Understanding and finding your Ikigai

Contributed photo

Twenty Something

ACCORDING to Jeffrey Gaines of Positive Psychology, Ikigai "is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning "alive" or "life," and gai, meaning "benefit" or "worth."

When combined, these terms mean that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose."

I first heard of this around three years ago when the planner-journal I owned had extra pages dedicated to bonus contents such as Ikigai illustrations.

The simplest, most common illustrations of Ikigai are that of four huge but different circles put so closely together they overlap exactly how a Venn Diagram looks like. The four circles represent (1) what you're good at; (2) what you love to do; (3) what the world needs; and (4) what you are paid for. That portion where these four circles meet when they overlap is the "Ikigai."

As I am in my 20s as most of you, my readers are, I can attest to how difficult these four circles are made to meet, let alone gather close to each other. You may have the first two to three circles and lack the rest.

Exhibit A: You might be good at stacking grocery items in their proper places in the supermarket because that's your job for years and you're also answering the call to what the world needs, or in this case, your town. The job helps you pay the bills. But, is it what you love to do? Perhaps you've always wanted to be a radio DJ or a housewife. Who knows?

Exhibit B: You're a very good painter and it's always what you wanted to do. You also know you contribute to society by imparting to children and young adults this talent by teaching them during summer. But unfortunately, being an artist is not the most high-paying job and you sometimes find it difficult to save.

Going back, the main objective of why Ikigai was made into a more understandable concept is to achieve that sense of self-fulfillment and self-worth. It's very interesting to note that this self-worth, as conceptualized by the Japanese, is not just anchored on oneself but also that of the community. On the other hand, it also doesn't forget about the more practical aspect -- the finances.

Given this, it's safe to say that Ikigai was created for a greater good. Unfortunately, many young professionals tend to aspire for the fulfillment of only one or two of these circles - perhaps the financial aspect and the "what you are good at" aspect. It's not selfishness and being too ambitious to aspire for all four of them. I believe it's some sort of our obligation to ourself to find our Ikigai -- for the sake of our contentment and self-worth.

Keeping in mind that we all come from different backgrounds and are going through different adulting challenges, I'd like to share my personal story of how I've tried to keep a hold of my Ikigai (even before reading about this concept in the first place).

Before I worked as a journalist for SunStar Davao, I held a supervisory position in a supermarket. I was receiving good money with benefits. But after nearly two years, I decided to leave. It was primarily because the city lacked the art and culture activities and discourse that I used to witness in Davao City when I was still in college. And so after leaving the good-paying job, I decided to come back to Davao City.

The writing job in SunStar Davao paid a little less than the supermarket position. But the advantages included a more flexible time and a chance to finally immerse myself in the local arts and culture activities I felt I was previously deprived of. On top of that, I was able to talk to powerful and even simple and yet very inspiring people which allowed me to have a different perspective in life. It opened to more opportunities of knowing myself and being useful to the society I belong in.

And because I have a more flexible schedule and the management allows us to have multiple jobs (with reasonable conditions), I was also able to land on second jobs helping me meet my financial needs. The second jobs I found were also very much in line with what I'm good, what I'm interested in doing, and what the society needs me for.

Case is different for each twenty something but I'm sharing my story in the hopes to encourage people, especially the young, single ones, to take risks and to aim for those four huge circles. Make them meet and find your Ikigai.


SunStar website welcomes friendly debate, but comments posted on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of the SunStar management and its affiliates. SunStar reserves the right to delete, reproduce or modify comments posted here without notice. Posts that are inappropriate will automatically be deleted.

Forum rules:

Do not use obscenity. Some words have been banned. Stick to the topic. Do not veer away from the discussion. Be coherent. Do not shout or use CAPITAL LETTERS!