Have You Found Your Purpose in Life?

Do you know the term ikigai? It's a Japanese concept that means a reason for being — in other words, the reason you wake up in the morning.

A popular diagram on this subject made the rounds a few years ago when Marc Winn merged a Venn diagram on “purpose” with the ikigai concept. According to the diagram, there are four main areas that cover what you can do in life:

  • What you can be PAID FOR
  • What you are GOOD AT
  • What you LOVE
  • What the world NEEDS

At certain points they overlap to create your passion, mission, vocation and profession. The place where all areas intersect is your purpose in life — your ikigai.

So, the question remains. Have you found your purpose?

Purpose Workshop at Yieldr

The premise was straightforward. Our founder Mendel planned a company workshop so we could explore our purpose, see what gives us a sense of meaning and figure out how we can make a difference.

A few days before the workshop, Mendel asked us to think about our answers to the following questions:

1. What are my unique talents?
2. How can I use my unique talents to serve others, such as my family and community?
3. What gives me peak experiences and joy?
4. What would I be doing if I had just 6 months to live?
5. What would I be doing if I had all the time and money in the world?
6. What do I love to do?
7. What are the top values I believe in and uphold the most?

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” — Lao Tzu

One of the most famous of the Ancient Greek maxims is “know thyself”. So answering these questions was a good way for us all to self-reflect. As Mendel had told us earlier, they were good things to think about during our way home, before going to bed or when waking up early, so that we could be prepared for the Yieldr All-Hands Purpose Workshop.

Step 1: Why Are We Doing What We Are Doing?

The workshop began with a simple question – “Why are we doing what we are doing?” We then watched a clip of Steve Jobs discussing his philosophy of life.

Jobs talked about how when we grow up, we tend to get told the world is the way it is and that we’re meant to live inside that limited view of life. However, it doesn’t have to be that way:

“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it...”

“I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll wanna change life and make it better, because it’s kind of messed up in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.”

The lesson is this: Don't live life thinking that your path is already set out for you. It's in our power to do meaningful work that changes the world and contributes to the greater good.

Step 2: Mendel's Purpose

Good leaders need to lead by example. Does what they do reflect what they say?

When it came to discussing those 7 personal questions, Mendel showed that he can walk his talk. Instead of immediately passing on the answering to the rest of us, he stepped up and gave his own answers to the questions. He's allowed me to publish them here:

1. What are my unique talents?
Persistence and inspiration (I don’t give up!)
2. How can I use my unique talents to serve others, such as my family and community?
Let them see what they are able to achieve and coach them to go there.
3. What gives me peak experiences and joy?
Seeing people I have inspired look over the mountain and enjoy what they achieved.
4. What would I be doing if I had just 6 months to live?
Get everything out of myself to let the people around me succeed.
5. What would I be doing if I had all the time and money in the world?
Spend and invest as much time as possible in the development of the people who I love around me. Invest structurally in programs and companies to let the people in the world understand their accountability to change and let them develop themselves for good.
6. What do I love to do?
I love to inspire with the goal to let people around me understand and maximize their (and our) potential.
7. What are the top values I believe in and uphold the most?
Make someone else better. Everything you do comes back to you.

Step 3: Finding Our Purpose Exercise

This time the tables were turned and it was time to think about what we could share. It might have gone a lot differently if Mendel hadn't presented his own answers. But by leading by example, he gave us the courage to go for it.

We didn’t have to answer the original 7 questions. Instead, Mendel gave us 3 other things to consider:

1. Who are you?
2. What do you do?
3. Who do you do it for?

At this point, I expected us all to be moved into small groups to share our answers. After all, these were personal questions that would take guts to answer. It wasn’t the case, though, and we discussed it all in front of the whole company. Despite that, I was extremely impressed and proud that people felt brave and safe enough to share their thoughts with everyone.

1. Who Are You?

Some people define themselves by what they do; some by where they’re from. Others go into their personality or define themselves in relation to who they are to others. There's no right or wrong answer. So what did we hear during the workshop?

“I’m a family man.”
“I’m an introvert.”
“I’m a human being.”
“I’m a developer.”
“I’m a third-culture kid.”

There’s a part in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where Alice meets a caterpillar and is asked, “Who are you?”

“I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

This quote is a good reminder that we're constantly evolving. Who we say we are now might be different to who we were a year ago. It might also change later depending on our mood, the people around us, the events going on in our lives right at this moment... The list goes on.

2. What Do You Do?

Again, people approached their answers in different ways. Some covered their roles within the company; some talked about their personal life; some shared their life philosophy.

In the mix of it all, we had creators, people who believe in justice, people who love to make others happy, people who live by experiencing and making mistakes — we're a unique mix of people.

Answering this question helped us capture our passions. It triggered thoughts about how we can connect it all to a higher purpose.

3. Who Do You Do It For?

This time the answers here were all similar, yet they all made sense. We do things for ourselves, our families, our friends, people we interact with — basically anyone who can benefit from the things we do.

Taking a step back and seeing who we affect with our actions showed how important it is to take pride in what we do, both in and out of the office.

We revealed a lot about ourselves by answering these 3 questions. I believe we would have even more to say if we set aside time to really think about it all. Thinking back, I know I'd have a lot more to add if I were asked again!

Step 4: Putting It Into Action

It can take some time, but once you have a clearer idea of your purpose it's important to make it happen. To help this process we watched a TEDxAmsterdam talk by David Allen, a consultant who created the management method Getting Things Done.

This talk was called “Getting in Control and Creating Space”, and it's where David introduces the Natural Planning Model. It's a five-stage planning process that starts to kick in once we're around 6 months old:

1. Purpose
2. Vision
3. Ideas
4. Structure
5. Next Action

We can use this model to turn something from impulse into reality. The way it works is we start by defining our purpose and envisioning the outcome. Then we think of relevant ideas to make it happen and add structure to make it workable. Finally, we decide what happens next.

Makes sense, right? But sometimes people don't trust in their own ability to plan. We really don't want to be wrong or make mistakes, so we tend to avoid jumping into things we feel may not be a success. However, we all have the ability to plan — we just need to overcome the fear of being out of control. So do it! Turn your purpose into reality and bring more meaning into your life.

Bringing It All Together

The days after the office gave us time to reflect. We're a group of talented, hardworking people at Yieldr, and we can already tick off a few things from the "Purpose" diagram:

  • What you can be PAID FOR
  • What you are GOOD AT
  • What you LOVE
  • What the world NEEDS

That leaves two questions which answer whether we've found our ikigai. Are we doing what we love? Is it what the world needs?

These questions don't need to be answered quite so literally.

If I use my role as an example — Content Marketer — I'm okay with admitting that the world doesn't NEED the Yieldr blog. But looking at the bigger picture, I can justify that the world does need stories to be shared. And sharing stories also happens to be something I love. So for me, any job where I get to share cool stories will be my ikigai.

Take some time yourself to reflect. Who are you? Are you pursuing your passion? Do you have a mission? What's your ikigai?

I hope you find it :)

Jodi ten Bohmer

Jodi ten Bohmer

Content Marketer