Tom was a sales executive for a large international media company. His leadership was valued and impactful, and his influence was felt far beyond the sales organization. In fact, he had already demonstrated additional high-level competencies by previously excelling in a number of financial analysis roles. There did not appear to be anything that could hold him back from continuing to rise within his organization. That is, until Tom fell victim to one of the many company restructurings and downsizings that were commonplace in 2020 and 2021, especially in the media/streaming space.
When Tom approached me, he had been out of work for a little over one year. He felt absolutely miserable about not being able to generate any traction toward finding his next gig, and he was beginning to doubt himself and his competencies. Tom wasn’t sure how to move forward or what to do next.
For those of you who are familiar with and understand the concept of ikigai, as well as its application to coaching, you already know that the results can be striking and powerful. If ikigai is new to you, here is a brief summary to, hopefully, pique your interest.
Ikigai is a Japanese concept/philosophy which dates back about one thousand years or more to the Heian period (between 794 and 1185). The word ikigai, which has no direct English translation, refers to a passion or purpose which brings joy and meaning to one’s life. This does not need to be a grand pursuit, such as searching for a cancer cure, and can be as simple as growing a vegetable garden so as to provide fresh vegetables for family dinners. It can be any pursuit that gives you a spark, that energizes you, that makes you excited to begin your day.
Entrepreneur Marc Winn names four components to ikigai: what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. When coaching someone within the ikigai framework, a coach will ask the client questions that encourage the client to dive deep into each of these respective components. Then, with the guidance of an experienced coach, the client is nudged to discover and articulate common themes that emerge. For example, when the client articulates things that they are good at which also align with things that they love, this may be the beginning of the path to uncovering that person’s ikigai.
Note that coaching within the ikigai construct does not always result in an “aha” moment, although it may. Often, it confirms for the client that the road they are currently on is in alignment with where they need to be in that moment. However, in those instances when the aha moment does reveal itself, the effect can be powerful and magical.
Tom had attended a webinar in which I had discussed my approach to coaching and my use of ikigai and other tools in my practice. He hired me and I utilized ikigai and the DiSC behavioral assessment as the predominant coaching methodologies to help him get unstuck. As we discussed each of the components of the ikigai coaching framework, it became clear rather quickly that Tom’s fundamental issue was that he was underestimating his competencies and, as a result, was aiming “low” in an effort to find his next role. While he was extremely competent at sales and finance (which was also evident via his assessment results), he did not speak enthusiastically about these roles; I suspected that this low-energy approach came through in his interviews, resulting in his getting turned down for many opportunities for which he was amply qualified. This was an eye-opening aha moment for him, and he was determined and eager to discover what would reenergize him.
Tom is now the COO of a small, and growing, startup. Within his first two months, he discovered and unlocked significant cost savings for the company. He feels renewed and reborn. Ikigai gave him the insight to leave his old career aspirations behind while providing him with the courage and energy to stretch and find his purpose. Tom’s answer existed within him all along, and the ikigai framework and mindset helped him unleash it.