The Japanese Framework for Purpose

The Japanese Framework for Purpose

Millennials and Gen Y have made a significant contribution to the discussion about purpose and meaning at work in the last few years. I am a member of Gen X and know many people at my age (and older), including clients, colleagues and friends who are in search of a more meaningful life. There isn’t a common denominator among them. They come in different shapes and are from different industries, seniority levels, cultural backgrounds, family sizes and spiritual beliefs or lack of thereof.

The human search for purpose and contemplation of life’s meaning is definitely nothing new. A quote from the Greek philosopher Plato (c.428-347 B.C.), one of Socrates’ brightest students, tell us so.

Man: a being in search of meaning. – Plato

A variation of that very quote was made famous by Viktor Frankl, the holocaust survivor, in his classic book Man’s search for meaning (1946). Paul Gaugin expressed questions such as “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” in his art. Several writers, philosophers and spiritual leaders explored the topic including Nietzsche, Stoics, Buddhists, Hindus and Taoists.

I confess I wasn’t aware though, until last year, that the Japanese have not only contemplated one the meaning and purpose of life but also developed a framework to help people in their personal quest. Ikigai (pronounced “eye-ka-guy”) means roughly, “to live the realization one hopes for” or “that which makes life worth living”.

Members of the IkigaiTribe warn us that the westernised version of ikigai, seen above, is not accurate but slightly distorted.

Japanese do not need a grandiose motivational framework to keep going, but rely more on the little rituals in their daily routines. – Ken Mogi

I advocate for daily rituals and believe our routine can be designed to bring us joy and remind us of our purpose. However the Ikigai diagram still seems like a great model for me, elegant, simple and memorable.

The whole concept has been boiled down to four questions:

1) What do you love?

2) What are you good at?

3) What does the world need from you?

4) What can you get paid for?

My experience has been that as we grow older, mature and (hopefully!) evolve we will find different answers to those same very questions. So I believe our Ikigai is really a continuous work in progress and there is value in revisiting those questions and inviting reflection from time to time.

What do you think? Share in the comments below 👇

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