Ikigai: What it is and how to use it to propel your career in the new year

Jan 01, 2021

While picnicking under blooming cherry blossom trees in Hiroshima, my Japanese teacher revealed to me Japan’s secret to deeper meaning and longevity in life. “Ikigai is something you live for,” she emphasized before toasting to my own quest for meaning, as an English teacher who spent a year traveling and unraveling in my paternal homeland after college.

The Japanese concept of ikigai is a succinct way to describe a person’s motivation each morning, be it work, family or another passion. It combines “iki”, meaning life, and “gai” meaning “worthwhile.” This past year made us realize that nothing is certain, and that life is too short to put things off. With this great reset, we must begin—now—to see ourselves in this reimagined world before outlining career goals for the new year, an exercise which will require us to first know ourselves better. This reflection will allow you to not only invest in a job search in 2021, but a hunt for a more purposeful life.
Here are three ways that you can conduct a self-inventory to better understand your own professional value proposition in the new year:
  1. Reflect on who you are as a person, not a job. By mentally stripping yourself of one job-title, you allow yourself to consider your identity beyond the bounds of an “accountant” or “engineer” or “veteran” etc. Instead, consider yourself as someone with unique skills and experiences using the statement “I am a person who...” to gather insight and reflect on your values, needs and interests. From knowing yourself in these various lights, more job markets will open to you, and this shift in outlook could possibly lead you to creating a role for yourself with an employer because you will be confident in all that you bring to the table.

  2. Reassess your skills, talents, abilities. Most of us believe that we don’t have a sufficient skillset: we haven’t had time to pick up necessary skills or we think that we need to go back to school to learn new skills. To better understand what makes you unique, use previous performance reviews, personality assessments (Myers-Briggs or 16 Personality Types) or insight from close friends or colleagues to identify your natural abilities and those that make you unique.

  3. Reconnect with others. To use this insight to find careers or jobs that could be a good fit for you, it is important that you share your findings with those in your network. You can do this by asking friends, family members, or your contacts on LinkedIn about the types of jobs or career fields that they think would best suit these interests and skillsets.

I hope that you use this insight to unite the ikigai concept with your reality so that you can shape a life that is worthwhile in 2021 because we all know you deserve it.


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