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Finding your purpose with ikigai

By Sara Lyddy | Director of Campaign



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September 28, 2022 | 7 min read

Sara Lyddy of creative communications agency DRPG dives into the Japanese concept of Ikigai, how we can apply the philosophy to our professional lives, and how purpose shapes our work.

Ikigai book

In a post-pandemic world, the need for purpose more important than ever / Finde Zukunft via Unsplash

We’ve never needed to feel a sense of purpose more than we do right now. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with the threat of recession on the horizon, the way we all see work has shifted.

Now, great swathes of us are considering the value of what we do beyond figures on a spreadsheet. Finding purpose in our work has become more important than ever. McKinsey has even found that those of us who feel we have a greater purpose in our day-to-day jobs are more engaged and more likely to stick around. It makes perfect sense. We spend half our waking lives at work; we need it to mean something.

To find satisfaction in our job roles, whatever they may be, most of us now want to feel like we’re adding something positive to the world. And we want to enjoy the process of doing it, too. For me, that drive to give the best of myself to my work, get the best out of my team and put something positive into the world can be summed up in one word: ikigai.

The meaning of ikigai

You might not have heard this Japanese term before, but the philosophy behind it is quite simple. Ikigai (pronounced ik-ee-guy) is composed of two words: ‘iki’, meaning life, and ‘gai’, meaning value or worth.

It refers to a balance of passion and purpose. Basically, it’s all about finding fulfilment, identifying your reason for being, and building your life around it. In business, it works well as a framework for building a culture of people who do what they love and what they’re good at, while providing something the world needs (and getting paid for it).

In their brilliant book on the topic, Ikigai – The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, authors Héctor García and Francesc Miralles explain how we all connect with the concept of ikigai, whether we know it or not. “According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai – what a French philosopher might call a raison d'être. Some people have found their ikigai,” they write, “while others are still looking, though they carry it within them. Our ikigai is hidden deep inside each of us, and finding it requires a patient search.”

Mine is about getting the very best from the people around me. By nurturing strengths in my team and supporting any weaknesses, our culture has become a positive one. DRPG is a place where everyone feels they can be their authentic selves and, in turn, work toward their own ikigai. That all comes down to supporting people as they learn to walk in their roles, giving them the autonomy to run when they can.

When people feel fulfilled in the work they do, they tend to do a better job. I know that encouraging my team to embrace their passions, skills and sense of individuality is reflected in how they work with clients. It adds something special to the comms we put out. Ultimately, it means what we do here has meaning for everyone. The importance of that can’t be understated.

People are craving the truth

My ikigai is focused on people, and communication is a huge part of that. Honesty and authenticity are qualities I value highly, and it’s easy to see that the world at large needs a bit more of both.

In the world of comms, they’re becoming incredibly important too. After all we’ve been through in the past few years (and considering some of the challenges on the horizon), the world doesn’t need more overblown comms.

Instead, truth is what audiences are craving. Finding that truth follows the same process as finding your own ikigai – it’s about digging deep and considering your purpose. In the Venn diagram that is so often used to explain the concept of ikigai, the four qualities of what you love, what you're good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for overlap to create four pillars: passion, mission, profession, and vocation.

Ikigai itself is where all four intersect. To feel its benefits, we need to be passionate about what we do, know we’re working toward a greater mission, put our professional skills to good use, and feel part of an industry that values our contribution.

I’ve found that in my role as director of campaign. Here, I balance my passion for incredible comms with a great sense of purpose in getting the very best out of my people and delivering only the very best for our clients. And that’s something worth getting out of bed for. What’s your ikigai?

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