What's Your Ikigai?

What's Your Ikigai?

  Finding one's Ikigai is a journey.

Finding one's Ikigai is a journey.


The Japanese term Ikigai, pronounced ick-ee-guy, has no direct translation, but can be defined as a “purpose of life” or “thing that you live for”. Our favourite definition is “that which gets you out of bed in the morning.” It derives from the two words iki, which means life, and gai, which means value or worth. Put together it would be the value of living.  

The Japanese are known for being hard-working with strong work ethics—just look at the midnight trains packed with workers in suits. They also have the world's oldest-living citizens (with 27% of the population aged 65 and above)¹. While the retirement age in other countries ranges from 57 to 65, Japanese doctors are proposing to raise their ‘outdated’ retirement age to 75.² We must acknowledge that Japanese society can put huge pressure on the individual, but there's no question that the population has a remarkable resilience to work. What's the secret, you ask? It could well be ikigai (生き甲斐)—the lifelong search.

ikigai illustration

Whilst first and foremost a concept of finding meaning in life, one’s search for ikigai might also be seen as the drive behind the journey of an entrepreneur. Motivating oneself to go to work every day despite the uncertainties of running one's own business, whilst retaining the same mental and emotional wellbeing is no mean feat. The search for one's ikigai could be the key—after all, it promises one has “something to live for”³. Entrepreneurs often name their passion for doing what they do as the reason they get up in the morning, but it isn't necessarily the whole picture. Ikigai combines what you love and are good at with what the world needs (and is willing to pay for). And just like how an entrepreneur’s journey is often uncertain and full of strategic decisions, the process to finding one's ikigai is the same road travelled.

At DodoWorkPlay, ikigai is our core. It's the inspiration behind our belief in work as a force for good, and our philosophy of not just enjoying our work but also the broader work environment and routine. Many entrepreneurs are born from dissatisfaction with repetitive work styles and limiting routines, but not everyone wants to start their own business, and at DodoWorkPlay we embrace the idea of transforming company culture and employee routines through creativity, intrapreneurship, and empowerment through experience-based learning.

Research has shown that the negative routines and stresses of work can pose a high mental health risk—which in turn is impacting economies at a national level.

"Associated with the level of disability, mental health problems have become one of the leading causes of absenteeism from work and early retirement all over the European Region. Mental health concerns in the workplace have serious effects not only on the individual but also for the productivity and competitiveness of businesses and thus the economy and society as a whole. Employees’ mental health status affects employees’ performance and rates of illness, absenteeism and staff turnover…. In the United Kingdom, for example, the total cost to employers of mental health problems among their staff is estimated to be nearly £26 billion each year, equivalent to £1035 for every employee in the workforce." ⁴

Toxic work environments affect not just individuals, but the performance of whole companies, and self-awareness alone isn't enough for employees to identify their purpose within static and repetitive workplaces. If employees are to find their ikigai then there's a need not just to find what they are good at and can be compensated for, but also what they love doing and, crucially, what the world needs. Purpose is paramount: a 2014 study by IBM found "make a positive impact on my organisation" and "help solve social and/or environmental challenges" to be the two highest-rated long term goals.⁵

happiness at work

Cal Newport, professor at Georgetown University, and author of five self-improvement books, rejects the idea that following one's passion is the only way to find satisfaction and work, and writes a critical feature of a rewarding role is having agency—control over managing one's time one's approach to tasks.

All of DodoWorkPlay’s services are designed to increase the agency of our customers, by empowering participants with skills and tools, promote self-awareness (what I’m good at, what my role and my purpose is etc.) and build capabilities which lead to control of their career. To do this, we rethink the learning process, breaking away from traditional listening and absorbing approaches and focusing on an experience-based model, conducive to trial and error and thus effective learning. We replace passive learning, where new information is simply unloaded and then tested, with active learning, where theory is experienced and put into practice. We think it's a more sustainable approach to corporate education and learning for the long-term growth of companies and individuals alike.

The concept of ikigai is a guiding factor of DodoWorkPlay’s activities catered for both organisations and individuals:

  • Our workshops provide skills, tools and methodologies to give life to personal or professional projects

  • Our training combines practical exercises and activities on different topics (e.g.: sales and customer experience) that are tailored to the company needs and context.

  • Our events create networking and discussion forums to drive the conversation on entrepreneurship and the modern world of work forwards.

  • Our retreats provide individuals and teams with an immersive week-long focus on personal projects in a healthy and productive environment

Ikigai involves integrating your mission, passion, vocation and profession into finding that which you love, you are good at, which you can be paid for and finally, that which the world needs. It is a personal self-awareness that must also be incorporated by organisations if they are to succeed in the new world of work.

The question we would like to ask you is have you found your ikigai? If you're still searching, allow us to support you with our workshopsevents and retreats, or let your manager know about our training. If you’d like to know more and think we can help your team please contact us!


elizabeth kitange

About the author

Elizabeth Kitange is a Social Science student at the African Leadership University in Mauritius. She aspires to work with companies in different sectors to better understand society as a consumer base for research. Elizabeth is passionate about social innovation and impact. She joined DodoWorkPlay as an intern in September 2017 where she looks after editorial and social media.

  1. Population ages 65 and above (% of total) | Data. (2017). Data.worldbank.org. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.65UP.TO.ZS?locations=JP

  2. Global Retirement Ages for Men and Women: Chart | TopForeignStocks.com. (2017). Topforeignstocks.com. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from http://topforeignstocks.com/2017/09/06/global-retirement-ages-for-men-and-women-chart/

  3. Oliver, L. (2017). Is this Japanese concept the secret to a long, happy, meaningful life?. World Economic Forum. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/08/is-this-japanese-concept-the-secret-to-a-long-life/

  4. Mental health and well-being at the workplace – protection and inclusion in challenging times. (2010) (p. 2). Copenhagen. Retrieved from http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/124047/e94345.pdf

  5. What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Do | HBR.org. Retrieved 22 September 2017, from https://hbr.org/2016/04/what-do-millennials-really-want-at-work

Ikigai image: Winn, M. (2014). ikigai. [image] Available at: http://theviewinside.me/what-is-your-ikigai/ [Accessed 21 Sep. 2017].