How To Finally Understand What To Do In Life Using The Ikigai Concept

two young women looking up at the sky while laying on the ground and reading a book in their apartment under the sunlight

When we were little we thought we already knew what to do in life. We all had a dream job we wanted to pursue at all costs and that we constantly dreamt about.

However, growing up you probably realized that your childhood dream job wasn’t actually what you wanted to do in life. Therefore you noticed you had no actual idea of what your dream job was and realized that understanding what it could be is actually really hard.

What made me realize I didn’t know what to do in life

When I was a child I had a precise idea of what I wanted to do in life: become a singer, actress, writer and a stylist as well as being a vet and a doctor while running a pet supplies shop and a dog center. Ambitious? Definitely. However, over time I noticed that I wasn’t good at nothing I loved doing and that belonged to my dream life.

So at the end of high school, being face to face with the necessity of really
choosing what I wanted to do in my life, I obviously had no idea. At this point, my ultimate and only goal was to understand what I wanted to do with my life. However, what really passionate me required abilities that I did not have. The rest of the options were things I wasn’t really interested in and that, most of all, I couldn’t see myself doing for the rest of my life. I was totally panicking. But good things come when you least expect them: I accidentally discovered the Ikigai concept and it was eyeopening.

What’s the Ikigai concept?

Ikigai is a Japanese word that translates to “the reason why you wake up in the morning”. It’s what makes people wake up every single morning with a smile on their face and that gives them the enthusiasm that helps them keep going through the day.

However, finding our Ikigai is not that easy and its research requires a deep introspection.
But what really is this Ikigai? Theoretically, it’s pretty simple as it’s the
intersection of four basic elements in our life:
1) what we love doing
2) what we can be paid for
3) what we’re good at
4) what the world needs

These four elements can be represented in a diagram like the one down below, to better understand their connection:

the japanese concept of Ikigai which is a combination of what you love, what you're good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for, that'll help you understand what to do in life

Even though we are pretty familiar with these four concepts, we generally keep them distinct and we tend not to link them together. So, when we try to understand what to do in life, we only look at a couple of them. That’s why it happens very often to realize that the life path that people have chosen for themselves is not what they really wanted.

Our Ikigai, instead, it’s the union of all these aspects: our passion, our vocation, our mission and our profession. That’s what creates the perfect job for each one of us, perfectly designed for our abilities and our ideals.

How can you use the Ikigai concept to discover what to do in life?

As I’ve said before finding your Ikigai requires a deep introspection to better understand who we are and who we want to be.

1) What do you love? What does really passionate you?

This question is probably the most important one because it determines what motivates us and makes up happy. You can basically look at it as the engine of your Ikigai. So, ask yourself: what do you really love doing? What would you do if you didn’t have the necessity of making money? What would you do if there were no boundaries at all?

2) What are you good at?

In order to find a gratifying job that makes us feel fulfilled and happy we cannot only look at what we love doing but also at what we’re good at.

However, understanding what we’re good at is not that simple: the only way to discover it is to put ourselves out there and learn from our mistakes and our victories. The biggest problem is that very often what we love doesn’t match what we’re good at. My opinion, however, is that nothing is impossible and that there are two solutions in this case:

  • make our way around the problem and find a job that is very connected to our passion (e.g if you really love playing volleyball, but you’re not good at it, even though you perfectly know all the techniques, you could think about becoming a coach or a referee)
  • develop your abilities and go over your limits, because it always seems impossible until it’s done

3) What does the world need?

This is probably the aspect that gets more overlooked and neglected because people tend to look at their own little world instead of caring about the rest as well. This does not mean we don’t have to look at our own interests, however, we should look at our impact on the world too.

I realize this is probably the hardest question but it is the one that gives me more excitement than the others. It makes you understand that you can change the world and be part of its history. In a nutshell, you have to understand what’s your actual mission in this world and how you can make this place better than before.

4) What can you be paid for?

In today’s society, this question is as important as the other three. The best way to find a job that meets all our necessities is to search for all the opportunities that your abilities can give you.

But how can you understand if that’s the right job for you? In my opinion, the best way to do it is to contact people that work in the field you’re interested in. Ask them how their workday looks like if they enjoy their job and many other questions you might feel the need to know about.

Don’t be scared to ask people for help! Even though you might think the contrary they’re often pretty nice and happy to answer your questions. I did it many times and it really helped me understand what to do in life and what to study at university.

Have I discovered what I want to do in life?

Now, I would not presume to think that I have found my Ikigai, especially since I realize I still don’t know myself well enough to realize what my real values are.

However, I have to admit that this blog not only helps me a lot understanding myself more day by day, but it also makes me feel like I’m getting closer to it. A blog can be a great way to start knowing yourself a little bit more and connect with people that have the same passions and the same ideals you have. Plus, you could eventually discover blogging is your Ikigai and you could turn it into your full-time job. Are you interested in starting a blog but you don’t know where to start and what to do? Check out my ultimate guide on how to start a blog.

How to understand what to do in life when you're totally at sea and you don't know what you want to do with your life and what college degree to choose

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