How to Focus on Your Purpose

October 4, 2022

How to Focus on Your Purpose

Finding purpose is a hot topic these days. 

And no wonder, when finding purpose boosts employee engagement, productivity, and happiness

One helpful tool is based in the Japanese term Ikigai, which loosely translates to “reason for being.” The model shared here has been modified for Western audiences, but is very useful in examining our purpose.

The steps of Ikigai are listed below. You will want to take notes as you go - these steps build on each other and will help you think through several, key aspects of your life and career. 

Steps to Finding Your Purpose: Ikigai Exercise

How to find your purpose: Ikigai Exercise

1. What are you good at?

Let’s start with the blue circle in the model, which asks the question, what are you good at? Are you a good writer? Teacher? Listener? Networker?

Think about your talents, skills, and strengths. Write them all down.

If you’re having problems, ask others who know you. When they describe you, what words do they use?

2. What do you love?

And now add in the red circle, which asks the question, what do you love? When you wake up in the morning and lying in bed, what’s the person or thing that comes into your mind that makes you want to get out of bed and start your day? Who, or what, sets your heart racing?)

List the things you love to create, build, or do.

3. Find your passions.

According to this model, the overlap between what you love and what you’re good at is where you will find your main passions in work and life

What examples can you think of here?

Some are skilled writers (step 1) and love to write about specific topics (step 2). Others are skilled networkers (step1) and love to connect and help people in specific areas (step 2). There's no one way to find your passion -- it all depends on how your talents intersect with what you love.

4. What does the world need?

Now let’s add in the green circle. Because another important question to ask to find your purpose (both for work and in life in general) is: What does the world need? We don’t want to start with the macro-level needs here, like, "We need world peace.“ Instead, think of the micro-needs in your local community and workplace. Be as specific as you can.

5. Find your mission.

Again, there’s going to be some overlap here between what the world needs and what you love. This overlap is where people often find their sense of mission.

Maybe you love music and there’s a need for more music programs in your community. Your mission, then, might be to develop or participate in those programs.

Here's another question: what needs have you identified at work? And are these needs in areas that you love to serve, anyway? Could this help you determine your mission in your organization?

6. What can, or do, you get paid to do?

For the purple circle, we want to address the financial aspect of our activities in work and in life. What can or do you get paid to do? List all your sources of income and revenue.

7. Find your vocation.

The overlap between what you can paid for and what the world needs is referred to as your vocation. We don’t use that word very often, but it means “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.” This suitability comes from feeling that we are fulfilling an important need in a way that is also financially supports ourselves and our loved ones.

You may be feeling that there’s some overlap in some of these terms (e.g., passion, mission, vocation), and that’s okay. The terms are not necessarily as important as the idea that we’re developing here – we should be finding our deepest loves and putting our best skills to work for them. And as we serve an identified need, we want to be able to make a living, too.

8. Find your profession.

Now we find ourselves back at the beginning of the model. The overlap between what we can get paid to do and our skills is where we determine the professions that we are most suited for. In fact, we’re generally not going to get paid well for things that we’re not good at, right Being a skilled musician or programmer generally means you can build a profession out of those skills.

9. Find your ideal career and purpose.

Now for the final step. Combine your passions, sense of mission, vocation, and professional skills to help determine your ideal career and the purpose that will drive you in that career. The overlap between all of those things is what’s referred as IKIGAI, your reason for being.

What if Something's Missing?

Our ideal purpose will integrate all four aspects of passion, mission, vocation, and profession. If one of these is missing, the following may be true:

If you are missing what you love: you may feel financially comfortable. But you may also feel empty and unsatisfied in your work.

If you are missing what you can get paid for: You may love what you do and feel delighted and satisfied in what you do. state the completely obvious, you will not be financially compensated. You may be having a great time, but you may also be living out of your car.

If you are missing what the world needs: You may feel personally satisfied, but you will have no one to share that feeling with. You may be missing a feeling of positive impact.

If you are missing what you do well: you may feel excited, but perhaps uncertain that you’re living up to your potential.

Try out the Ikigai Exercise for Yourself.

You can find a downloadable, printable version of the Ikigai exercise on my FREE resources page

About the author 

Pamela Coburn-Litvak

Pam is a neuroscientist, author, speaker, and certified executive coach. Her research articles have been published in scientific journals including Neuroscience and Neurobiology of Learning and Behavior.

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