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  • Dr. Jeff Doolittle

How to Achieve Career Fulfillment and Satisfaction: Know Your Ikigai

Work is an integral part of life, and record numbers of people are leaving their jobs. According to the US Bureau of labor statistics, 4.0 million US employees quit their jobs in April. This represents a new high since the bureau began tracking the data in 2000. According to a recent survey of over 500 HR leaders and 2000 employees in the UK, more than one-third of employees are considering leaving their current jobs within the next 6-12 months. These recent workforce data points lend evidence to the reality that a growing number of employees believe that the grass is starting to look greener on the other side. Recently Bloomberg dubbed this period as “The Great Resignation.” If you are wondering about your career direction or if a new job will provide a greater sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, you should first understand your ikigai.

What is Ikigai?

This week on a hike to 11K elevation-feet in Colorado with some friends, I heard about a helpful concept for anyone considering a career transition and joining The Great Resignation. Ikigai (e-key-guy) is a Japanese concept that refers to your direction or purpose in life, providing fulfillment, satisfaction, and a sense of meaning. The literal translation consists of two words, ‘iki’ meaning to live and ‘gai’ meaning reason. Evidence suggests that the positive psychological effects of ikigai include professional success, well-being, academic success, and physical benefits such as longevity of life. A research study of over 40,000 adults found that both men and women with ikigai had a decreased risk for death from external causes.

Understanding Your Professional Ikigai

The key to understanding your professional ikigai is to explore the following four questions:

  1. What do you love?

  2. What are you good at?

  3. What does the world need?

  4. What can you get paid for?

The intersection points of these four questions help you clarify your passion (love and good at), mission (love and world needs), vocation (world needs and paid for), and profession (paid for and good at).

Finding Your Professional Ikigai

The busyness of a fast-paced digital world has a way of keeping us from achieving our life’s goals. Although the concept of ikigai appears straightforward, the value lies in the hard work of uncovering your answers to each of the four questions. Keep in mind that discovering ikigai is a journey rather than a quick fix. Also, a deeper understanding can come from listening to others. The following steps will help you begin your journey:

Step 1: Schedule a time to reflect for ten minutes on each question. Find a quiet place where you are relaxed and can concentrate.

Step 2: Ask yourself each question and journal what comes to your mind. Don’t filter. Just write it down.

Step 3: Find a few people that know you well, that you trust, and will be encouraging. Ask them how they would answer the questions for you.

Step 4: Consider hiring an executive coach. An effective executive coach will challenge assumptions and views and encourage, stretch, and challenge you. Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires clients to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Step 5: Reflect on what you heard. Consider themes rather than specific points shared and, as needed, edit or delete points you journaled.

Once you have a good understanding of your ikigai, you can use the four questions and simple Likert rating scale, where one is low and five is high, to score each professional opportunity you are considering along with your current job (as appropriate). The higher the score, the higher the alignment with your ikigai.


Garcia, H. & Miralles, F. (2018). Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life. Penguin Life.

Personio (2021). Counting the cost: How businesses risk a post-pandemic talent drain.

Schippers, M., & Ziegler, N. (2019). Life crafting as a way to find purpose and meaning in life. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 2778-2778.

Tanno, K., Sakata, K., Ohsawa, M., Onoda, T., Itai, K., Yaegashi, Y., Tamakoshi, A., for JACC Study Group, & JACC Study Group. (2009). Associations of ikigai as a positive psychological factor with all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality among middle-aged and elderly Japanese people: Findings from the Japan collaborative cohort study. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 67(1), 67-75.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Job openings and labor turnover summary. Economic News Release.

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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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