I have two strange passions: I love words (hence my love for writing) and I love learning about different life philosophies. When browsing the bookstore a few months back, I saw a book titled “Ikigai: how the Japanese wake up to joy and purpose every day.” A perfect match for someone like me — ikigai was both a word and new “life philosophy” I’d never heard before. Of course, it caught my attention.
We’re told that attaining certain external things such as a good degree and a bottomless bank account is the path to true success. Our innate search for happiness leads us to strive endlessly for that degree, that relationship, that outside recognition and validation.
Because I’m what you might call a “free spirit” as opposed to a “follow the beaten path” kind of girl, living in a society that pushes a certain life direction—multiple degrees, big jobs, etc—has left me feeling like my life isn’t much of a contribution. I would much rather learn and master the concepts of inner peace, authentic connection, self-acceptance, fear.
This conflict of not living according to the world’s standards robbed me of my own inner peace, even though in my heart of hearts, I knew I was meant for a different path. I felt the discomfort of not fitting the mold; I felt out of harmony because I so badly wanted to conform to a world that was beating to a different rhythm from my own heart.
So what does this have to do with ikigai?
The word itself means “reason for being.” Each and every one of us finds fulfillment and joy in different ways. Part of the magic and beauty of life is finding what sparks joy in your life. There are four pillars that you must address in order to embody ikigai:
- Find something that you love (for example, what makes time fly by for you?)
- Have some meaningful contribution to the world (do you feel your work has a meaningful impact on others?)
- Do something that you can get paid for (this is self-explanatory. Everyone needs food on the table!)
- Find something you’re good at (it doesn’t have to be an inherent gift you have, but something you’re able and willing to work towards excelling in.)
We readily take out loans and get into school debt because we think having a certain degree will give us job security. Yet, we rarely follow our intuition with the same confidence and faith. When you think of it that way, pursuing what really sets you on fire doesn’t seem as “impractical.”
The question is, are you willing to try new things, take risks, and get outside your comfort zone? Regardless of where you’re at in life, living out a life that both challenges you to reach higher while unleashing the greatness you already have within is the only real way to feel true joy from the inside out. Are you ready to embrace the joy you’re made for and discover the best version of you?
Below are 7 tips to embody ikigai and live a life of joy, fulfillment, balance, and radiance.
Step One: Apply self-awareness.
Take a little inventory of your thoughts regarding every facet of your life. Your ambitions, relationships, skills. The only way to make changes is to first become aware of what needs to be changed. In addition, take note of the things that are working for you.
Is there anything that feels particularly mundane about your life? What do you find yourself thinking about most? What’s a “dream” or “wish” you have, that you may not be taking seriously? And what do you truly enjoy?
Step Two: Be intentional.
Intentionality is key to finding fulfillment and balance. Without being intentional with your energy and where you put your focus, you will easily become drained, bored, or off track from your goals altogether.
Getting into a routine and checking in with yourself regularly is a really helpful way of staying in alignment. After all, your “reason for being” must come from living authentically.
Step Three: Stay in your own lane.
It can be easy to look to others for validation or to compare yourself, but at the end of the day, only you know if you are living from a place of authentic purpose.
External distractions can take you away from the little nudges that are trying to speak to you. Tune in to when you feel your best. Inner peace is an arrow. Follow what brings you that settling feeling within.
Step Four: Acknowledge your strengths.
Everyone has unique strengths and talents. It can be easy to take these gifts for granted—ANYONE who can read a map is a magician in my eyes!—but this hinders your innate potential. Sad face! If you’re feeling unsure of what your gifts are, ask some trusted friends or family. But if you can, try and come up with your strengths on your own.
It’s important to acknowledge your abilities and cultivate them. Remember: there are many different types of gifts and talents. It could be your creativity or your drive to make a difference. Maybe you’re good at organization or you love art. Acknowledge your strengths and use them as leverage to building your ikigai.
Step Five: Change your routine.
I’m all for routines. I love my morning and evening routine. They ground me and give my day structure. However, one of the best ways to reset is to do something out of the ordinary. It can be as small as changing your coffee order or taking a day trip to a nearby park.
Changing up your routine can invite new energy and ideas and foster “a-ha” moments. It also makes life more interesting. Don’t let your life become mundane!
Step Six: Challenge yourself. Show up.
You know that bubble of “protection” we call our comfort zone? Yup, it’s time to expand that. It’s time to show up for life more fully. Your comfort zone is like a little hiding place. Challenge yourself to break out of that shell a little. It doesn’t have to be big.
It could be reaching out to an old friend or trying a cooking class. Maybe it’s asking for a raise at work or saying no to something that’s adding stress to your life. Challenging yourself not only builds resilience and self-confidence but also draws out more of your potential. Don’t worry about the outcome, celebrate the effort!
Step Seven: Recalibrate.
What worked for you last year—or even last month— may not be working in your best interest now. Stay tuned to your growth. This is part of living with intentionality and awareness. Maybe you need to go to bed earlier or wake up earlier. Maybe you need more time alone. Recalibrate.
And lastly, here’s a bonus tip: BREATHE. You don’t need to have it all figured out at once. Plans may change or fall through, but these are often little blessings in disguise leading you in a better direction, even if it’s hard to see or believe in the moment. Follow the inklings in your heart. Dare to challenge your doubts. You are capable of so much more than you know.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want life to pass me by. After all, the more I can embody ikigai, the more love and joy I can give to others. So what about you? How do you want to live out your ikigai?
Comment below! :-)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colleen Bartlett is a mental health advocate, songwriter, and blogger whose passion is to bring awareness to mental health through her writing and music. She believes in the indomitable resilience of the human heart and spirit and hopes to help others tap into their inner brilliance by sharing her own experiences with honesty and warmth. Check out her website at www.colleenbartlett.com.
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