Finding ikigai for a fulfilling career journey

For some, a sense of fulfillment comes from landing a big client. For others, it’s meeting a fitness goal, or checking a travel destination off of a long-neglected bucket list. Many draw a line in the sand between passion and work, never considering following a path that allows their interests to intersect. The Japanese concept of ikigai challenges that separation. 

Ikigai combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” Japanese psychologist Michiko Kumano has said that ikigai is a state of wellbeing that arises from devotion to activities one enjoys, which also brings a sense of fulfillment. 

In life, often ah-ha moments come at the most unexpected times. For Annika Friesen, it came after undergrad when she was working in a prestigious accounting position that was great on paper but not in practice. She didn’t enjoy her work or feel excited by the field, a gut feeling theme she says can guide a more informed career path for anyone daring to dream. 

As she has helped others realize, being motivated by what one “should do” versus “wants to do” are two starkly different paths, and usually only one leads to personal happiness. 

A HEC Paris MBA, Annika Friesen rediscovered herself through her MBA experience. She realized that working with people and making sure they feel valued in their roles is what she loves, which led to a recruiting career for HEC in Doha, Qatar where she now works as an EMBA Development Manager. 

Earlier this year, she hosted a workshop on cultivating a career path that is aligned with personal values. Catch it here

Below, MBAchic breaks down her steps to greater career fulfillment. 

Regardless of whether someone is in an MBA program, done with their MBA, or a professional outside of the MBA world, Friesen believes that taking time to reflect and find personal ikigai is for everyone. 

“The concept is developing the best path for you by combining doing what you love, what you’re good at, what you can get paid for, and what the world actually needs,” says Friesen.

Watch Career Coaching with Annika Friesen here.

The power of self discovery 

From a branding perspective, a person’s unique selling point is a combination of individual skills, experiences and personality. 

“Whether you like it or not, everyone has a personal brand, it’s what people are thinking and saying about you when you’re not around. So whether you’re working on the brand or not, you still have one. Let’s try to make it as good as possible,” says Freisen.  

Display personal and professional values both online and offline. Every recruiter will thoroughly Google candidates, so a digital presence needs to be authentically aligned with individual values.

Check out MBAchic’s Social Scrub to get your digital presence ready for work, bschool and more.

“At an MBA setting you have an amazing opportunity to talk to your peers, understanding what they did before an MBA, what they want to do after their MBA,” says Friesen. “Digest what you’re hearing when you meet new people. You can take away so much.”

Find passion and pursue it

“What would you do if you didn’t get paid?” asks Friesen. She discovered her love of coaching when she reflected on the reality that she had coached people for years without being paid. The human connection and the help she was able to provide is what fueled her before it clicked that she could pivot her passion into her professional goals. 

A well-known phenomenon in research on human performance is flow, a state of full task engagement and low levels of self-referential thinking like worrying. Flow is often associated with athletes, artists, or scientists who are fully task-absorbed in order to achieve peak performance. But truly anyone can achieve a flow-like state of mind. Experiencing flow is associated with a sense of accomplishment, meaningfulness, and positive mood states, and as such, flow also plays a role in well-being.

“If you really have no flow states in your job, it’s a red flag because we will never love every aspect of our jobs, but if you don’t have any aspect that gives you a flow state, that’s something to take a look at,” says Friesen.

Watch Annika’s workshop for help finding ikigai on your professional journey

Discover the market and apply yourself

According to GMAC, 1-in-3 graduates said their first job post-MBA was in a different industry than planned. Why? More opportunities, higher salary, switches inspired by recruiters, or introductions into new industries.

What’s the best approach to discover a market when shifting professional focus to a new industry? Annika suggests investing time into listening. Talking to peers, setting up informational interviews, utilizing career centers or professional networks and letting go of preconceived notions.

“At an MBA setting you have an amazing opportunity to talk to your peers, understanding what they did before an MBA, what they want to do after their MBA,” says Friesen. “Digest what you’re hearing when you meet new people. You can take away so much.”

The information gathered from networking, mentorship, and simply being open to asking questions will be invaluable to step into a new market prepared and informed. 

Release external pressures 

External pressure is heavy and it can take time and courage to recognize when we are working towards a goal that is mismatched with core values. So what’s the best route to overcoming these roadblocks? For those who want to discover the best path forward, Friesen’s words of wisdom on releasing pressure are simple, but honest.

“Nothing is more unsustainable than someone else’s wishes for you,” she says. “What’s the most sustainable is determining what’s important to you, what you’re passionate about, what you’re good at, and going in that direction.”

finding ikigai with Annika Friesen

About the author

Author profile

Torri is a mom, creative writer, communications specialist, and professional journalist. She has nearly a decade of experience working in print and TV newsrooms as an on-air reporter and anchor independently researching, writing, interviewing, filming, and editing her own content. Whether she is interviewing the Speaker of the House about hot button issues, or a small student group about a local grassroots campaign, her commitment and focus remain the same: to bring the story she is telling to life. As an amateur watercolorist, she is passionate about the arts, promoting women's empowerment through writing, and investing time in her family.

She lives outside of Manhattan with her husband, baby boy, and rescue dog, Jax.

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