The new ikigai eBook is live! It includes an updated version of this post and everything I’ve learned about ikigai over the last five years — Ikigai 2.0: A Step-by-Step Guidebook to Finding Life Purpose & Making Money Meaningfully (+ Bonus Workbook)
Over the last five years, I’ve studied and experimented with dozens of methods, approaches, and formulas for life purpose. The one that I’ve resonated with the most is ikigai. However, I’ve mentioned before that I believe the viral ikigai diagram needs to evolve because it doesn’t accurately represent the true meaning of ikigai.
Ikigai sounds good and all in theory, but what most people are really looking for is a real-life ikigai example. This post is going to show you how I personally use the evolved ikigai diagram—what I call “Ikigai 2.0.” I’m essentially going to answer the ikigai questions and fill in all the blanks—using myself as an example—to give you a sense of how you can use ikigai 2.0 to do the same thing for yourself.
Note: When you see the lock icon 🔒 next to a link throughout this post, it signifies that the link goes to a Premium post.
My Ikigai 2.0 — A Detailed Personal Ikigai Example of How to Find Your Life Purpose
Ikigai 2.0 Refresher & Diagram
START HERE — The Ikigai Dual Meaning
It’s incredibly important to start here with this foundational context. Many spiritual traditions and theories of human development seem to converge on some version of this.
It seems like life purpose is a combination of finding purpose and creating purpose—you don’t necessarily choose your life purpose (you find it), but you do choose what you do with it (you create from it).
Another way to view this could be fate and free will working together—loving your fate and actively choosing it with your free will.
And yet another way to view this could be inner purpose and outer purpose working together—aligning your inner purpose (being) with your outer purpose (doing).
What does that mean?
Primary Inner Purpose (Being) — In a spiritual sense, your inner purpose is shared with all humanity (awakening and staying awake). In an ikigai sense, this could be described in ways like: the feeling/spiritual meaning that life is worth living, universal human experience, humans as spiritual beings, the joy of living, the happiness and benefit of being alive, feeling that life is valuable/worth living.
Secondary Outer Purpose (Doing) — Your outer purpose is unique to you and can evolve throughout your lifetime (what you do). In an ikigai sense, this could be described in ways like: the object/source of value in one’s life that is worth living for, things that make one’s life worthwhile, something to live for, cultivating one’s inner potential, allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom, the realization of what one expects and hopes for.
We are each searching for the alignment of:
Life is Worth Living (Being) + Worth Living For (Doing) = Ikigai
Inner Purpose (Being) + Outer Purpose (Doing) = Awakened Doing
“Awakened doing” is language from Eckhart Tolle, but it could also simply be called “ikigai.”
Here’s how that looks in the ikigai 2.0 diagram that I’ve proposed as an evolution of the viral 4-circle ikigai diagram. Notice inner purpose (being) and outer purpose (doing) are foundational elements at the heart of the diagram.
There is an order and priority/weighting to the circles—starting with #1 (the largest circle) and moving clockwise because each step is a filter for the prior circle. Moving counterclockwise offers a good system of checks & balances to “pressure test” yourself.
#1 (Largest Circle) — What You Love / Are Deeply Passionate About
#2 (Medium Circle) — What You Are Encoded For (Genetic Talent / Gift)
#3 (Smaller Circle) — What The World And / Or Humanity Needs
Examples of how this works:
– You must love something (#1) or #2 and #3 will not have the necessary fuel/energy you need for the long haul (Example: I stopped competitive running when I lost the love for it. Not saying that I was necessarily genetically encoded for running or that it was good for humanity or the world, but #1 become a dealbreaker for the rest of the process. You often hear this with professional athletes who are genetically talented/gifted but the flame of passion burns out. Talent isn’t enough if you don’t love it.).
– On the flip side, if you love something (#1) but are not talented/gifted for it (#2), it most likely won’t work (Example: I love music, but I’m not musically-inclined whatsoever. I practiced piano for awhile growing up but didn’t stick with it. I could build skills, but skills aren’t the same as talents/gifts—which we’ll cover in this post).
– If you love something (#1) and are talented/gifted (#2), it could manifest as ego or unhealthy selfishness if not considered through the lens of humanity or the world (#3). In theory, you shouldn’t get into this situation if you are honestly grounding yourself in being from the get-go, but it’s a good double check nonetheless.
– That being said, do start with yourself (#1 & #2) before humanity and/or the world (#3).
Note: Read this post if you’d like a more thorough introduction: Ikigai 2.0: Evolving the Ikigai Diagram for Life Purpose (& Why and How it Needs to be Redesigned)
My Personal Ikigai Example
Now the fun part. Filling in each of the blanks!
What do I love / am I deeply passionate about?
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living … I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” — Joseph Campbell
Call it “bliss,” “love,” “passion,” or anything else you want. Don’t believe the headlines you may see these days that say “passion” is a dirty word and that you shouldn’t follow it. To me, passion is the one of the biggest ingredients in purpose—that’s why this is the first and largest circle.
There are a lot of things I love in life. But, when I really boil down this question, what I really love is being myself. Listening to life tell me who I am and allowing life to live through me🔒
There’s also a paradoxical way that I approach this question when I think about it more in terms of a deep passion. What are your biggest traumatic experiences?
It was an aha moment for me recently when I heard that many people inevitably find purpose through traumas:
“All great personal evolutions begin with some act of destruction.” — Rich Roll
Talking about love and passion seem like the opposite of traumas, but I’ve actually found a deep passion from my existential crisis. Approaching the five-year anniversary of my crisis, I’m now able to fully reflect on that time, understand it better, and integrate it. These difficult experiences can be a key part of the hero’s journey🔒
My personal trauma of an existential crisis and lack of purpose triggered a key ingredient in what I do now—finding purpose and sharing what I learn to help others find purpose.
My crisis triggered the topic: purpose and meaning. It just so turns out that these are sub-topics of an infinite subject: the art of living. My flywheel that begins with curiosity will likely never run out because there’s so much to learn, and there are no definitive answers.
“It is hard to be finite upon an infinite subject.” — Herman Melville
Another way to test whether or not you’ve found something you love is if it feels like play to you but looks like work to others.
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both.” — L. P. Jacks
What do I mean when I say what I love is being myself? How can you listen to life tell you who you are?
For that, we move to the next circle…
What am I genetically encoded for?
“You use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.” — Martin Seligman
There’s a key distinction here that we should start with: strengths/talents/gifts vs skills. Why can’t this circle simply be about skills (what you’re good at)?
My thinking here comes from Jim Collins. He describes his own experience of going to school to become a mathematician—but then he met people who were genetically encoded for math. Although he was skilled in math, he admits he wasn’t genetically encoded for math. In his own words:
“There’s a big difference between what you’re good at and what you’re genetically encoded for.” — Jim Collins
Here are some of my own examples related to hard skills:
- Design: I grew up in creative immediate and extended families. My grandma was a watercolor artist and would teach me painting techniques when I was at her house. My dad is an industrial designer. I have aunts and cousins who are artists and graphic designers. Even though it seems to run in the family to a certain degree, I don’t think I would consider myself genetically encoded for design (I know some people who seem to be genetically encoded for design). However, I learned some fundamentals and seem to have carried “an eye for design” and attention to detail since then. So, I have some design skills.
- Marketing: If I look at the bright side of my marketing career, I have a decade of real-world experience in branding, digital marketing, and advertising that I’m able to actively leverage into what I do for Sloww (and also what I consciously choose to not do knowing what I know about how marketing works). I’m now able to more intentionally use those prior skills learned. I don’t believe I’m genetically encoded for marketing, but it’s a skill that is necessary for doing what I do now. It’s interesting to consider that my personality, strengths, and capacity are all the same now as they were when I was in my marketing career (as you’ll see below). The only difference is how I’m applying that same capacity today—”knowledge worker” takes on a whole new meaning.
These next two are a little different because they are soft skills:
- Work Ethic: I grew up in organized sports. While I played some of the traditional sports in grade school (baseball, basketball), I ultimately realized that I was better at something totally different: swimming. In high school, swimming got me into running, and I ultimately went all-in on cross country and track. I ran until mid-college when I simply lost the love for it. I wouldn’t consider myself genetically encoded for running (I know some people who seem to be genetically encoded for running). I wouldn’t have had a professional career in running. But, all in all, sports do teach you soft skills like work ethic, leading by example, and that no one can do your work for you.
- Learning: I got good grades in school, but if I’m honest with myself, I was mostly a master memorizer. This is great for school tests (hence good grades), but I wasn’t great at standardized tests (at least as well as my grades would have suggested). The ironic thing is that the reading sections were always my worst scores! I read incredibly slowly (or you could say thoroughly). So, what was always considered one of my biggest weaknesses is now being utilized as a strength. All in all, I don’t believe I’m genetically encoded as an intellectual (I know some people who seem to be genetically encoded for intellectualism).
Hopefully those examples spark some thinking in yourself about hard skills and soft skills.
Skills still play an important role in how anything manifests itself and comes to life in the world. And, if you delve deeper into the skills themselves, you may find deeper reasons for why you even have those skills at all.
It seems like skills could actually be a byproduct of what you love/are passionate about and your talents/gifts.
Now that we’ve clarified that skills aren’t exactly what we’re looking for here, we can focus on what we are looking for in this circle: knowing thyself.
Invest the time to get to know thyself on the full continuum: essence-micro-macro levels.
- Essence is self-realization: formless being—consciousness that fundamentally connects us all.
- Micro is individual: knowing your selfhood—how you are different from everyone.
- Macro is collective: knowing your specieshood—how you are similar to everyone.
Start with yourself (essence and then micro) before trying to change the world (macro). And, actually, these paths will naturally converge because what’s best for you is best for the world🔒
We’ve covered essence in the refresher to ikigai 2.0 above, so we’ll focus mostly on micro (individual) now.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of reflection to get to know myself. I’ve also done a bunch of self-assessments as you’ll see. Remember that self-bias is always a possibility, so you need to be brutally honest with yourself. The outputs are only as good as the inputs. You can also get some checks & balances by soliciting feedback from others who know you well.
I’ll go into greater detail on each of these in the future, but this should give you the gist of what I’ve used to date.
MBTI Personality Type: INTJ (consistently typed between 2017-2020)
Enneagram: Some combo of Type 3 / 5 with a dash of 1 (2019)
CliftonStrengths / StrengthsFinder: Input, Intellection, Achiever, Learner, Maximizer (2020) / Achiever, Learner, Maximizer, Responsibility, Input (2012)
DiSC Classical Pattern: Objective Thinker (2015)
Imperative Personal Purpose Profile: Inquirer—”to enable society to overcome societal barriers by finding answers and increasing their knowledge” (2018)
Colleague Testimonials: Another way to find clues about yourself is to listen to and reflect on the feedback themes you’ve received from others. Some of my feedback over the course of my professional career (2007-2018) included: “one of my go-to people,” “excellent strategist,” “smart guy, creative, great attitude, very strategic,” “digging deep into the business,” “commitment to world-class work,” “incredible work ethic,” “unwavering dedication and focus,” and “you feel good knowing he has your best interests in mind (personally and professionally).”
You can also find clues in negative feedback and areas of opportunity. For instance, I once received negative feedback that I go too deep and my emails were too long. Turns out you can turn your weaknesses into strengths when applied in different ways—a negative in one setting can be a positive in another.
Looking into your Past Self / Selves: You often hear people reference digging into your childhood to find who you were and what you loved back then to inform who you are today. I think there’s some merit to reflecting on your past self, but don’t forget that you are ever-evolving and emerging. My younger self would have never said, “I feel my purpose is synthesizing the world’s wisdom to awaken the art of living.” But, you can see bits and pieces of my younger self/selves that I’ve carried with me through to today. It’s almost like they were iterations along the journey to today. And, my self today is simply an iteration of who I will become tomorrow. It’s almost like synthesizing my sense of self—looking into the past to guide the present into the future. Being & becoming.
So, what am I genetically encoded for?
When I consider my personality type, strengths, and talents/gifts, the closest thing I’ve come to find is that I’m genetically encoded to be a synthesizer.
I was essentially a synthesizer in my marketing career, so what’s changed?
A key here is that my existential crisis was the spark needed to fully activate my personality, strengths, and talents/gifts for the greater good of myself and others.
Speaking of the greater good…
What does the world and/or humanity need?
“(Your purpose is) where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” — Frederick Buechner
Some people question whether this circle is even needed. After all, I could keep everything I learn and synthesize to myself. By not sharing anything, I could save a ton of time and energy which could be reinvested into more learning and synthesizing. So, why go to the trouble to share everything publicly with the world?
Personally, I believe this circle is 100% necessary if you are truly aiming for life purpose and meaningful fulfillment.
One of my biggest takeaways from Abraham Maslow’s writing on self-actualization and transcendence is that self-actualizers and transcenders are all engaged in a cause outside themselves. Literally, Maslow says “in all cases” and “without one single exception.”
It turns out that my own individual crisis may simply be a fractal version of a larger collective meaning crisis. So, my “selfish” efforts to understand meaning and purpose for myself are at the same time altruistic in that they can help others at a larger scale. This is the paradox of self-actualization and transcendence that most don’t realize.
“If you are doing the work that you love and are devoted to the value that you hold highest, you are being as selfish as possible, and yet are also being unselfish and altruistic.” — Maslow
Let’s really pressure test this. Is what I’m doing something the world and/or humanity needs?
When I think of the world, I think of things like environmental sustainability, perhaps plant and animal well-being, and other “non-human” endeavors. When I ask “Why?” five times as a form of root cause analysis, world problems always seem to lead me to root problems with humanity.
I’ve actually compiled 50+ perspectives on humanity’s ultimate challenges that seem to fall into five categories:
- Humanity’s Consciousness — Waking Up to Awareness & Transcendence
- Humanity’s Mind — Wisdom catching up with Science & Technology
- Humanity’s Work — Post-Workism, Abundance, & Leisure
- Humanity’s Nature — Aligning our Human Nature with Universal Nature
- Humanity’s Meaning — Individual & Collective Purpose
While I cover all five of those areas on Sloww, there are a couple where I think I can really make a difference.
The first is meaning and purpose.
Jim Collins believes only 3-5% of people have found their purpose. I believe I can help increase this percentage.
“He (Maslow) defined self-actualization as discovering what you are meant to do and committing to the ardor of pursuing it with excellence. The purpose of free society, I would suggest, is to systematically increase the percentage of people who do exactly that.” — Jim Collins
The second is knowledge and wisdom.
Ken Wilber, creator of Integral Theory, predicts we will have a cultural tipping point in the future when 10% of humanity reaches a higher level of human development and their values permeate the culture at large. Imagine less polarization and more appreciation of multiple perspectives. I believe I can help increase this percentage as well.
We have data, information, and knowledge from 5,000+ years of recorded human history now at our fingertips online. The knowledge needs to be curated and synthesized—and then integrated with our own personal life experiences to create wisdom.
So, does humanity need synthesizers?
- “In an increasingly complex world, the fragmented state of knowledge can be seen as one of the most pressing social problems of our time.” — via Gregg Henriques
- “We are approaching a new age of synthesis. Knowledge cannot be merely a degree or a skill … it demands a broader vision, capabilities in critical thinking and logical deduction without which we cannot have constructive progress.” — Li Ka-shing
- “The major thesis of this ‘search for synthesis’ is that the world requires a vast ‘integration of knowledge’ program to unify the globe spiritually and socially and give meaning and purpose to human existence.” — Oliver Reiser
- “The wisdom needed must be the creative synthesis of the best in past human effort, in contemporary proposals, and in the modes of action that are foreseen as humanity’s choices for its own future.” — Henry Winthrop (quoting Oliver Reiser)
- “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” — E. O. Wilson
So, what is my ikigai (and what does this mean for Sloww)?
“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” — David Viscott
Believe it or not, I’ve never really created a personal mission statement or purpose statement. But, what I do know is that:
Purpose is a key part on the path of personal development toward full potential.
I’ve come to learn that meaning-making is ever-evolving and ever-emerging. This sums it up nicely:
“I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.” — Buckminster Fuller
There’s no way I could have predicted what I’m doing today. Yet, at the same time, it feels like today couldn’t have been any other way. I could have never written my purpose on paper in any prior year that accurately represented today. But, I do have countless notes along the way that show the seeds that were planted—and then nurtured over the last few years—that have grown into what you see today.
I seem to be on a self-guided journey of self-discovery and self-development. Sloww is simply a reflection of myself and what I’m learning, experiencing, thinking, and integrating. By sharing my “commonplace book” publicly, I’m able to provide a guide to others—but the self-discovery and self-development is up to each individual.
As mentioned earlier in the post, I think my existential crisis provided a much-needed spark to pivot life paths. It’s also what’s driven my curiosity around why/how nature works and why/how humans can live fully alive as an interconnected part of nature. In turn, this curiosity starts my ikigai flywheel.
As the flywheel turns, I try to combine an integrative attitude with disciplinary, multidisciplinary, and interdisciplinary approaches. The ultimate goal is to better understand principles, patterns, processes, concepts, insights, themes, and systems connected across disciplines. Nature has no boundaries—disciplinary boundaries are just human-made. A specific discipline helps for research and study, but we ultimately need to transcend these boundaries to create a holistic worldview and operating system.
Perhaps in the long-run there will be a transdisciplinary study that’s a holistic approach to the art of living.
This is where synthesis comes in—uniting information, knowledge, and wisdom into an integrated body of knowledge. What some refer to as a “universal education” or “perennial philosophy.”
I’ve learned there are various ways to describe what I do: synthesizer, integrator, generalist, comprehensivist, even cognitive explorer.
This may all sound like “word salad,” but it seems to flow naturally out of how I’m genetically encoded (circle #2). Plus, I’m deeply passionate about it (circle #1), and it seems like humanity needs it (circle #2).
“The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more.” — Charlie Munger
Maybe you’ve heard the expression “find the signal in the noise”—“signal” is the meaningful information while “noise” is everything else. Not only is it difficult to find a signal, but signals themselves are often disconnected. Sloww finds, aggregates, and synthesizes signals.
There’s also a natural byproduct here. I venture through so much interesting content, that Sloww can also be a doorway to discovery—a portal to uncover new things you didn’t even know you didn’t know.
Speaking of byproducts…
The Byproducts of the Ikigai Flywheel
Let’s take a look at the full diagram again (see below).
See the outer dotted circle? Those are byproducts of the ikigai flywheel humming along in full alignment. Ikigai is a never-ending process and not a final goal or end state.
I talk a bit about paced process and right outlook in the original ikigai 2.0 post. But, what about the other byproducts? The ones that everyone seems to be after: money, happiness, fulfillment, flow, and more.
The key is that these are byproducts and not your primary aim.
This is old wisdom, but I especially love how Viktor Frankl (“Man’s Search for Meaning”) sums it up:
“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
I’ve covered happiness at length in the free eBook: The Hierarchy of Happiness eBook — 100+ Powerful Perspectives on How to be Happy
But, what about the other big one: money?
The next post will dive deeper into my relationship with money and ask the question: can purpose and money co-exist?
As a teaser, the short answer is “yes.”
“I’m fortunate – biased, perhaps – in having always approached my writing as personal development rather than business development and always having written for this personal audience of one. Everything external has been a byproduct rather than an objective.” — Maria Popova
What do you think about this personal ikigai example? Please let me know in the comments.
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- Get the new eBook: Ikigai 2.0: A Step-by-Step Guidebook to Finding Life Purpose & Making Money Meaningfully (+ Bonus Workbook)
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