Out Now! Our new Opening Lines video. This week our author is Paul Hargreaves writer of Forces for Good.

You can watch the video and read the fascinating article below!

Ikigai, the Japanese concept meaning ‘a reason for being’, has been written about by several others and is described in various ways as fulfilment, happiness or simply ‘a reason to get up in the morning’. Ikigai shows us how work can be -good for our health, wellbeing and happiness. This philosophy appears to result in human beings living longer too, as the Japanese island of Okinawa, where Ikigai has its origins, is said to be home to the largest population of centenarians in the world. It is generally agreed across the world that happiness leads to long life, so if finding our Ikigai leads to happiness, it will increase the tendency to long life.

So, we see that Ikigai is the intersection of where we are doing what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs and at the same time earning money. Finding that place at the centre of the intersecting circles through our purpose leads to fulfilment and happiness and makes us live longer. Héctor Garcia, the co-author of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (2017), says, ‘Your Ikigai is at the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing.’ He continues, ‘Just as humans have lusted after objects and money since the dawn of time, other humans have felt dissatisfaction at the relentless pursuit of money and fame and have instead focused on something bigger than their own material wealth. This has over the years been described using many different words and practices, but always hearkening back to the central core of meaningfulness in life.’

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Transitioning toward the centre

So, the key for us is to find out where we are on the Ikigai diagram and aim to transition towards the intersection at the middle, which is the only part that is within all four circles. It is unlikely that you are currently sitting in any of the areas within only one circle in the diagram, i.e. only in what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs or what you can be paid for. For example, if you are being paid well for what you are doing, you are probably good at it; if not, you may not be there very long! If you are doing something you love, but not getting paid well or at all, you are probably doing it for the world and are in the ‘mission’ intersection.

Many people are in the intersection between what they are good at and what they can be paid for named ‘profession’. Such people are generally very competent, and are often highly paid individuals, but in a job simply to earn as much money as they can. Other professions, such as nurses, would be in the ‘vocation’ intersection, as they are definitely doing what the world needs and are paid, but not enough, according to most people’s opinion.

It is more likely that you are in one of the smaller triangular intersection areas, which are the intersection of three out of four circles. Let’s take the top intersection of doing what you love, what you are good at and it’s something the world needs. The legend on the diagram says, ‘Delighted and fulfilled, but broke’, which may resonate with some. I was in this place during my ten years of charity work in inner-city London. I absolutely loved what I was doing at the time, we were making a difference to the surrounding community and, after a few years of practice, we were reasonably good at it. However, there was a sense of struggle to it all, and a lack of permanence, simply because there was barely enough to pay the mortgage most months.

Take another intersection, between what you love, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. The missing area here is what you are good at. This could be the position for someone in an early start-up. In the early years of a business, you are quite often having to be a jack of all trades and master of none. All jobs have to be done and there is probably only one job in eight that you are really good at. This scenario is fine in the short term, as your passion and excitement will sustain you, but unless the business grows rapidly, and you are able to delegate the jobs you aren’t good at, it can lead to frustration. I was always very keen to hand over to others all the areas of the business that I know I am not good at: administration, logistics, finance. Finding others who are master at these jobs and who were far better than me led to much greater Ikigai for me, and for them too, as they enjoyed the responsibility in the area they were good at.

What if you feel that you are in the third intersection of what the world needs, what you can be paid for and what you are good at? The area that is missing is what you love, and you are comfortable but bored and empty. There is no passion and you are not engaging emotionally with what you are doing. There may be a feeling of emptiness, and whilst the world does indeed need what you are doing, the task in hand has possibly become no more than going through the motions. This can sometimes be from exhaustion, physical, mental or emotional, otherwise known as ‘burnout’. I was in this place at the end of my labours in the inner city, where I was still engaged in charity work, had started a business a couple of years earlier and had three children. I now know I was juggling too many balls and the passion had completely disappeared from everything I was doing.

Finally, the intersection area to the left of the centre, where you are doing something you love and are good at it and you are being well remunerated for it. What’s missing? The world does not need what you are doing. You feel satisfied to a degree, but in your heart of hearts you may have a nagging feeling that what you are doing is not benefiting the world. I have met some people working for banks and investment companies in the city who have described a feeling of emptiness and know the world at large is not benefiting from what they are doing, just a few very affluent people. I have also met some after they have quit their job in the city and are finally doing something more altruistic which has given them an enormous sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. If you are in this place, toward the left of the Ikigai diagram, you just need to turn your talents and abilities into significantly changing the world for better.

How to find our Ikigai

A helpful exercise if you know you need to change what you are doing but are struggling to know what to do would be to write down four lists. Ask yourself the four questions: (1) What do I love? (2) What am I good at? (3) What can I be paid for now? (or what could pay me in the short term?) and (4) What does the world need? The cross-section of those four lists is your Ikigai. If you are still struggling, ask one of your closest friends. Often it may be more obvious to them what you should be doing. A complete change of direction may well propel you towards your Ikigai. You may have been struggling for years in a role that doesn’t ignite your passion and may secretly yearn to explore your interests within, say, the arts, food or culture. Or alternatively, it may just mean a tweak to what you currently do on a day-to-day basis. Let’s give an example from my business, Cotswold Fayre Ltd.

I originally started in business as I wanted to change the world for better, loved good food and drink and had the ability to sell. I had always concentrated on the sales and marketing side as that is what I was good at, and I ensured I recruited others to deal with the logistics and administration side, which I really wasn’t good at and didn’t enjoy. I generally remained doing what I was good at, what I enjoyed, was being paid reasonably well and started to make a small difference in the world, i.e. close to Ikigai. However, we reached a point in 2015 when the company had grown much larger and was moving over 750,000 boxes a year around the UK from our own warehouse and we had morphed into a logistics business rather than a sales and marketing company. I still had a very good operational team running that day-to-day side of the business, but we ‘felt’ like a logistics company rather than a sales and marketing company, which didn’t suit me. So, after a considerable thinking period, we outsourced all our logistics in 2016 to other companies. The change in our business was transformational and I, and everyone else, certainly increased our joint Ikigai. Suddenly, we had lost the headache of running a logistics operation and gained headspace, allowing us to work with greater creativity.

This is just a personal example of how I reclaimed some ground back toward the centre of my Ikigai. The chances are that you are not right at the centre of the Ikigai diagram right now. Think about where you are and what you can change, and then please do something about it if you want to be happier and live longer!

Paul Hargreaves is the author of new book Forces for Good: Creating a better world through purpose-driven businesses. He is also the CEO of the fine foods wholesaler Cotswold Fayre.