Now What? Putting Purpose Into Action

Recently, I was connected with an experienced nonprofit leader whose career trajectory had led her to higher education and international study abroad programs. But now she had children of her own, and wanted to do work closer to home focused on K-12 education and wasn’t quite sure how to find local opportunities that matched her new interest. We spent a lot of time talking about the ways she could participate in local education initiatives, volunteer her time for nonprofit organizations in her town, and network with leaders in her community to better understand the landscape of roles and organizations connected to her new interest.

Once you have figured out your ikigai, it’s time to actually do something about it. In fact, ikigai is “purpose in action,” says Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, who’s found that cultures that thrive often have a concept like ikigai at their core.

Map your own ikigai to the options in your area or the area you want to be in. If it overlaps significantly with what you’ve already been doing, go forth and apply for similar jobs! But if you discover that your ikigai might take you in a different direction than where you’ve been heading, find a way to test that hypothesis out.

These options for trying on your ikigai range in size and risk level.  For example, you might consider taking on different projects within your existing job, taking a class or getting certified in a new subject or skill. On the side, you could find a volunteer gig, or side project helping a friend or colleague, get involved in a local project or initiative, or even join the board of a related nonprofit organization. If you’re ready to take the leap entirely, you could find a fellowship or internship, which can offer a structured way of switching into a new sector or role, or offer your services as a consultant.

Sound scary? It doesn’t have to be — it can’t be any scarier than sticking with a job or career that isn’t satisfying or meaningful. Plus, “one of the best parts of testing is that it’s also a creative and effective way to build up your resume,” reassures career coach Emily Lamia. “If you’re trying to make a switch into a different kind of job, employers want to see that you’ve volunteered or gotten experience somewhere that proves you’re capable of excelling. Prototypes give you great content for your resume, networking conversations, and interviews.”

Whether testing the waters or actually applying for jobs in a new role or field, the best part of taking your newly discovered ikigai out for a spin is that you’ve put yourself back into the driver’s seat of your career.