Finding Your Ikigai

Discovering your reason to get up in the morning illuminates your path to finding joy and fulfillment in life


As a life coach as well as in dealing with young people, I am often faced by a familiar dilemma: “I am confused. I don’t know what course or career to follow. Can you guide me?” Invariably, I find myself divided in answering this question. It is so easy to put people in familiar boxes created by our education system and society as a whole. To make matters worse, the market is inundated with many aptitude tests. There are enough pontifical career gurus who direct you in one or exactly its opposite direction with great self-assuredness. Contrary to popular opinion, there is neither a singular nor absolute answer to this question. However, I do know one thing with certainty. People are happier if they follow their passion rather than a course, degree or ability.

Let me share the Japanese concept of ikigai. "Iki" refers to life and "gai" pertains to what one hopes for.  In a simpler sense, ikigai means your reason to get up in the morning  and, at a more meaningful level, a reason for being. All of us have an ikigai. The French have a similar concept of "raison d’être" which literally means "reason of existence". The ikigai is highly unlikely to be discovered through aptitude tests or analysing scoring patterns. The search is simpler and more intuitive.

There are four simple steps to finding your ikigai. Try and discover:

What you love doing: We all know this one innately even if not overtly. It usually relates to and is derived by what we value most in life. Or it may well be an inborn talent. This is different for different people. It is also likely to be different for the same person at different points of time in life. Know that your ikigai will shift and change as you evolve. I started life as an investment banker, got into education and then art and now one of my biggest joys and passions is writing. 

What you do without any motive: Secondly, ikigai is a natural desire to follow a course of action by itself without any end result or desire. The act itself is the reward. There is nothing contrived or laboured within the ikigai. The entire process of reward follows as a consequence and not as the motive or primary purpose of doing something. Do you now see why AR Rehman stands head and shoulders above others?

What is guided by your internal world: The ikigai is divorced from your external world and the popular choice. This is derived from your internal world and state of mind. It is simpler and more fulfilling. It is unlikely that you would find your ikigai by following popular literature, practice or culture. As should be evident, it certainly lies beyond the wake of the rat race. I hear and see so many live examples of this every time I watch Masterchef Australia.

What gives you bliss: Ikigai is rarely stressful. Practising your ikigai takes you away from stress. This does not imply that there may not be angst. You may still aim at perfection and make yourself work harder. But the bliss is deeper. The desire is more innate and the fulfillment more intrinsic. It will never restrain or stifle you. And it is never, ever a chore. I am at my happiest when I'm teaching or when I just sit down and write.

For me, the true role of a life coach is more about guiding people towards their ikigai. This needs to be blended with two more practical elements. You need to marry what you love doing and what you are good at with what other people would be willing to pay you for. This is no easy task and needs customization. This is also the reason why many people elect to be entrepreneurs. It allows them to sublimate and align their ikigai with sustenance.

I struggle each day to overcome the original question. To point people away from multiple-choice questions on aptitude tests analysed by computer-aided software. There is no magic formula for determining the reason of your existence. We need to move away from the gravitas of algorithms to answering the simpler question: your reason for getting up in the morning.

Neeraj Batra is the co-founder and chairman of OnCourse Vantage and tweets at @batra_neeraj