Jeffrey Bunn

A reason for being (Ikigai)

February 22, 2018

I recently came across the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which translates to “a reason for being”, or, “the reason for which you get up in the morning.”

From a tweet to a blog post to a TED talk to several articles - all on Ikigai - I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my internal back and forth on whether this thing is useful or is just another oversimplified, overhyped piece of infotainment trash.

Here’s the original graphic that piqued my interest:


It’s elegant, isn’t it? Particularly satisfying, to me, are the four inner sections, each representing overlap between three of the four circles, and their explanations. Supposing that this chart, and concept, is on to something, it’s these four inner sections that seem most dangerous to me.

To be so close to achieving harmony, so to speak, yet missing only one crucial component - that must be an incredibly frustrating place to live in. Having only two circles overlap, on the other hand, doesn’t feel as pressing of an issue, as I imagine one would clearly know that they’re not “there” yet. It might even be more satisfying, in a way, as one could attempt to partition their life in order to spend time in all of the circles, albeit separately.

And yet, this concept has certainly made me think. Where do I fall on it?

Depending on my mood, I find that I plot myself within three circles (on a good day), or two circles (on a bad day). Three is probably more accurate, and the provided description of this section (I won’t say which one) makes me uncomfortable, which means it’s at least partially hitting the mark.

Forcing reflection

The primary value of Ikigai, in my opinion, is in taking the time to reflect on your life. Who actually does this? I expect that most people, myself included, go through life like a pinball goes through the machine - bouncing from one place to the next.

I certainly try to journal and reflect often. It always helps, when I do it. There’s something about putting my thoughts down that helps clarify things. It seems to me that writing what I’m already thinking allows my brain some empty space; to rest and think up something new.

Sometimes, I’ll think of something surprising. And even rarer still, that surprising something will lead me down an entirely different path.

It’s only in taking stock of where you are that you can deliberately decide where you want to go. I wish I’d done more of this as a teenager and young man. I find it so peculiar, looking back, that I went through years with hardly a care in the world, and I regret that I didn’t take the time to reflect on where/who I was and where/who I wanted to go/be.

Is it useful?

I found myself wondering whether it’s arrogant to assume that something should fit in the middle section of the chart. Why should Ikigai even exist?

But, on reflection, I found that I didn’t particularly care. Whether Ikigai, as I see it above, remains true to its original intent is less important to me than the simple fact of whether it’s useful or not.

Is this potentially another way to look at, and plan, my life?

Does it help me ask better questions?

Can I learn anything new from pointedly asking myself…

  1. What do you love?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What can you be paid for?
  4. What does the world need?

If so, fantastic. That’s enough for me.

Like that saying: “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

As a mental model, I’ve found Ikigai useful. I hope you do too.