If you’ve been on the Internet anytime in the last few months or so, you likely have seen this image floating around:
It is essentially the latest attempt to answer humanity’s perennial question: What is the meaning of life? What’s my purpose?
This time, the source of enlightenment is Japan – because apparently the Japanese people have life all figured out… (Unfortunately last I checked, the suicide rate in Japan is still among the highest in developed countries. 🤔)
The theory is simple and elegant, as all answers to life aim to be. Just find an activity that fulfills these criteria:
- Something monetizable
- Something you have natural skill in
- Something you purely enjoy doing
- Something that actually solves real problems in the world
…and you’ve found your life’s purpose! Your search for meaning will be over and you can live happily ever after.
Of course, this is easier said (and shared on social media) than actually realized. After walking through this framework with a few peers, I started noticing a fundamental flaw with the diagram. Most people could name activities that fit within each of the four separate circles but few could come up with a way to combine them into one career/hobby/life that made sense.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that trying to find a singular activity that combined all four values was an impossible task for many. Instead, what worked better was to identify 2-3 activities (a job + hobbies, for example) that could fill in different parts of the diagram and thus provide satisfaction in different ways.
I’ll demonstrate with my own attempt at using this framework.
As you can see above, I find my own personal purpose lies between being a software product manager and tackling urban issues. (With few opportunities to combine these in meaningfully impactful ways that I’ve found so far.) I also happen to dabble in real estate (not 100% by choice), but I find that it’s not nearly as fulfilling as my other endeavours.
So for those of you still seeking life’s meaning – don’t stress yourself out trying to identify something that is the perfect intersection of all four “ikigai” values. Like life itself, finding meaning in life is a messy affair and you’ll be better off accepting that there won’t likely be one singular answer that satisfies you.
Have more thoughts on how to interpret the concept of “ikigai” or have other ideas on how to leverage it? Let me know!
Also published on Medium.