HomeThe GenZ Lab Ikigai, a popular concept... with limitations

Ikigai, a popular concept... with limitations

  • Friday, July 14, 2023
  • Nora Leon

Have you found your ikigai? This Japanese-inspired "reason for being" combines what you love, what is useful, your skills, and financial viability.

Have you found your ikigai? This "reason for being," inspired by Japanese wisdom, where what you love to do at work intersects with what is useful, what you are good at, and what you can be paid for, is currently enjoying great success. Its promises? To guarantee professional fulfillment... and perhaps even increase longevity.

Our research team in career guidance revisits the foundations but also the limits of this concept in our book «Digitalizing Professional Orientation».

Ikigai, a tool in tune with time...

For a few years now, it's THE concept that's making noise in the general public sphere of career orientation and professional development. More than 1000 HR references have been published in the last three years containing the word «ikigai» in their title.

Ikigai, or «reason for being» is believed to originate from the culture of Okinawa, a Japanese island known for the longevity of its inhabitants. It is located at the intersection of four distinct spheres. Combined, these allow for defining a clear, useful, and exciting life mission. An attractive promise for all those in search of meaning in their work!

Finding one's ikigai thus involves reflecting on:

  • What I love to do: my passion, my tastes
  • What I am good at: my talents, my special skills
  • What the world needs: cohesion, education, justice, ecological transformation... the idea is to select, among the issues related to the common good, those that touch me the most
  • What I can be paid for: the economic reality of the job market

At the crossroads between career guidance and personal development, ikigai is enjoying great success among the (many) people in search of professional meaning. It seduces with its simplicity, and the promise it offers to find one's reason to get up in the morning. Numerous publications have thus emerged on the subject, while coaches, consultants, and trainers specialized in ikigai have proliferated.

... but the model is insufficient to grasp the challenges of professional orientation in the 21st Century

However, the tool has a major limitation, which lies in the very notion of "orientation." Indeed, ikigai proposes to focus on one direction: the common part of the four circles, representing the person's "reason for being," is supposed to serve as a new professional compass.

This brings us back to an orientation model close to that of matching, which dominated in the 1940s-1960s. This essentially involves finding the area of coincidence (matching) between 1) my personal characteristics (tastes, skills) and 2) the reality of the economic market (which sectors / professions are hiring?). Ikigai would ultimately be just a form of matching 2.0, a bit fleshed out and updated...

However, the challenges of the world of work have changed. Orientation must now be thought of as continuous: it takes place throughout life! Thus, there is not one good direction, but several possible orientations, several paths to explore. Moreover, ikigai tends to freeze things into a single, crucial "reason for being." However, in a changing world, flexibility is required; the development of resources and soft skills to adapt and face the unexpected is essential for anyone in search of professional meaning.

Ikigai thus appears as an interesting tool for questioning one's values and professional desires. Its ease of use makes it accessible to the greatest number and an interesting starting point for questioning one's professional orientation. However, it proves insufficient and needs to be complemented by other tools.

Want to know more? Read our book Digitalizing Professional Orientation, (In French), where we review the different models of orientation that exist and its new challenges in the 21st century.