Ikigai: Finding your purpose

by | Apr 21, 2022 | Lifestyle

As my sophomore year of college comes to a close, I am taking a moment to pause, a reflective breath. I’ve settled in as an environmental studies major, but now I face the dreaded question: what will I do when I graduate? Honestly, I don’t know. I am constantly swirling with thoughts about what will bring me joy and where I may find success. These questions are extremely daunting. I feel lucky to have a passion that is fulfilling and meaningful in environmental advocacy work, but I still have moments of doubt and uncertainty about how this passion might direct my future. During my summer as an intern with Turning Green, Debbie Raphael of the San Francisco Department of the Environment introduced the concept of Ikigai to me.


What is Ikigai?

Ikigai  (“ee-kee-guy”) is a Japanese term that combines iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” The philosophy refers to having direction or purpose that gives life satisfaction and a sense of meaning. Feeling ikigai means the accomplishment and fulfillment that comes from pursuit of passions.

I was immediately drawn into this philosophy. I want to live a meaningful life and make a difference in the world.


The questions of Ikigai

Ikigai venn diagram split into four categories of passion, mission, profession, and vocation

Credit: Bodetree, adapted from Frances C. Miralles

The goal of this philosophy is to define your purpose, personal mission, and what fulfills you. This personal awareness can help you live a more meaningful, intentional life, and contribute positively to your overall happiness and well-being.

Ikigai asks:

  • What do you enjoy doing? (passion) 
  • What are you good at? (vocation)
  • What does the world need? (profession) 
  • What can you be paid for? (mission) 


Each of these concepts contributes to happiness, financial well-being, intellectual growth, and health — and together, they intersect to find your purpose for being. 


Ikigai meets the climate movement

We can apply these same concepts to the climate movement. By doing so, our climate action journeys will be more fulfilling and sustainable.


  • “What do you enjoy doing?” becomes “How can you find joy in climate action?” 
  • “What are you good at?” becomes “What skills can you contribute to climate action?”
  • “What does the world need?” becomes “What does life on earth need?” and “What do our communities need?”
  • What can you be paid for?” becomes “What can you do to pay it forward?” and “What reparations can be made?”


Not everyone can be an environmental studies major or climate scientist, but anyone can take climate action. Finding a space, role or path that aligns with our passions, skills and knowledge is both personally fulfilling and benefits the planet.


The 10 rules of ikigai

Ikigai also includes 10 rules to live by, important for our personal lives and a sustained climate movement.

  1. Stay active, do not retire.
  2. Take it slow.
  3. Don’t fill your stomach.
  4. Surround yourself with good friends.
  5. Get in shape.
  6. Smile.
  7. Reconnect with nature.
  8. Give thanks.
  9. Live in the moment.
  10. Follow your ikigai.


Where do your circles intersect?

What combines your passion, skills, and the need you see in the world? Is there something you are already doing that checks all four boxes, or something you could start doing? 

Ikigai has guided me towards asking the right questions to help me discover what my values, passions, and skills are, and how they may help me lead a more purposeful and intentional life. It’s a tool that has helped me find calm and clarity in an ever-changing world, especially in the context of the climate crisis. It is a guiding philosophy, which means it is not static but rather fluid and changing in the context of our lives.



  • Gabriela Nahm

    Gabriela is a senior at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. She is an Environmental studies major on the social sciences track with a minor in sociology. She has always had a strong love for the environment through years of hiking on the nearby Appalachian trail and other outdoor adventures, but she found her passion for Environmental Justice after watching There’s Something in the Water in her first environmental studies college course. She is the student ambassador for Davidson’s Sustainability Collective and is passionate about making sustainability an accessible choice for all students on campus. In her free time, she loves long walks, plant-based baking, and having dance parties.