A Japanese concept relating to the reason for being, Ikigai is today at the heart of several approaches aimed at gaining harmony, in the personal sphere as well as in the professional world, and at giving meaning to our activities. Catherine Fouilland, founder of the Akadi coaching firm, discusses the specificities of this notion and the means to be mobilised to take full advantage of it.
After almost 18 months of upheaval in our daily lives, what has been the impact on our relationship to work?
Everyone has a unique feeling, a specific experience of the health crisis, but it is true that it has transformed the search for meaning for many of us. It may have been a revelation, for example, of the importance of the collective and of social ties in personal well-being.
For some, well-being is fostered by remote working and a pleasant living environment; for others, the office is a place of fulfilment. The crisis has shaken up many certainties, and individuals have been able to reflect on the meaning of their professional activity and the conditions under which they work. This corresponds, as it does for the people I coach, to the search for Ikigai.
What are the needs of the people you accompany in their quest for meaning and fulfilment?
Very often, they consider themselves at a turning point in their lives: “it’s now or never”. Other issues are at stake, such as burn-out and suffering at work, or life ruptures, such as a divorce, which trigger a deep questioning – loss of a sense of accomplishment, internal dissonance… They therefore need to realign themselves, in particular by rediscovering the path to self-confidence.
What is the origin of the concept “Ikigai”, and what does it mean?
It is a Japanese term relating to the living (“iki”) and the result, the effect (“gai”). Its original meaning is therefore the happiness of being always busy, or the art of moving through life in a harmonious way. To strive for Ikigai is to seek a balance between what you like to do, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. By knowing one’s own strengths and talents, by being clear about one’s appetites, by knowing what one’s contribution to society is and what activities one wants to be paid for, one can resonate with one’s reason for being. This is summarised in the matrix, which places ‘Ikigai’ at its heart, with four elements: passion, mission, vocation, and profession.
In the business world, the ideal is for each employee’s raison d’être to be in line with that of the organisation – more and more companies are questioning their mission. Ikigai then depends on three levers: the ‘I’, i.e. my motivation; the ‘we’, i.e. the interests or values of the group; and the ‘it’, i.e. the environment.
Why is finding your Ikigai important – in the personal and professional sphere?
Ikigai gives more meaning, for example to work: it is about earning a living, but also about having a sense of belonging and recognition. Everything is fine when these different dimensions are aligned. Some people express their Ikigai in extra-professional activities, such as volunteering, and derive real personal fulfilment from them. If you can combine the two, a sense of professional activity and personal commitment, it is even better to be – and remain – in harmony.
How to engage in a search for Ikigai?
I liken the notion of Ikigai to the “M” in the PERMA model, which emphasises the factors that contribute to self-realisation: Positive emotions, Commitment, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.
People with very low PERMA scores must first rebuild the four pillars of life in Chinese medicine – “Yang Sheng”: calming the heart, regenerating energy, knowing how to eat, knowing how to sleep. Any process of self-fulfilment then requires introspection, which books on personal development can support.
Do you want to find your Ikigai? Find meaning in your daily life?
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