How to Find Your Ikigai: Find the One Thing to Do that Check Four Checkboxes

Ikigai, in Japanese, means the reason for living your life.  In recent years, the concept of “ikigai” has become more and more popular globally.  Everyone has his or her reason for living.  That’s why it’s more important to learn how to find your own ikigai, rather than learning from a book what exactly your ikigai is.  If you can find your ikigai, you can live a very purposeful, low-stress, and joyful life.  

What is Your Ikigai and How to Find it?

Your ikigai is the one thing, or the few things, that makes your life purposeful and joyful.  For some people, their ikigai is creating music.  For some, it’s writing books.  A lot of how-to-succeed books say that your one thing should be what you are good at and what you love to do.  It seems like ikigai is a much clearer version to state this idea.  For ikigai, instead of just finding what you love to do and what you do well, it actually requires four criterias to be met.  Your ikigai should check all the following checkboxes:

1) What you are good at

2) What you like to do

3) What get you paid

4) What is useful to others

1. What You are Good at

It’s not difficult to know what you are good at.  As long as you have explored enough different things, you will eventually find out that you are better than average in some areas.  You may be a better basketball player than most people you know.  You may be one of the best programmers in the company you work for.  You may find yourself the most effective communicator in your workplace.  Look closely and you will find it.  Now, keep improving on what you are good at and make yourself great at it.  On the other hand, if you put too much attention on making yourself improve on things that you are naturally bad at, it’s like Steve Jobs dedicating his life to becoming the best basketball player he can be.  

2. What You Like to Do

If you can do what you like to do for your career, it’s much less stressful and it’s more likely that you can stick to it even during bad times.  Can you now think of anything that you are both good at and that you like to do?  Yes, to find the one thing that can fit the two criterias is not as easy as it may sound, but no one says that finding your ikigai is easy.  Yet, finding your ikigai is surely worth the challenge.  

3. What Get You Paid

If you are picking one thing to do for your career, you really want to make sure you get paid well enough; otherwise, your way of living is not sustainable.  Let’s say you are doing something you are good at and that you like to do for very little money, you eventually will run out of money and then you have to force yourself to do things that you are not good at and that you hate doing.  

4. What is Useful to Others

If you are not doing something that is useful to others, you will eventually find your one thing meaningless.  Whether your job is teaching people, cleaning buildings, producing products, you are helping people.  A lot of the time, it’s not that your job is not valuable to others.  It’s that you haven’t realized the value you bring to others.  As long as you don’t stay on your couch all the day long, there’s a good chance that you are contributing to the world in one form or the other.  Be active and you are going to be fine.  

Find Your Ikigai by Finding Something that Fit All Four Criterias

However, for some people, finding the one thing that fits all four criterias is not so easy.  Think about it.  How exactly can you tell whether a product you are building is useful to others?  What can you do if you don’t have anything that you like to do?  For those of you who have these questions in mind, let’s consider the following simplified version of ikigai.  

Simplify Your Thinking 1: What You are Good at is Usually What You Will Like Eventually

The word “passion” is often overused and over-glorified.  It’s true that if you have found the one thing that you are obviously good at and that you really love, it’s like a dream come true.  However, most of the time, we don’t have that obvious one thing.  And a lot of the time, we have a bunch of things that we love doing like playing sports and cooking, but we are nowhere good enough to turn them into a career.  However, at a certain point in life, we often can find something that we are obviously doing better than many people.  At first, you may not have the so-called “passion” for that one thing.  But if you spend enough time and effort on it and become a master in that particular thing you are good at, you would find the task more and more enjoyable.  In Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can't Ignore You”, he wrote about how he believed that your love for your work will come if you become great at your work.  So, if you can’t find the one that you both love and that you are good at, just find the one thing that you are good at, and then become great at it.  

“If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice and decided to only pursue work he loved, we would probably find him today as one of the Los Altos Zen Center’s most popular teachers.” - Cal Newport

Simplify Your Thinking 2: What Get You Paid is Usually What is Useful to the World

Although it sounds more classy to say that you should just do what is useful to the world and you will get paid, it’s usually easier to think the other way around.  A lot of times, it’s very difficult to find out whether something is useful to the world, especially when you are in the process of creating a new product.  Also, when you ask people whether they will find something useful, they may say yes but they eventually wouldn’t buy it.  When people buy things, there is a good chance that these things are useful to the people.  


To find joy and success, find your one thing to do that checks all of these four checkboxes: 

1) what you are good at

2) what you love to do

3) what get you paid

4) what is useful to others

If it’s too complex for you, find the one things that checks these two checkboxes:

1) what you are good at

2) what get you paid

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