Embrace the principles of Ikigai to lean into your passions and achieve your goals  

Article by Gee Foottit, St. James’s Place Financial Adviser Academy

Everyone has an Ikigai – a reason for being – or at least this is what the Japanese believe. It’s this reason that should get us up in the morning and inform our decision making if we are to be fulfilled. We can learn a lot from the principles of Ikigai. 

Taking lessons from the principles of Ikigai can change the way that we look at our lifestyle and guide us on how to make the most of the world around us. 

Understandably, everyone’s Ikigai will look very different. To discover it for ourselves, we can start by asking ourselves the following questions: 

  • What do I love doing? 
  • What am I good at? 
  • What does the world need?  
  • What can I be paid for?  

That’s not to say that finding our Ikigai is an easy process, it takes much self-reflection which can be uncomfortable – there’s no magic formula. if our pursuits fulfil the above criteria, we can be reassured that we are on the right path.  

ikigai infographic white

Stress is bad, right? 

We get told all too often that stress is detrimental to both our physical and our mental well-being. In fact, it has been widely observed that a reasonable level of stress can be beneficial in developing healthy habits. The book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life states “People who maintain low levels of stress, who face challenges and put their heart and soul into their work in order to succeed, live longer than those who choose a more relaxed lifestyle and retire earlier.” 

Apply this thinking to your current career. Ask yourself: 

  • Does your work make you stressed?  
  • Do you need more motivation?  
  • Do you have a good work/life balance?  

Is your job keeping you up at night or taking over your free time, you could be overly strained by your job. This is a time to reflect on whether it’s truly worth it. Equally, do you feel like you are coasting? If so, perhaps it’s time to move on to bigger and better challenges. Whilst high levels of stress are never advisable, it can also be equally damaging to your prospects to remain in a role that lacks purpose, passion, or motivation. 

The joy in trying something new 

It’s a human trait that we find our rhythm and stick to it. We’re creatures of habit believing that if it isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it.  

But breaking habits has more benefits than we might think.  

A lack of mental exercise is bad for us because it causes our neurons to deteriorate – and, as a result, reduces our ability to react to our surroundings.”

Héctor García and Francesc Miralles 

Whether it’s a new hobby such as crafting, cooking or making a more significant change, the brain is invigorated when presented with new information.  

Apply this to your career and ask yourself: 

  • Am I challenged by my career?  
  • How does it affect my day-to-day life?  
  • How long have I been doing the same thing?  

Financial Adviser Rachel Stewart found that her career lacked fulfilment after a 15-year stint in law: “I found myself sitting behind a desk often doing work for other people which I felt didn’t deliver a huge amount of purpose. It was easy to feel that I’d been put in a box and unable to spread my wings in this career.”  

Rachel joined the St James’s Place Financial Adviser Academy in 2019 and now runs a successful financial advice business: “Starting my own business has completely changed my life. I am now content in all areas of my work and family life – it’s a great place to be.” 

All too often takes a crisis (burnout, getting the sack or a pandemic) for us to stop and rethink our current lifestyle. Being proactive in finding your Ikigai means that you needn’t wait to find your purpose or meaning. 

Embrace your natural flow 

Although there is no set path to finding your Ikigai, one key element is finding your ‘flow’. According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow refers to the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process of being completely immersed in what we are doing.  

“In order to achieve this optimal experience, we have to focus on the time we spend on activities that bring us to this state of flow”

Héctor García and Francesc Miralles 

Finding your flow often goes hand in hand with finding your ‘why’. Our work becomes more meaningful when we put this at the centre of our decision-making. García and Miralles offer three key strategies for finding your flow:

Concentrate on a single task – in order to focus, we need to be in a distraction-free environment and to have control over what we are doing at every moment. To do two things at once is to do neither – contrary to popular belief, humans are not great multi-taskers.  

Choose a difficult task to complete that aligns with your abilities but still challenges you. Enjoy the process of pushing yourself and being satisfied with your achievement. 

Have a clear, concrete objective but don’t obsess over it. Use your goals as a compass to guide you rather than as a map to direct you. 

Think about: 

  • What do I genuinely enjoy doing?  
  • What tasks can I lose myself in?  

That is not to say we should completely abandon the more mundane activities to pursue deeper meaning. Csikszentmihalyi emphasises the importance of ‘microflow’, or the ability to turn routine into something we enjoy. We all must do such tasks, but the key is finding the right balance between flow and microflow – between the transactional activities and the transformational ones.  

Form a close bond with your community 

Communities that work towards a common goal and lean on each other in times of hardship can thrive. 

“For many, serving the community becomes part of their Ikigai… the feeling of belonging and support gives the individual a sense of security and helps increase life expectancy.” 

This community support can also apply to your career.  

Jonny Shingles, who joined the Academy after a career in the Royal Air Force, shares his journey on starting his own practice: “If you have the support of knowledgeable people and an established brand with great resources, you get a head start.”  

Jonny’s client base is also a diverse mix of his own contacts, including those from the Air Force. Without the support of his community – both within SJP and beyond – Jonny’s business would not be where it is today. 

The need for antifragility 

Every career, no matter what ranking or sector, involves difficult moments and challenges. It is how we deal with these moments that defines who we are.  

Nana korobi ya oki 七転び八起き 

Fall seven times, rise eight.

Japanese Proverb 

It all comes down to adapting and focusing on the things you can control – rather than worrying about the things you can’t. – the key to a successful career. Yet, there is also resilience in antifragility and this comes down to eliminating the things in our life which make us weak in the first place.  

“Antifragility is beyond resilience. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” 

To make yourself antifragile, follow these steps: 

  1. Create more options for yourself 
  2. Bet conservatively in certain areas and take many small risks in others 
  3. Get rid of things that make you fragile – it’s great to take on new challenges but setting ‘good riddance’ goals can have a more significant impact. 

Can you find your Ikigai? 

Figuring out your Ikigai may be a quick process or it could take a while, but that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be complicated, Our Ikigai is our passion, a unique talent that brings meaning to your day-to-day and helps us to achieve your goals. The closer you become to your Ikigai, the longer – and happier – your career will be.  

Gee FoottittAbout the author

Gee helps driven individuals, who are looking to change career and could benefit from the support offered by the St. James’s Place Academy; an opportunity to train to be a professional Financial Planner with the backing of a FTSE 100 Company. 

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