Lesson 1 – Finding Your Ikigai

Before you start, make a copy of your Journey Scrapbook [Google Slides] and add a copy to your Google Drive! As you progress through the lessons, we will have more slides for you to add to your Journey Scrapbook. Fill in the slides as you progress through this lesson.

Dear Explorers.

If you would allow me to try something unconventional, we will start this journey by looking inwards into yourself. By this point in your PhD, after staying up late to finish your latest paper revision or that reallyfinalthistime_rev4_edit3.docx of your thesis proposal, you probably have had many long nights of wondering, “what am I doing with my life”?

If you were like me, the intellectual freedom of completing a PhD only exacerbates this question. In my experience, idle time in deep thought often leads to some form of existential crisis, rather than any useful answers to the research question at hand. So, here is my logic: if idle is likely to lead to an existential crisis anyways, then we might as well take advantage of this mind wandering and try to capture this train of thought, embrace it, and try to make a first step in our entrepreneurial journey.

To understand and visualize the trajectory of your life, I think a good place to start is with the Japanese concept of “Ikigai”. There are many versions of this familiar four circle Venn diagram floating around the internet, and like many useful tools, this diagram is elegant because we can adopt it to suit many circumstances. I will interpret this diagram in a way that helps our particular situation and our goal: finding an entrepreneurial journey that can complement a rich life by leveraging our knowledge and skillset gained through our PhD journey. So, what is this model of Ikigai?

A Video Interlude

PRO TIP: click below to download an AUDIO ONLY version, so you can listen on the go! 

Outer Circles: You and the World (market)

We start at the outside of the diagram. Here, we find two “YOU” related circles:

  • What you LOVE
  • What you are GOOD AT

Let’s start here, because, with any luck, what you LOVE and are GOOD AT may already be what you are working on for your PhD. Alternatively, you may have stumbled upon an alternate discovery. You may no longer love what you do, or that you have discovered are not as good as your peers at scientific writing papers. You don’t know until you try, experiment, and bump into obstacles. These are all good data points, and exactly why you are here. Now, let’s try and capture what you’ve learned so far in your Journey Scrapbook.


In your Journey Scrapbook, jot down:
– What are 3 things that you LOVE about your PhD?
– What are 3 things that you LOVE but are unable to pursue within your PhD trajectory?
– What are 3 things that you are GOOD AT and beneficial to your PhD?
– What are 3 things that you are GOOD AT but are underutilized within your PhD trajectory?

Moving counterclockwise, we find two “WORLD” related circles:

  • What you can be PAID FOR
  • What the WORLD NEEDS

These circles invite you to look out into the world, and to think about the intersection between the market, your skills, and a Just Cause [1] (world need) that you want to pursue in the world. If you look at your colleagues in the academic and related professional fields, you will find clues of what you can get PAID FOR. The lucky among us already have the privilege of being paid to complete a PhD, and your choice of PhD trajectory is likely to already be closely aligned with what you believe the world needs.  So, for these two circles, we are primarily concerned about possibilities outside of academia. 


In your Journey Scrapbook, jot down:

– What are 3 things related to your area of expertise that you can potentially get PAID FOR outside of academia?
– What are 3 things related to your area of expertise that you believe the WORLD NEEDS outside of academia?
Adapted from: Wikimedia Commons (Emmy van Deurzen)

Inner Wedges: Pinpointing Possibilities

In the inner wedges, you see the convergence of four outer circles to help narrow down the elements of your Ikigai. These elements are:

  1. Passion: What you love and are deeply enthusiastic about.
  2. Mission: Your purpose, the positive impact you want to make on the world.
  3. Profession:  Your skills, abilities, and expertise that have a (potential) market value
  4. Vocation: A product or service that also serves a Just Cause, and contribute to a positive change in the world. 

When these elements harmoniously intersect, you find your entrepreneurial ikigai. 

Using the filled in Venn diagram, here is how to decode the inner wedges: 

Step 1: Identifying Your Passion (LOVE + GOOD AT)

Entrepreneurship can be demanding, so it’s crucial to be passionate about your venture. Ask yourself what you truly love to do and how you can incorporate it into your business. Your passion will fuel your perseverance during the inevitable challenges.  Using guidance from the two adjacent circles, choose 3 words to describe your PASSION. 

Step 2: Defining Your Mission (LOVE + WORLD NEEDS)

What’s the greater purpose of your business beyond profitability? Your mission should align with your values and the positive change you wish to create. When your business’s mission resonates with your inner purpose, it becomes a powerful motivator. Using guidance from the two adjacent circles, chose 3 words to describe your MISSION. 

Step 3: Leveraging What You’re Good to Support Your Profession (PAID FOR + GOOD AT)

Entrepreneurship requires skills and expertise. Identify your professional strengths and how they can be utilized in your venture. Whether it’s research, marketing, finance, or product development, your proficiency adds value to your business. Using guidance from the two adjacent circles, choose 3 words to describe your PROFESSION.

Step 4: Making a Change with Your Vocation (WORLD NEEDS + GOOD AT)

Every successful business addresses a specific need or solves a problem. Your entrepreneurial ikigai should involve meeting a market demand that aligns with your Just Cause so you can start changing the world in a direction that you desire. This connection between activities that are valuable to the market and good for the world will not only lead to a more fulfilling journey but also increase the chances of success. Using guidance from the two adjacent circles, choose 3 words to describe your VOCATION.

What are Potential Benefits of Finding Your Entrepreneurial Ikigai?

  1. Enhanced Motivation: Having a clear sense of purpose keeps you motivated during challenging times. You’re not just in it for the money; you’re on a mission.
  2. Innovation and Creativity: When your passion and mission align, you’re more likely to innovate and think creatively, setting your business apart from the competition.
  3. Resilience: The entrepreneurial journey is filled with ups and downs. Your ikigai becomes your anchor, helping you weather the storms.
  4. Customer Engagement: When your business is driven by a strong mission and a genuine desire to help, customers are more likely to connect with your brand.
  5. Long-term Success: Building a business based on your ikigai sets the stage for lasting success, as it’s rooted in authenticity and purpose.

In conclusion, finding your ikigai in the realm of entrepreneurship is a transformative journey. It aligns your passion, mission, profession, and the needs of the world, providing a strong foundation for a purpose-driven, successful business. Remember that your entrepreneurial ikigai may evolve over time, so stay open to self-discovery and adaptation as you continue to build a business that not only thrives but also fulfills your inner purpose. 


Now that you’ve explored all aspects of the Ikigai Venn Diagram, try to put your Ikigai into words In your Journey Scrapbook.

Further Reading

  • “What if the next generation of social entrepreneurs built businesses that were deeply connected to their personal Ikigai? What if the paradigm of entrepreneurship shifted such that every business was a combination of what we can be paid for, what we are good at, what the world needs, and what we love?” Read further at Ikigai For Entrepreneurs by Kacy Qua
  • Have you ever wondered what your purpose in life is? Tim Tamashiro delights us with a journey into the discovery of Ikigai, a treasure map for finding one’s own happiness” Watch further at How to Ikigai TEDxYYC by Tim Tamashiro

[1] “Simon Sinek defines a Just Cause as a specific vision of an ideal state of the future that inspires people. Your Just Cause must paint a clear picture that others can see.” Source Article