WASHINGTON,D.C. — Describe your ikigai?

The candidate thought she was prepared but holy cow, what is this?

Before I define it for you, ask yourself these four questions from Laura Oliver of the World Economic Forum.

  1. What do you love?
  2. What are you good at doing?
  3. What does the world need from you? From my perspective, perhaps this is a better question: What can you do that allows you to live out your values and your purpose in life?
  4. What can you get paid for?


Dan Buettner, an explorer for the National Geographic and author of “Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People” says there is a fifth question: What can you give back? Buettner says, and annual research polls back him up, that only 30 percent of the people in America like their jobs. This is a problem since the gainfully employed spend 75 percent of their waking hours at work. No wonder employee engagement is such a problem and should be of serious concern for Chief Executive Officers, but that is a subject I have written about in the past.

So here is the definition, roughly translated: “Ikigai” is the Japanese word for two key career and life questions: Why do you get up every morning? What motivates you to do the job you do? And I would add a third: What is your reason for being?

So many people I know pocket their paycheck and keep doing what they have been doing, never looking over their shoulder to see what they might be missing. They take care of their responsibilities —they pay the mortgage and their taxes, feed and clothe their family, take care of school tuition and at the end of the day they hope they have some left over for retirement and possibly a couple of family trips each year. Many are doing what they went to college to learn how to do — to be lawyers, accountants, geologists, doctors and bankers, for example.

But are they happy? More to the point, are you happy? If you were asked in a job interview about your ikigai, what would you say?

Buettner, who is the first person I have encountered with the job title explorer, is also a multiple New York Times best-selling author and evangelist for a healthy lifestyle to promote a longer life. His company, Blue Zones, focuses on that vision. His emphasis on happiness at work is based on the theory that if you are unhappy in what you do with 75 percent of your life, the chances for living a long, rewarding life are greatly reduced.

So as you cruise to the end of the year and begin planning for 2018, Buettner suggests that you ask yourself those five questions, make a list for each and begin looking for the common denominators in your written responses. Write down what you feel in your mind and heart, not what you feel you have to do based on that degree or certificate hanging on the wall.

Based on personal experience, and from insights I have gained from our career transitions coaching practice and my years in executive recruiting, I know the common elements are there, but you just have to be painfully honest with yourself to see them.

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