Finding Your Purpose

Mike Drak

IN MY LAST ARTICLE, I wrote about how Harvard and other colleges are offering programs to help growth-oriented retirees find new meaning and purpose. Having a sense of purpose improves our quality of life and provides a sense of well-being.

But most of us, including this writer, can’t afford Harvard’s program. That’s why I’m going to show you how to find your main reason for being within the comfort of your own home—using the ikigai method. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that describes a deeply personal process of aligning what we do with who we are.

The beauty of ikigai is its simplicity. It’s easy for retirees to use because by now we should know ourselves reasonably well—what we love to do, what we’re good at and what we struggle with. I’ve used the process to find the work I do now, as well as to help others find the work that they were meant to do.

To begin, find somewhere quiet where you can focus. Then go deep within yourself by asking four questions:

  • What do you love to do?
  • What are you really good at?
  • What do people need help with?
  • What kind of work could you do and potentially be paid for?

Use a notebook to record your thoughts. Come up with a few answers for each question. It can help to go on long walks as you ponder the four questions, and also to ask these questions of others who know you well.

Ikigai provides clarity. It opens our eyes to how we’re uniquely wired and what we were born for. It shows us how to put our gifts to work so that we work for the pure joy of it. The goal is to identify those things that we’re naturally good at, the things that energize us. The best pursuits put us in a state of flow, where we lose track of time because we’re so immersed in what we are doing. As we answer the four questions, at some point things will start to connect and our purpose will become clear.

Use ikigai to help others. Ikigai can be used to find suitable volunteer work if we ask these questions of ourselves:

  • What good deed do we want to do for the world?
  • What problem can we help solve?
  • What kind of meaningful contribution can we make?

Retirees can find a sense of purpose by helping others. They volunteer because it makes them feel good and it gives them a sense of accomplishment. They can feel significant by having a positive effect on others. Being able to describe how we help others will give us a sense of pride and put a smile on our face.

Do stuff that matters. Without something worthwhile to do in retirement, we may flounder and find that we grow older faster. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Finding our ikigai—our purpose—will help us reengage with life in a more meaningful and fulfilling way. It can make us feel connected with the world and give us something to live for.

It can make us feel that we still matter in this world, that we can still contribute and be relevant. It allows us to express our new identity to others, which is far better than answering with the standard “I’m retired.” Let’s face it, that answer can get a little boring.

People who find their ikigai never really retire. They keep doing what they love until they can’t do it anymore. By keeping their minds and body busy doing things they love to do, they may end up living longer than most.

If you’d like to learn more about ikigai—and how others have used it to find new purpose—consider downloading Longevity Lifestyle by Design, the free book I co-authored.

Mike Drak is a 38-year veteran of the financial services industry. He’s the co-author of Longevity Lifestyle by Design, Retirement Heaven or Hell and Victory Lap Retirement. Mike works with his wife, an investment advisor, to help clients design a fulfilling retirement. For more on Mike, head to Check out his earlier articles.

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