Ikigai and the Four P’s: How to Get Paid, Enjoy Your Work, Solve Problems, and Find Purpose

Ikigai and the Four P’s: How to Get Paid, Enjoy Your Work, Solve Problems, and Find Purpose

Most working adults will dedicate half their waking lives to a job. If that thought elicits a deep,  internal groan, then you’re probably not in the right job.

This could mean you’re not doing the work you are uniquely suited for, or it could mean your working environment sucks, and your boss is a tyrant.

Alternately, you could be doing the right job, with the right people, but you’re geographically stuck in a place that brings you down. Everyone’s ideal location is different. Some people love the Bay Area, for example, while others can’t stand the extreme income disparity and trash-strewn streets of San Francisco.

Ugh, right?

So, what’s the solution?

Well, to begin with, it isn’t easy. So if you’d rather coast through life clocking in and out of a 9 to 5 you hate simply because it’s the path of least resistance, then stop reading this right now. Instead, crack open a cold beer at your local watering hole, my lazy friend; I sometimes wish I were you.

But if you’re like me, and you chafe against doing anything less than your best work—with people you can (at a minimum) stand, in a location you don’t actively dread—then let us continue.

The Four P’s: Finding your reason to get out of bed in the morning

Ikigai is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “a reason to get out of bed in the morning.” Here’s a diagram to illustrate:

Now, unless you’re a mattress-tester, you have to get out of bed to start your workday. We all do. But what if you were actually excited at the prospect of going to work? What if you looked forward to your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks, where you do them, and the people you do them with?

Amazing, huh?

It’s possible. But, as with most good things, it takes effort, which brings us to The Four P’s. To find your Ikigai, you have to understand four elements:

  • What you are good at (Purpose)
  • What you can get paid for (Profit)
  • What the world needs (Problems)
  • What you love (Passion)

In this post, we’ll drill down into each of The Four P’s.

Before we get started, if I can give you one piece of advice, it is this: everything in life evolves. I learned about Ikigai and The Four P’s after the flame-out of my last company, and my own personal breakdown. It was a tough time, and a tough lesson to learn, but invaluable. Your passions, what the world needs, your skill sets, and what you can get paid for will all likely go through many iterations throughout your lifetime on this blue-green globe. Realizing this early on in your career, and optimizing yourself to embrace change rather than fight it or run from it, will give you a huge leg up—no matter what work you choose to do.

Now, let’s talk about The Four P’s.

Purpose: What you are good at

There are a variety of ways to figure out what you are good at. You’re considered above average at something when you do that particular task better than 80% of most people. Instead of rehashing what has already been over-hashed, I’m going to share some of the best articles — and books — that I’ve found on the topic:

Wait But Why” —  If you aren’t already reading Tim Urban’s epic blog, “Wait But Why” for career advice, then you should start. Tim not only dives deep into relevant topics without being boring, but he’s also forking hilarious. You’re welcome.

Strengths Finder 2.0 — This book contains a less entertaining, but still effective, exercise to figure out what you’re good at.

How to Find the Right Career For YouBenjamin Todd at 80,000 hours delivers some solid advice on how to find out where you excel.

At the end of the day, figuring out what you are good at takes a lot of self-evaluation. Talk to people who know you best, and people who have interacted with you in school and throughout your career. Heck, talk to people who hate you—it’s good to get a wide range of opinions on both your strengths and weaknesses, so you can triangulate the information to suss out the truth.

When I’m conducting interviews for AVRA, I like to walk people through an exercise called The Four Quadrants of Talent (I know, right, such a tantalizing moniker. My other idea was “Four Shades of Talent,” but, unfortunately, E.L James beat me to it).

Here’s how it goes: Grab a piece of paper, draw a square, then fill out 5-7 skillsets, tasks or functional arenas using the following designations:

Good @

This one is obvious.

Not Good @

This one should be obvious.

Not Interested In

This is something you’re good or adequate at, but you don’t like it, or want to do it.

Interested In

This is something you could be good, bad, or adequate at, but you want/like to do it.

Profit: What you can get paid for

The skills that earn you money will change over time. As with everything in this post — and in life — there is no hard and fast rule. Everything is subject to change and evolution.

That being said, the most valuable skill any worker can possess (in my humble opinion) is the ability to adapt to quickly-changing environments. Some call this “comfort with ambiguity.” I call it the ability to evolve. The economy may crash tomorrow, or a new invention may hit the market that decimates a type of work or industry. Consider the impact of robotics on factory assembly lines, or telephone switchboard operators:

Rose DiMaggio Trela has been a telephone operator since neighborhoods were linked on a single party line and family members gathered around the phone for the rarity of a long distance call.

For nearly 50 years, she has gone to work on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s — on every holiday — and during blizzards…

… After more than a century, the telephone operator — the human being who was always there on the other end of the phone — is becoming obsolete, along with receptionists and bank tellers. When AT&T broke up in 1984 — the date that Mrs. Trela regards as the end of the world she knew — there were 40,000 operators, according to Robin Sayre, a spokeswoman for AT&T in New England, who said that half went to regional companies. Now, AT&T has 8,000 operators, and is reducing that number with cuts across the nation. —From The New York Times article, “Once a Friendly Fixture, a Telephone Operator Finds Herself Obsolete.


Relevant Skill Sets

Depending on when you read this, the list of “hot jobs” or skill sets you can get paid for will be different. Roles like “Solutions Architect” and “Product Manager” are currently in demand, but to be fair, the economy is going strong.

If we go to war tomorrow, or there is another economic crisis like in 2008, then these sexy jobs — and the large salaries they fetch — could completely disappear. (The list of recessions in U.S. history is some good reading for those who don’t want to forget history.)

Instead of focusing only on the now, let’s think about what skills are likely to be relevant (ideally across industries) over the next 50 years. That way, even if you’re 18-years-old now, some combination of these skills will take you into retirement (assuming that’s still a thing when you’re old… my poor young friend).

  • Building sh**
    • Engineering
  • Storytelling
    • Communication
    • Writing skills
    • Language skills
  • Stuff robots have a hard time doing
    • Skilled labor
    • Jobs that change
  • Being able to deal with humans (Because, even if robots take over half of our jobs, there will still be a lot of us.)
    • HR
    • Listening
    • Networking
    • Recruiting
  • Being able to learn and evolve—the most important skill
    • Make Learning a Lifelong Habit
    • Set aside 30 minutes every day, ideally in the morning, to learn something new. It can be anything. Everything is connected, and as the invention of penicillin, the The Origin of Species, and Post it Notes show, by unearthing factoids in one arena, you can change the course of your life and the lives of others through your work.
  • Leadership — the ability to get others excited about a vision or mission, and then do the work to achieve it, is massive.
  • What is your best guess at what the job market will look like 10-20 years from now?

Problems: What the world needs

What the world needs, and what you can get paid for, are rapidly changing with the constant advent of new technology, an increasing disparity between abundance in some areas and lack thereof in others, as well as the projections of what the workforce will look like in 10-20, or 30, years down the line.

There are an infinite number of problems one can find solutions to and impact at least one person on this massive blue and green globe we all reside on. The sheer number of needs out there can seem overwhelming, so I find it helps to start super small and then expand out.

You should also think about what speaks to you. Maybe you’re interested in protecting the environment, or perhaps you’re fascinated by micro-housing, or you really enjoy food. Starting with an interest can help.

If you’re thinking in terms of your career, being able to solve an urgent need is simply easier than satisfying a want, but this doesn’t mean people haven’t built meaningful careers and businesses around delivering what the world “wants,” or what’s “nice to have.”

Does the world need another high-end fashion boutique?

Probably not, but perhaps that high-end boutique staffs its store with people who need the work. Or perhaps they purchase part of their inventory from NOMI Network, an organization that provides employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to women who have only known a life of sex-trafficking. Sometimes a need is indirectly fulfilled by a want.

Remember, your career equation may lean heavier on some P’s versus others. It’s fine if you aren’t solving world hunger through the work you’re good at, enjoy doing, and can get paid for.. This section isn’t to give you first-world guilt. But if your work does help solve world hunger — that’s even better.

On solving problems with painkillers versus vitamins

Vitamins fall under “nice to have,” but not “need to have.” In business, these are often features or functionalities, rather than major platforms, and just like in a drug store, they’re optional. They’re usually priced at a major discount compared to the expensive painkilling prescriptions (i.e. major platforms) behind the counter.

Painkillers typically help clients drive revenue or lower current costs in a business. Even better, they do this using established budgets, instead of requiring new budgets to be created, which can take time and slow down the sales closing process. What client is not going to react favorably to the promise of lowering current costs by 33 percent, without having to spend a single penny more than they are already spending?

If you apply this concept to different types of employment, it might look something like this:


  • Interior Design
  • Uber Driver
  • House Cleaner


Passion: What you love

The last element of The Four P’s is passion, or doing the work that you love. This is a hot topic, and debates are alive and well on both sides of the spectrum. Benjamin Todd’s article touched on it some, and you can read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You for more insight into the merits of prioritizing skills over passion in the pursuit of a career. You may feel passionate about a particular area of work or job, or you might not have the faintest idea about what you love to do. Maybe it isn’t about love for you at all, but earning a solid paycheck for the hard work you do. Pursuing passion over practicality can lead to a whole slew of problems, including:

  • You’re more likely to focus on one area of interest and miss other opportunities.
  • You might get the idea that pursuing a job you’re passionate about is easier.
  • You aren’t equipped to face the challenges and setbacks that come with any pursuit.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s super important to find work you enjoy doing, just not at the expense of continuing to develop relevant skills and hard work, or you’ll have a tough road ahead of you.


As an added bonus, here are some Do’s and Don’ts you can incorporate right now in your job search process:


Don’t spray and pray: In other words, don’t apply to anything and everything under the sun in the hopes of landing a job you’ll like.

Do pick your top 3-5 companies and go out of your way to demonstrate how you can make their lives better.

Don’t forget how mind-numbingly boring reading through resumes is for a hiring manager.

Do craft UNIQUE cover letters when applying to each role you want, or, if they use screening questions, take the time to answer them thoughtfully and, if possible, with a bit of humor.

Don’t expect the company to connect the dots.

Do tell your career story in a way that connects the dots for them.

Job hunting is tough, but it’s a lot harder if you don’t know what your unique marketable skills are and how they’re best suited to meet existing wants and needs. By taking the time to really think about your interests and performance across the jobs you’ve had and activities you’ve participated in, you’ll have a step up with it comes to looking for the right career.

If you understand Ikigai and The Four P’s, and especially how they relate to you and your ideal career, you’ll be well on the way to finding meaningful work you are suited for, you enjoy doing, you can make money at, and you might even love.


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