills do you have that you can make money from today? Again, you may not enjoy doing these things, but you’re very competent at them.

Ikigai is the point at which these four factors intersect. Is there something that ticks the box for all four? If so, THAT is your reason for being and the career path that’s likely to bring you true fulfilment.

Ikigai - reason for being

I don’t think I have a passion

If the questions above didn’t reveal an activity that you love, believe in, excel at and can get paid for, don’t panic. Ask yourself if there are any activities that fall into just two or three of the four areas. If so, you’re on the right track. Go back to the four factors and rank them in terms of priority, then place the factor that’s most important to you at the top and work your way down to the least important.

For example, for some people, feeling financially secure is a bigger priority than being amazing at what they do, and such a person is likely to feel pretty fulfilled doing a job they may not be fantastic at, but they do enjoy it, see value in it and get well paid for doing it.

Conversely, money may not interest you at all and you may be happy to earn enough to get by, as long as the work you do makes you feel like you’re making a real difference in the world and brings you joy.

Once you know which of the four ikigai factors lies at the top of your priority list, and which is second or third, focus on identifying activities that satisfy the two or three ikigai factors that are most important to you.

How to find your ideal career if you don’t have a passion

If you find that you can’t think of any interests of activities that fall into more than one of the ikigai factors, this is a sign that you need to widen your horizons. Try new hobbies that sound vaguely interesting, take an evening class or two, go to an unusual event, travel somewhere you’ve never been and spend time with people you would normally never interact with. Just as you can only discover the foods you love by tasting them, you can only discover activities that could become your dream career by trying them.

Self-help books and Googling are great for motivation and inspiration, but they can’t give you any real answers. Your answers will come when you try new activities and see how they make you feel.

If you want to really delve into the minutia of ikigai, we recommend the book Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles

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