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Ikigai - How To Find A Sense Of Purpose In The Workplace



It is now commonplace to point out that we are increasingly questioning our work life balance and re-examining our own sense of purpose and value. I have become fascinated by the changing nature of work and in particular, the way people have reframed their relationship with it. This is of course, partly because of the pandemic but not completely. I believe that over the last few decades, as the world has turned faster and change and uncertainty have dominated more and more of our lives, we have become more reflective, more demanding and in some cases, more dissatisfied. At the start of this year, I hit my mid-fifties, and I have to admit that reflecting on what my legacy will be has become a minor obsession.


I don’t believe that it is any accident that the world is more polarised and angry than ever. The promise of the ‘job for life’ dream has long since faded, as short term contracts, economic and environmental instability, technological innovation and global shifts continue to impact the way we live, work and interact.

There is a growing and at times acute war on talent as companies fight for and then work out how to retain the best. They are cognisant of the costs of onboarding and training new starters who may or may not last the course.


Managers and leaders are frustrated by the increasing need to manage others often to the detriment of their own work.


I have had a mantra for many years that,

“Systems and structures change nothing, people do.”


I am convinced that some of the answers we need lie in that idea, and so it is, that I have become increasingly interested in the Japanese concept of ‘Ikigai’ 生き甲. Translated, it means ‘reason for being’.


I know that it has been widely used in the coaching sector for some time, but we do have to be careful about the way it is applied. It is not, as some would have you believe, about making money.


Some years ago, I was working with a global lottery organisation who were facing the challenge of engaging young adults in buying lottery tickets. Their primary challenge was that young people were less interested in material wealth than previous generations but were far more passionate about experiences and opportunities.

Ikigai speaks to that ideal, it is not the pursuit of professional success or financial freedom.


Ikigai is also not about heroism, it is not about providing what the world ‘needs’ from you, it is about connection and the mutuality of love, respect and relationships. It is about understanding what you mean to others and what they mean to you, personally and professionally. When I left my job as a school principal nearly two decades ago, I knew that I would miss the children and the community, I knew I would miss my colleagues, but I wasn’t prepared for how much they helped define who I was on a daily basis. I have found that so difficult to remedy over the years.

Ikigai lies in the realm of community.


Contrary to some interpretations, it is not about simply doing what you are good at. It is more about immersing yourself in things that interest you, new skills, knowledge, or hobbies. Ikigai is about a commitment to growth not excellence.

Whilst love can be a by-product of Ikigai, it is the sense of purpose you gain from finding the sweet spot in your life that is the real aim.


My greatest joy comes from connecting others and witnessing the magic they weave together, it is seeing the spark in their eyes when they find a purpose, value or opportunity. It is this that drives me to build my legacy.

Ikigai is not some grandiose destination or achievement, it should be deeply personal, often private. It should be seen more as a way of being rather than something to achieve.


What intrigues me now, is how we might apply the ideas of Ikigai in our workplaces and see if they can help us develop our cultures, so that they feel more purposeful, fulfilling and engaging for the changing expectations of a shifting workforce. If you have stories to tell about Ikigai in the workplace, please let me know, but in the meantime here are a few simple questions to share and discuss that might help you understand your tribe just a little bit better.


Understanding values:

What are your core values?

What are the beliefs that are important to you?


Roles & Relationships:

What is your role in your family, workplace, and local community?

What relationships are important to you and help to define who you are?


Hobbies & Interests

What are your hobbies and interests?

What things would you like to learn or try?


Being in the Here & Now:

When are you most present?

Who or what, do you most appreciate?



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