"Ikigai" is a Japanese term that refers to one's "reason for being." And it is something I have been pursuing since I was a child.
I did not always know I wanted to be a holistic career coach. If you had asked me at various points throughout my youth, I probably would have said I wanted to rescue and rehabilitate wild animals, deliver babies, or help people in need.
But looking back at the struggles I had early on in my career, I can now see that the writing was on the wall.
I remember being in my first job out of college. I was 22 and had landed a great teaching job. I had my summers off and a cute apartment to myself, life should have been good.
But I remember feeling so dissatisfied. I kept thinking “is this really all there is to life? I just go to work, go to the gym, eat dinner, clean my house, repeat?”
I sought counseling, and ultimately decided after 3 years in that job, that I needed a big change. So I quit and went to Barcelona to teach English.
My desire to find meaning and purpose in my work has since led me down so many winding roads and interesting places. I’ve lived in and traveled to over 25 countries, worked with and served people from all walks of life, and worn so many different hats.
It took me 15 years to finally find a way to make a living without sacrificing my soul. Now I actually like waking up every day and getting to work. Wild, I know.
Here are some of the biggest lessons I learned in pursuit of my ikigai.
1. I learned to listen to, and trust, my inner guidance above all else.
This is true when faced with big choices and small.
It’s tough because our minds would have us believe that we should stick with the status quo. Trusting my inner guidance was like taking a leap of faith. Terrifying, and very worthwhile.
All of the best decisions I made along my career path were ones that seemed very risky from the outside. But to me, they were the most calculated of risks because my gut and my heart were saying, "yup, keep going."
This is true when I moved to Spain with only a loose plan of what I would do for work. It is also true when I let go of my full-time job with only a loose plan of what was next.
But both of those choices felt right, and each small step I took towards them felt easy - like I was going with the flow of the river, rather than against it. I chose to see that as a signal to keep going.
2. Timing matters.
Sometimes we can see exactly where we want to be headed but we can’t see the first steps to take. Rather than trying to fast-forward to the end (what I tried to do so many times), it’s ok to give yourself the grace to be where you are now.
If you can see and feel the future you’re heading toward, it’s coming. But sometimes what is required now is to be patient, wait, and surrender.
This can be frustrating, especially when we find ourselves unhappy in a current job or role. But it doesn't mean you can't lay the groundwork now and prepare yourself for the future. Because once the time is right, you want to be ready to say "yes!"
3. Leverage the present moment.
Just because now may not be the time to start making moves, doesn’t mean you can’t utilize this time to your advantage.
In the words of Mike Dooley, "do the best you can, with what you have, from where you are." How can you master whatever it is you’re doing now? How can you serve in more meaningful ways? What skills can you learn to set your future self up for success?
If you think of your career path like building a house, you want your metaphorical house to have a strong foundation. Start building that now. It’s not glamorous, but it is necessary for longevity and sustainability.
Mastering your current role, and bringing as much of yourself as possible to it, creates a strong jumping-off point for you when the time is right. It also doesn't hurt to have people in your corner who see and appreciate what you bring to the table. You can think of it as an investment for your future self.
4. Start small.
Sometimes when we know we are headed for great things it is easy to want to dismiss those seemingly insignificant steps it takes to get there. Those one-on-one conversations, the tiny cracks of possibility that start to open, matter.
If leveraging the present moment is about building the foundation, taking the smallest indicated actions towards following your inner knowing is like building the structure and the walls. Again, it’s not glamorous, but it is necessary. Enjoy the fact that you can start to see the shape of the house coming together.
A good place to start here is to ask yourself, "what is my why?" Why do you do what you do? What are you on this planet for? And look for small ways to step into that now.
Maybe that means starting a committee to improve your current workplace. Maybe that means starting a book club or offering training. Look for ways to be of service that allow you to connect to your "why." Keep it simple and fun.
5. Do not be swayed by others' opinions.
Look, if you know you are here to do work that is soul-aligned, you are rare. You know that you have a gift and sharing that gift with the world is your purpose.
The people in your orbit may not see it that way. They may try to discourage you from following your dreams and tell you to stick to the safe, predictable path they've chosen.
And while I encourage you to listen, and try on the advice you're being given, when it comes to making choices, please choose for yourself. At the end of the day, it's your life. Trust yourself to live it well.
Sometimes we think we are headed towards one thing, and the universe presents us with another. This is not a failure.
I repeat - THIS IS NOT A FAILURE!
Most of us are not here to do one thing for our entire adult lives. According to Career Advice Online, the average person changes roles and jobs seven times in their career. And 30% of the workforce is now changing jobs every 12 months.
So, if you start down one path, and find yourself presented with another that feels lighter, or more exciting, more expansive, or more accessible, just know that course correction is part of the process.
Similarly, if you find yourself starting down one path only to find it's not what you hoped it would be, that's ok too. All is not lost. You've gathered a lot of useful data points that are like clues to get you where you want to be.
It's ok to change course.
Be willing to go with the flow of the river. What’s most important is to follow the energy of what you want. The actual destination is less so. Notice what opportunities come your way with ease. Living into your purpose is about trusting yourself and listening to your intuition. And even when it feels winding, you know the way.