Ikigai is Not a Venn Diagram

The Japanese concept of ikigai is gaining attention in the West, where they define it as a framework of something that you love, something that you're good at, something that the world needs, and something that you get paid for. But if we would ask a Japanese person, is that how they would define ikigai? Saori Okada shares her thoughts the first time she encountered the Ikigai Venn Diagram, stating that ikigai is more than that of the Western interpretation of it.

Nick: That's something that's not really talked about in the West. And as you found out ikigai is this romanticized kind of notion that it's from Okinawa, and it's about living a long life. There's also a Venn diagram involved.

So let's talk about your experience of learning about the West's fascination with ikigai. How did that come about? I think you mentioned that a friend mentioned it to you first, in the States?

Saori: Yes, it was very serendipitous, in many ways, because it was probably at the beginning of 2020, or probably in the summer at my job, I was in the woman's board, and we were doing a presentation about professional development; we had a speaker come on, and they were sharing about some frameworks that they found helpful. 

She started with this ikigai Venn diagram, and I remember freezing, I was just so shocked, to be honest. Because I was so surprised that I saw this concept. I know I shared last time, but it was more of such pain in my soul.

I think that's the best way I could describe it. Such sadness from my heart, because ikigai is such a beautiful concept, and it's so nuanced. It's not something that could be put on paper and like, no, a formula, unfortunately. So I think it was, that was the first time I saw it and was heartbroken.

Then the second time was the same, maybe like one day later, my best friend in London was doing a purpose program that was well regarded in the UK. And she reached out to me and said, "Oh, I didn't know Japan had this framework, this Venn diagram." 

And again, I was very sad. I think at this point, I was going through the grieving stages. So I think I turned to anger more, I was enraged, I was enraged why are they taking such a beautiful concept and putting it like this?

And then last, but not least, I was listening to one of my podcasts, and they were talking about this ikigai Venn diagram. I think it was one of those, like, professional development podcasts that I like.

And yeah, I think it was like a researcher referencing this Venn diagram, and that was very much the icing on the cake, where I kept seeing it, which, ultimately, you know, after I grieve, I came to appreciation where I think it's beautiful that the West is so interested in this concept. 

Because to me, that just shows us that they really are looking for a different way of wanting to be and live a life, which is wonderful. But I just think that the Venn diagram is a limiting framework. And if you really want to understand what ikigai is, then it's unfortunately not been there.