Two years ago, you’d have found me sat in the midst of Mayan ruins in the Sacred Valley in Peru, drawing a Venn diagram in my notebook.
An odd activity on the surface, I accept. But I was actually designing my future in that moment. Consciously and intentfully.
You may have heard of the concept of ikigai before. It has become increasingly popular as more people realise that seeking purpose and fulfilment is more important in the long run than seeking pure financial gain in a profession.
What is ikigai?
For those for whom the concept is new, ‘ikigai’ is an Okinawan term which roughly translates as “a reason for being”, “happiness of being busy” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning”. It probably is not a coincidence that the Japanese island of Okinawa is also home to the largest population of happy centenarians in the world.
Unsurprisingly, this beautiful concept has been Westernised and turned into a nifty framework. You’ll likely have seen this Venn diagram before:
The idea is that to find your purpose, you need to examine a few different areas of your life, with honesty and humility. What genuinely are you good at, what do you really love to do, what could you be paid well for, and what does the world actually need. The intersection of this is your ikigai.
However, I found this model to be a little too open for my liking, and came up with my own version that better reflected the factors that made for a better work life.
We’ve provided access to this as a Word template, so you can fill it out yourself.
What I liked about this approach was it looked at the realities of what a work day actually was like. Who you sell to, for example (whether it be an internal or external customer), dictates the kind of events you attend, the conversations you have on a daily basis, and the media you digest. What tasks you do more than others and what skills you get an opportunity to leverage on a daily basis massively impacts the opportunities you get to be in a state of flow.
Designing my future with ikigai
So it was this model that I adopted to think about what I wanted to do after I left my last startup, Skimlinks. You can see a simplified version of what I filled out here:
What is interesting is the actions I listed are exactly what I did. I tried out being a VC, and you know what? I hated it… turns out saying “no” for a living is corrosive to my spirit. Then I tried being an Executive Coach, which I did enjoy, but found an emptiness as I helped other people achieve their dreams… I wanted to achieve more of my own.
And turns out feminine fertility and sustainable pensions didn’t capture my interest after I pretend-pitched a few times.
But gosh, I loved talking about deep work. I devoured books and articles on the topic, I loved talking to people about it, and then I took the next step and experimented with running deep work retreats, which I also found myself passionately enjoying.
Deep work is my ikigai
In the end, the decision was clear for me. My ikigai was to start a company (with my sister) providing individuals and organisations with the ideal mental and physical environments for achieving deep work and flow states. Thus, FLOWN was born. (Obviously, if you aren’t yet using our Flocks, Quests and Away products, get to it!)
But what was interesting in my research on ikigai was that the original concept was not about a grandiose framework, but it was about an approach to life made up of little rituals in your daily routines. It was about reconnecting with nature, about approaching the world with curiosity and playfulness, about keeping your mind and body active and challenged, yet being grateful for the small things that brightened ones day.
This too then became part of what I wanted to weave into not only what the FLOWN platform offered, but how I led the team and my life.
Take a moment then, to ask yourself these questions, but be kind to yourself if there is a gap between your present and your ikigai. Approaching your purpose as an ‘odyssey’ is not only a playful way to evaluate your current path, but it’s also a reminder that your ikigai evolves as you grow as a person.