Ikigai – Work/Life Integration

Coming back from the festive season, one of the more common New Year’s Resolutions for working professionals is that of attaining work/life balance. The concept of work/life balance comes from the perspective that work is ‘there for money’, while life is ‘what you love doing’. This puts many in a position where they feel like their work is ‘stealing time’ from their life.

It can be difficult to find the balance between work and life, especially when working from home and doing what you love for a living. What about those of us who love what we do? While thinking about this, I realised that maybe ‘work/life balance’ is not what we are actually looking for, and that maybe we are coming at this discussion from the wrong perspective.

What if it is less about balance and more about making these two ‘opposites’ work together? The Japanese concept of ‘ikigai’ – “a reason for being” – may be a more suitable approach. Ikigai is about finding your purpose and practically applying it to various areas of your life.

Finding your ikigai can be difficult, but fortunately it boils down to a few points, which you can identify by asking the following questions:

Your Passion:

  • What do you love? What would you gladly do even if you weren’t going to get paid for it?
  • Identify the things you love doing, both in your work and in your personal life, down to the individual tasks and their aspects.

Your Vocation:

  • What are you good at? What do you find easy and/or enjoyable to do?
  • Where can the things you’re good at be applied? Do your strengths and skills show up differently in different settings?

Your Mission:

  • What does the world need right now and how can your Vocation and Passion contribute?
  • Take the time to understand the impact you have on your colleagues, family, community, and your work. How far-reaching are those impacts and which needs do they fulfil?

Your Profession:

  • What can you get paid for and how does this align with your Passion, Vocation and Mission?
  • Assess the market value of your skills and expertise. Identify which of them you can be paid for and whether that role will meet your financial needs and allow you time away from work.
  • Your assessment may steer your career in a different direction, or highlight skills you may wish to develop, in order to find your reason for being.

Let’s take my life as an example:

I happened upon my ikigai at an early age. As a child, I wanted to help other people solve their problems (not quite coaching as we know it today, but everyone starts somewhere). Helping others has always been my Passion.

I’m a bit of a people-pleaser, making sure that others are comfortable, that they feel safe, and giving them the time to think and verbalise their feelings is something that comes to me fairly naturally, making it my Vocation.

Over time, I realised the world is more than just my small community. The world needs safe spaces where people can be themselves and work through challenges they’re facing. Creating these safe spaces is my Mission.

And my Profession? I am a Strengths and an Enneagram Coach, and anyone else with the same Passion, Vocation and Mission can become a therapist, a psychiatrist, a counsellor, or a coach.

So how does this loop back to work/life balance?

Once you have identified your Passion, Vocation, Mission and Profession, take a step back and consider the core tenet of ikigai: you don’t need to give everything up for a job, or give everything up for a personal life.

Ikigai challenges the ‘either or’ paradigm and instead recognises the need for integration between work and personal life.

Identifying your ikigai won’t do much good if you work yourself to the bone. The intent is to ensure that both the professional and personal aspects of your life are fulfilling and that the one never overrides the other.