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Ikigai, or 'Why I wake up in the morning'

Ikigai, or 'Why I wake up in the morning'

According to the Japanese, everyone has a hidden ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.

In a small village outside of Osaka, a woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the Voice of her ancestors.

“Who are you?” the Voice said to her.

“I am the wife of the mayor,” she replied. “I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.” “I am the mother of four children.” “I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.” “I am a school teacher.” “I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”

And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”

“I am a Shinto.” “I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.” “I am the one who wakes up each day to care for my family, and nurture the young minds of the children at my school.”

She passed the examination, and was sent back to earth. The next morning she woke at sunrise, feeling a deep sense of meaning and purpose. She tended to her children’s lunches, and planned fun lessons for her students that day. The woman had discovered her ikigai.

What is 'ikigai'?

The Japanese word ikigai (pronounced ee-ki-guy), is used to describe ‘why I wake up in the morning’. In a hard-working culture such as Japan, it comes as little surprise they are so clear on their direction and purpose in life.

In other words, ikigai is a sexy, philosophical way to describe the search for your ideal career path. The search for your ideal career path is often a deep and lengthy one, but finding it is important for your well-being. Some examples of people who knew theirs: Wilbur Wright, Henry Ford and Winnie The Pooh: 


  • “We could hardly wait to get up in the morning.” - Wilbur Wright, who, with brother Orville, invented and built the world’s first successful airplane and human air flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.
  • “I will build a car for the great multitude.” - Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company who is credited with making the automobile affordable for the masses, beginning with his Model T in 1908, which cost $825.
  • "When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?" "What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?" "I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.

Whether it be making an invention, pursuing an ideal, or simply breakfast, the Japanese place importance on the search for discovering your ikigai, because it helps you to clarify what brings meaning to your life.

Finding your ikigai

Discovering why you wake up in the morning requires an investment of your time and energy. Finding it requires a deep and length search, and many people begin their search too late. The sooner you begin searching for your hidden ikigai, the sooner you will discover what brings satisfaction and meaning to your life. Here are some things to think about:


  • Achievements: Your achievements are the best evidence of tasks you were dedicated to. Think about the achievements you are most proud of, as a starting point for unearthing your ikigai. 
  • Knowledge: Knowing your specialised areas of knowledge help you think about what areas you enjoy working in. What do you enjoy talking about? Is there a theme in the books you read? What do you spend time doing online? 
  • Skills: Doing what you are good at daily is a recipe for success. But doing what you love will bring happiness. Your ikigai does not care what you are good at - it only cares for what you love doing - skills you will develop for the rest of your life.
  • Self-image: How do you see yourself? Are you a teacher, a lawyer, a mother, a social climber, a book publisher, an organic farmer? How you see yourself provides an anchor that will keep you consistently focused on what is important throughout life.
  • Personality: Different personalities suit different work types. By knowing your personality type, you’ll understand why certain types of work satisfy you, and why others don’t. For example, if you are an artistic personality, your ikigai is likely to lie hidden in artistic expression. Or if you are an enterprising personality, your ikigai lies in the nature of a passionate business pursuit.

You can start discovering your hidden ikigai now, by taking the first step on your journey with a WorkLifeGroup toolkit. You will explore the deepest elements of work that you derive satisfaction from, and search career paths that that mark where you must go.

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EARLY CAREER: Gen Y, Graduates and Early Careerists

Guy has worked as a business journalist, urban planner, slow food chef, denim salesperson and digital media manager, and shares original insights on diverse Gen Y career experiences.

Guy holds a B. Urban Planning & Development (Hons), has worked in 5 different industries and knows what its like to face the challenge of graduate transition. New career choices, personal branding and balancing passions with money are all part of the mix.

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