Recognise the graphic below? In case you don’t, it’s a Japanese guide to finding your purpose. They call it your ‘Ikigai’ and describe it as the overlap between what you love, what you can get paid for, what you’re good at and what the world needs. The idea is that once you find this magical thing that fulfils all this criteria, you’ll ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

It’s one of many, many guides out there – each of them claiming to help you find this one magical thing that will solve all your problems. I’ve spent many years trying to find it. Striving, trying different things, and dismissing them when they couldn’t fit into this idea. But I changed my mind. Screw fitting into this system (or any system, really!) You don’t need to follow anyone’s idea of purpose to find your own. For me, changing my mindset about purpose has been the key to ‘finding purpose’.

To illustrate what I mean, let me share a parable:

There once was a traveler in medieval times who came upon a stonemason at work. He asked, “What are you doing?” The man looked weary and unhappy. He responded, “Can’t you see I am cutting and laying down stone? My back is killing me, and I can’t wait to stop.”

The traveler continued on his way and came upon a second stonemason. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m building a wall,” said the stonemason. “I’m grateful to have this work so I can support my family.”

As the traveler walked on, he encountered a third stonemason who seemed to be doing exactly the same work as the previous two. He asked the man, “What are you doing?” The man stood up straight. His face was radiant. He looked up at the sky and spread his arms wide. “I am building a cathedral,” he answered.

All stonemasons were doing the exact same work. It was what they thought about it, and what meaning the attached to what they do, that shifted their perspective and determined how much they enjoyed their work. And I would argue you can do the same thing.

You can do a little exercise for yourself. Write down all the things you spend your time on right now. Make a list. Then look at the above diagram and put them into those 4 categories. For each thing, see how many boxes you can tick. Here’s what that might look like…

I do…LoveGood atWorld needsGet paid for
Raise Children✔️✔️
Painting✔️
Work✔️✔️

You get the idea. What does your table look like? If you spend a lot of time doing what you can get paid for, and only a little time on something you love doing, can you find ways to make it more balanced?

Your ‘ikigai’ can be made up of a lot of things coming together to build a life of purpose. There’s so many things that are purposeful but don’t fit all of these categories, and trying to make them fit can cause a lot of unhappiness. If you love painting but are trying to monetise it, it may not take long until you loose the joy in doing it. Raising your children may be what the world needs, but not what you can get paid for. What you’re getting paid for may not make the world a better place, but it enables you to pay your bills and do what you love in your spare time. I’d say it makes a lot more sense to make the diagram look more like this:

The solution to the puzzle isn’t finding the one perfect piece. It’s finding many imperfect pieces to make up a whole.