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IKIGAI: How to Find Work That You Love

#philosophy#exercise
full stack web development

How to do something that I love and has meaning to me while being able to make a reliable income? Is that even possible?

In my previous coaching session with my mentor Hannele Mennala, we’ve established that one of the next step on my journey as an entrepreneur should be to clarify my vision further through this exercise.

As a creative, I’ve always had a million ideas and projects, but difficulty focusing on one thing at a time. My hopes is that this exercise will help me clarify my meaning and purpose, which will in turn inform my decisions and trajectory in the tech world. I also hope that by sharing my thought process while going through this exercise, I could help or inspiring other people who have been struggling with self-doubt like I have.

IKIGAI 生きがい : A Reason For Being

IKIGAI is a Japanese philosophical concept that describes a feeling of purpose and motivation in life. The online research I’ve done so far led me to this exercise consisting of a 4-circle ven diagram:

Ikigai Diagram

This diagrams suggests that IKIGAI can be found by asking oneself those 4 questions:

  1. What do I love?
  2. What am I good at?
  3. What can I get paid for?
  4. What does the world need?

Then, where the circles converge, you can start realizing that:

  • What you love and are good at is a PASSION
  • What you are good at and can get paid for is a PROFESSION
  • what you love and is needed by the world is a MISSION
  • What the world needs and can you get paid for is a VOCATION

What Do I Love?

As we grow up and are faced with the reality of the world, it’s easy to lose touch with the child within us. For me, thinking back of who I used to be between the ages of 7-14 helped immensely with getting in touch with myself and what I truly enjoy doing when I’m not thinking about making money, performance goals.

It would have been really easy for me to get lost in limiting this list to a “tech work”, as it’s the area of my life I’m the most focused on right now, but doing so would also limit my thinking.

In an effort to really expand my thinking, I took a step back from my goal-oriented thinking and started listing things that I just enjoy doing for their own sake, things such as playing video games, playing Dungeon & Dragons, dancing and drawing and more. All of these have very little to do with what I’ve been doing for a living. Being really free and expensive with this list is so important as anything can serve as a jumping point.

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time trying to create complex games using only power point, as it’s the only tool I was familiar enough with. I also loved creating small interactive websites to share with my friends; it initially started as simply creating and designing forums so my friends and I could do play-by-post roleplaying online, but soon it fed my interest in learning HTML & CSS to create information website about things I was learning in school.

Seemingly unrelated interests to my work slowly helped build a bridge in my thinking to include moments from my childhood I can still relate to today as an adult. It helped me remind myself of how much genuine interest I’ve had for using technologies, and especially for the web. For the whole time I’ve worked as a musician, creating and designing my website(s) and sharing knowledge with others has always been the best part of my day.

Then I expanded my list with more abstract concepts such as “sharing my knowledge” and “compiling resources to help people” that I do often find myself going back to and enjoying. A lot of those more abstract concepts often felt like they summarized some of the other more concrete things that I loved.

What Am I Good At?

Skills often times overlap with what we love, although generally skills are acquired through training. As a entrepreneur I’ve had the privilege of studying and exploring a lot around my interests, a lot of which turned into strong skills of mine.

As I brainstormed my skills, I noticed that there are multiple ways to frame skills, and for that reason, I decided to divide them in different lists:

  1. Practical Skills: Skills linked to a field of operation. (i.e. Vocal Recording, Web Development) They are more broad and less focused on the specifics
  2. Technical Skills: Skills in using a given tools, technologies or knowledge. (i.e. React, Typescript, Audio Editing, 4-part harmony) They are almost the same as Practical Skills, but they are more narrow and specific to a domain.
  3. Personal Skills: Skills that are linked to personal strengths (i.e. Flexibility, Adaptability, Creative Thinking). They are most abstract and focused on a person’s character

for the IKIGAI exercise, I decided to focus on making a list of both Practical Skills and Personal Skills, but listing Technical Skills could have also been a great idea.

What Can I Get Paid For?

Evaluating what is happening right now in the world served as a great starting point for me in this part of the exercise. What are the current opportunities that are offered to me? What shifts in culture have I recently witnessed?

2023 has been a difficult year for the tech industry, and a lot of people, including me, are now looking for work. It’s a scary position to be in for me as a web developer just starting in the industry, but I’m hopeful and I’m trying to expand my horizons.

For this list, I formulated my ideas as offers I could send out to the world, helping me finding more concrete ideas. Here’s one example:

Designing Websites and creating the branding for startups or small businesses that are in need of a web presence.

What Does the World Need?

What are some of the big problems you’d wish you could contribute to solving? When I completed this part, I tried to think not only of specific things, but also explain why that thing is important to me, and how I wish I could contribute to that change. In order to help me come up with things I could relate to, I started thinking of the things in my daily life that annoy me, or problems that I feel I’m constantly needing to solve and would love to have better solutions for. Here are some of my own examples:

Access to deeper knowledge: While there is an overload of regurgitated information, high quality, knowledge is hard to find online. That’s something I’ve noticed when teaching music theory: there are a lot of resources for beginners and intermediate level students, but little resources available for advanced music students. We need better resources, and we need to make them more accessible to make learning online.

We need better, more accessible online tools for users all across the world, so that we can expand and share our knowledge and and have better tools to work together and learn from each other.

Step-Back: What is my IKIGAI?

The next part of the exercise is to connect the dots between the four categories and try to discover a way that you can use your unique interests and skills to solve real world problems that get you paid. Here’s what I came up with:

To create knowledge and improve access to human ingenuity and tools through helping businesses find their voice and share their knowledge with the world through building and designing beautiful websites with accessibility in mind.

This could looks like improving the front-end UI and add new functionalities to a service or tool such as ”Streamer Songlist”, which would in turn not only help the business themselves, but also make it easier for music streamers and performers to explore new creative ways to share their art with their audiences. This could look like redesigning the UI and the user experience for Jekyll’s Blog platform, which could in return allow more people to get started with creating and hosting their own blog platform and in return share their unique world views and insight with the world.

In other words, I’d love to contribute to making the world a place where sharing knowledge is more accessible, and I’d love to do that through helping businesses, artists and entrepreneurs build their web presence, my design and technical skills. The idea of contributing to startup projects feels particularly meaningful to me, as they are the cradle of human creative potential, and because I feel like my unique contribution, skills and enthusiasm could really make a difference.