Intro to Ikigai: Are You in Your Professional Sweet Spot?

ikigaiAmericans love a buzzy new lifestyle fad. From minimalism to Paleolithic diets, we love a good bandwagon.

You may have seen the word ikigai (or ikigai’s four-circle Venn diagram) buzzing around social media over the last six months or so.

Since the release of the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, publications from Forbes and Business Insider to Country Living Magazine have covered the concept.

So what the heck is it?

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means reason for being. You find it by assessing and optimizing different areas of your life to find satisfaction, meaning, and purpose – an aim for many entrepreneurs balancing family, business, community, and all those other little life things.

(FWIW, ikigai is pronounced ee-kee-gah-ee. Or, if you’re lazy like me and love to chow down on a kway-zuh-dill-uh or two, shoot for ick-ee-guy and call it a day.)

The Components of Ikigai: Vocation, Profession, Mission, Passion

Source: Wikimedia

There are four circles in the Venn diagram of ikigai: what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you’re good at.

The key to ikigai is not in those circles alone. After all, there’s more to life than getting paid and, with apologies to The Beatles, you do need more than love.

So, the key to ikigai lies in where those circles overlap.

Vocation: What You Can Be Paid For and What the World Needs

There are a lot of things out there that the world needs badly enough that you can get paid to do them even if you’re not particularly skilled at them.

For example, I rent my extra room on Airbnb. I don’t particularly enjoy having strangers in my bed. For the most part, I don’t even like interacting with many of them. I’m not a great host. Fortunately, in the Airbnb economy, I don’t have to be great.

Guests get a quiet clean place to stay without a lot of fuss from me. I get paid. Boom. Vocation.

Profession: What You Can Be Paid For and What You’re Good At

On the other hand, there are areas where we possess considerable monetize-able skills. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably good at making things or selling things online or both.

Congratulations! You’ve found a profession.

Of course, not all skills lead to money in the bank. You might be better at doing a handstand than at running an online store. However, unless you’re going to run away with Cirque du Soleil, the handstands aren’t going to pay the bills… and that’s totally OK!

Have fun with it. Just accept that the world doesn’t need it and keep building your ecommerce business.

Mission: What You Love and What the World Needs

Think of all the things you love – yoga, needlepoint, your kids. Now, which of those things does the world really need from you?

Yoga? Probably not.

Needlepoint? Maybe, if you’re skilled enough in the practice and know how to run an online business. (Pro tip: Try Facebook ads.)

Your kids? Well, definitely, if you think in terms of the world’s need for them to grow into functional contributing adults.

Bingo! You’ve found a mission.

Your Passion: What You Love and What You’re Good At

Going back to the previous example – yoga, needlepoint, and your kids. You may love all three, but do you have actual skill in those realms?

If so, you may be the kind of person who attends yoga-teacher training for kicks, enters your needlepoint into competition at the state fair, or un-ironically takes her coffee from a World’s Greatest Mom mug.

Some of us may find your Instagram photos insufferable but maybe we’re just jealous that you’ve found your passion.

Achieving Your Ikigai: Where all Four Areas Overlap 

Vocation. Profession. Mission. Passion. They’re all great on their own. Who wouldn’t love to confidently claim that they’ve not only identified but committed to living in any of those four areas?

And, yet, that’s not ikigai. Instead, ikigai is the area right in the center of the Venn diagram where all four areas overlap.

So, the question facing each of us – as family members, as business owners, as human damn beings – is this: How can we spend the most time and invest the most energy in the center of the diagram? How can we achieve ikigai?

Have you discovered your ikigai?

About the Author

Matt Simpson

Matt is a freelance writer for The DRIVE blog with expertise in digital marketing, social media, and copywriting. He's active in the #yesphx startup movement and has been recognized by AdWeek, Mashable, and more for digital innovation. Visit Matt's website or follow Matt on Twitter.


  1. says


    Thanks for the introduction to Ikigai! I will strive to reach the center with the overlapping areas of passion, mission, vocation, and profession, in the near future… 😉 The key is the popular beverage in Japan: green tea! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *