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  • Writer's pictureMariah Harkey

Ikigai: What is it and why do you need to find it?

We’re always talking about finding a work-life balance in order to have a happy and healthy life, but what if that’s not the point? What if the point is to find something you’re so passionate about, that "working" gives you as much joy and purpose in the world as your hobbies do?

I learned about the Japanese concept of "Ikigai" two days before I made it to Japan while working with Semester at Sea. Living on a ship had it's connectivity challenges, but I always tried to make time for my daily dose of "email wisdom" from both and Two days before we ported in Kobe, Japan, I stumbled upon a title that read "The Japanese Secret to a Longer Life," and of course I had to jump right in. And when I did, I never thought that this simple word would have changed my outlook on life's purpose so drastically.

What It Is:

Ikigai is roughly translated into "a reason for being," or your life’s worth. It's the idea that when you move forward with pursuing your passions, the happiness and joy you get from doing so, is the reason your life is worth living. And the reason that you get out of bed each morning. Isn't that just unintentionally beautiful?

Ikigai is finding common ground between what you're good at, what you can be paid to do, what you love, and also what the world needs. At the center of these four concepts, when they all overlap, you've found your Ikigai.

It's a mix of passion, meaning, fulfillment, and purpose. And I think the most beautiful part about this concept is that it doesn't need to be complicated, either.

I don't know about you, but I look at the image above and can think to very specific times, jobs and projects I've already had in my life. Times where I was doing what I was good at, but feeling a void of fulfillment not helping others or doing something that I know was meaningful. Or times where I was doing things that the world needed and that I loved, but could not sustain a steady income through them.

Why You Need To Find It:

Now having lived in a few different places around the world, I've come to understand that America romanticizes this idea of "work-life balance" far too much. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud to be apart of this time in history where the importance of a healthy, personal life is now recognized as necessary. But I think we often forget where to draw the line with what is healthy and what is perceived to be healthy in a work-life balance. We go into these jobs in life with our guard's up, pledging to "prioritize ourselves" in front of our work's demands to keep our sanity, yet we still don't because we want to do our best, and be recognized for that. But what if we could change the narrative, and work towards being in a place where we find purpose in our day-to-day roles, in which we don't need to feel as if we have to make this "pledge" to ourselves?

Long story short: Everyone has an Ikigai. No, we might not know what it is yet, and we might not know for a while. But the important takeaway of this article is that your Ikigai is out there, and it's up to you to take a step back and start to understand what gives you purpose, in work and in life.

So now that I have you thinking, what is your Ikigai?


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