Lee Byron


Years ago I came across the concept of “Ikigai” (or “life’s reason”) in a blog post, along with an explanatory four-axis venn diagram1. It introduced the idea of honing in on a life’s purpose by way of doing what you’re good at, what you enjoy, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. This really resonated with me.

I find this model a helpful tool in thinking about my own career, but it’s important to remember that it’s just that: a model. While I like the framework, as I’ve read more about Ikigai I also have some real concerns with it:

These concerns turn out to be valid. In fact the origin of this venn diagram is not Japanese at all, but instead comes from a book by Spanish Astrologist, Andrés Zuzunaga. Marc Winn’s blog post combined Andrés Zuzunaga’s original graphic with the idea of Ikigai presented in Dan Buettner’s TED talk and voilà, a meme!

Despite it’s shortcomings and misappropriation I still really like this mental model for considering career progression and debugging gaps in a sense of fulfillment. Here’s my translation of Andrés Zuzunaga’s original graphic in English:


Ikigai is still a very real concept, just not the same one as presented by most of these blog posts and books. Japanese neuroscientist Ken Mogi (who has also written a book on Ikigai, mostly about food) has a video addressing this venn diagram with an attempt to bring the term back to an original intent. In the video he proposes a new (crude, hand-drawn) diagram to take its place with two distinct changes:

The goal being not to find the one perfect thing which checks all boxes but instead to cultivate a broad diversity of things big and small, public and private, to bring a rich multifaceted purpose to life.

I also appreciate this very different model, and took the liberty to capture Ken’s “true Ikigai diagram” with a few additions in a similar spirit:


  1. Years later, Marc wrote a follow up post on the origins of his article on Ikigai and addressed how it took on a life of its own.