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My Ikigai: Finding Purpose

The idea of an individual"purpose" or "destiny" is something that most people tend to think about often. It's an area of curiosity that sticks, and one that we can spend our a great portion of our lives trying to discover. I value personal growth and self-awareness, and practice introspection often, so when I came across an exercise for "finding my ikigai", I was intrigued.

Ikigai (ee-key-guy) is a Japanese concept — with Iki in Japanese meaning life, and gai describing value or worth. It refers to something that gives a person a sense of purpose and roughly translated to "the reason for being." It's the intersection of what you love, what you're good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. When you find your ikigai, you can feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that you may have never felt before.


I was always drawn to nature and the environment, and this perhaps stems from growing up in a country as naturally beautiful as The Bahamas. It was during high school in New Mexico, however, that I was first formally introduced to the concept of "environmental justice".It's been foundational to everything I've done since then. I love engaging in conversations and processes that promote a sustainable future, especially as it relates to marginalized communities and climate-vulnerable populations. I love learning about new technologies and frameworks (like solidarity economies) and working towards how we can get there.


I identified and accepted that I had a talent for communication and advocacy, which I could use to promote environmental justice. Truthfully, sitting and being able to name my "talents" took more processing time than expected. They didn't come in the form of hard skills—or what I call "talent show skills"—but others that, through reflection and inquiry with loved ones, I was able to identify. I love to talk, I "have a way with words", and I value the skill of being able to communicate difficult information in simpler ways.


I'll be finishing this program next year, so thinking about a profession is timely. It's also very confusing, however. I've been underpaid, unfulfilled and exploited in roles prior to graduate school, and so I'm currently navigating what approaching this process means, especially now that I'll have this advanced degree. Ultimately, I think my profession lies in serving as an environmental justice advocate and leader, using my skills in research, policy analysis, communication, and community engagement to drive positive change and promote equity. I always gravitated towards titles like "Environmental Justice Consultant" or "Energy Justice Project Manager". The landscapes are ever-changing, however, so it's likely that the role I truly want to occupy may not have a clean-cut title like this. I'm currently drafting my thesis proposal, so as I think about the clean energy landscape back home in The Bahamas, I don't know where my path will take me.


For me, it was clear that environmental degradation and social inequality were two of the biggest challenges facing us today. Every day, climate change and rampant injustice are destroying the planet and the beautiful communities of people. The Caribbean, my region and my home, is one of the most climate-vulnerable regions of the world. I believe my vocation is to use my graduate education and professional experiences to pursue a career in some realm of climate change policy and planning. What I love about this field is that it allows for such flexibility in how I can show up in this work, no matter the type of organization I choose to work in.

✶ Environmental Justice Stewardship

In everything I do, formally or informally, I want to create a more just and sustainable world by promoting that which prioritizes both social and environmental well-being. Whether it is a job or hosting dinner parties with my friends, this remains true. Therefore, I believe my ikigai is environmental justice stewardship. In naming this, I feel beyond content because it resonates.

In the illustration of my ikigai above, there are call out annotations that aim to describe what happens when we exist at the "sub-intersections" of our passion, mission, profession and vocation. These claim that by existing in these margins—and not fully at that sweet spot in the middle—we risk having no wealth, feeling useless, uncertain or empty. With environmental justice stewardship, I know I can achieve work-life integration, and because of that, I feel a suspicious sense of comfort in believing these won't be a problem.

Personally, I can't feel useless or empty when working for environmental justice, and my uncertainty may only lie in certain details around where exactly I work (i.e. nonprofit vs. private sector; remote or in-person; US, The Bahamas, both or somewhere entirely different; entrepreneurship, etc.). Then, while wealth may be questionable, I strongly believe that our current conceptualization of wealth can and should be reimagined either way. For example, with environmental justice stewardship, community/collective wealth is abundant and everyone benefits!, either, I've approached this concept entirely wrong or I'm exactly where I need to be—and if I were a betting gal, I'd go for the latter.

Ultimately, I believe ikigai is more than just some“follow your passion” truism that some may conceive it as. Finding one's ikigai is associated with positive relationships and good health, and it provides more energy and clarity than it takes away. It is a fully autonomous and personal choice that is both challenging and rewarding. It requires (continued) introspection, refinement and commitment, and it's a process I'm grateful to engage with.

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Oct 18, 2023

Great idea to annotate and share the Ikigai diagram. I've always loved this diagram, and you've inspired me to work on sharing mine! You have wonderful reflections as well. :)

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