Ikigai and Entrepreneurship

Jun 1, 2021

One of my favorite philosophical foundations for creating a fulfilled and productive life is the Japanese concept of “Ikigai”.  In essence the concept, loosely translated into English as a “a reason for being”, is an attempt to balance spiritual needs with the practical requirements of life.

Ikigai employs four criteria for selection of your occupation that when aligned create a synergy that will amplify your achievement, happiness, and have a positive impact on the world.

The criteria through thought and experimentation allow an individual to identify the following four elements:

  1. What you love
  2. What you are good at
  3. What the world needs
  4. What you can be paid for

The first element is commonly evident early in our lives in very simple forms to the observant. Think back to kindergarten, what did you enjoy art, music, building, problem solving, forming social connections, etc. Have your general passions substantially changed in your lifetime?  Do you know what truly makes you happy in terms of productive activity?  For me, two activities that have made me happy throughout the 54 years of my life have been the pursuit of knowledge (I have always wanted to know, Why?) and the ability to help people achieve their goals.  I am blessed to have spent the last twenty-seven years in a profession, as a mergers & acquisitions intermediary, that values these attributes.

Each of us has natural abilities and aptitudes.  The ability to align those elements with a profession facilitates maximum life achievement, in an Ikigai context this means identifying what you are good at.  Ask yourself, looking in a mirror, are you in a place that allows you to achieve your potential?  Jorge Mario Bergoglio worked as a bouncer in a bar early in his life.  Today, he is known as Pope Francis.  Which career path was his calling?  Is the world better because he found an occupation where he could contribute and achieve to the best of his abilities?

The next Ikigai element highlights the harsh reality of life in sending us in pursuit of a profession where your contribution will be valued enough by society for you to be paid.  My first love in life was basketball.  As a youth, I worked relentlessly on my game and voraciously sought knowledge and mentorship.  Reaching an adult height of 5’9” and not being athletically gifted, it quickly became evident I was not destined to receive an opportunity to play major college basketball.  Still following my passion, I obtained a job working as part of the support staff for Coach Weltlich’s men’s basketball team at the University of Texas in Austin and imbedded myself in the athletic program seeking knowledge and guidance from anyone willing to give me time.  Upon graduation from UT, I turned down career opportunities in the investment world, my degree being in business with a major in finance, to following my dream of coaching in the NCAA tournament.  NCAA championship coaches ranging from Rick Pitino to Denny Crum and Jud Heathcote to Roy Williams graciously provided me with their time and opportunities to work their basketball camps.  For four years, I progressively obtained better positions with more responsibility in the sport at college coaching stops in Seattle and Kansas City. However, the reality dawned on me in the winter of 1993 that I was not in the best place to achieve my potential in life.  After a playoff loss in the spring of 1994, I sought out in pursuit of a profession where my skill set would be more highly valued financially.  It is difficult for all of us to acknowledge wrong choices in life.  I am grateful that I recognized my own personal poor career path choice after approximately a decade.  The courage to look at the Ikigai element of, what you can be paid for, in full sunlight may be the most difficult component to acknowledge.

The final element of the Ikigai criteria is selfless.  It requires assessing what the world needs at a given place and time.  In recent years, I have often thought about John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” when assessing our political landscape.  I wonder how this selfless, positive leadership beacon has been lost in Washington DC by the political class and in the American population they govern.  Today, most politicians and citizens ask what is in it for me from perpetuating office retention decade after decade to decade to putting our hands out for government assistance with never a thought to how the expenditure will impact social security or future generations.  The same willingness to contribute to the fabric of the United States can be achieved professionally.  America needs plumbers, electricians, nurses, and countless other professionals.  A willingness to select a career path you have talent for that is needed contributes to the common good and is the fourth element of Ikigai.

One level of engagement with constructing a life built on Ikigai is to seek employment with the four elements, the next level is to do it as an entrepreneur.  The beauty of entrepreneurship is that you can create a life that has all four elements of Ikigai.  A recent IBA client did that as an RN creating a company that provided nursing aid to people suffering from radiation sickness.  Another did it by repairing electrical systems on fishing & cargo vessels.  A final one did it cleaning windows on residential homes.  The possibilities are endless.  Entrepreneurship also offers the opportunity to create quality, fairly compensated jobs for others, something that is needed throughout the United States and world as we take cautious steps forward from an 100 year pandemic event.

IBA, as the oldest business brokerage firm in the Pacific Northwest, has been helping entrepreneurs achieve their Ikigai objectives since before the Bicentennial celebration.   If you are a business owner who is in the process of putting the finishing touches on your lifework and want help facilitating a privately held company or family business to a quality successor, we would welcome the opportunity to serve as a trusted guide through the sophisticated, nuanced business sale process.  If you are an individual that has recognized that to get the four Ikigai elements into alignment, you need to assume a leadership position at the helm of your own business, we would also welcome the opportunity to provide you with information on the businesses currently represented for sale by IBA.  At the end of the day, it is your life and it is up to you to create one that is fulfilling and financially rewarding.

IBA, the Pacific Northwest’s premier business brokerage firm since 1975, is available as an information resource to the media, business brokerage, mergers & acquisitions, accounting, legal, wealth advisory, and real estate communities on subjects relevant to the purchase & sale of privately held companies and family businesses.  IBA is recognized as one of the best business brokerage firms in the nation based on its long track record of successfully negotiating “win-win” business sale transactions in environments of full disclosure employing “best practices”.