Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

Licensed Professional Counselor

Many people enter therapy because of stress related to their jobs and careers, oftentimes due to being unfulfilled and frustrated in their current line of work. Career dissatisfaction is widely experienced and can have adverse consequences that impact other areas of life, including relationships. This is a concept I call spillover – when problems in one part of life carry over into other areas. For example, when troubles at work cause someone to neglect important relationships and positive connections. Spending a huge chunk of time somewhere that you don’t want to be, doing things you don’t want to do can take a toll on your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. 

A good starting point for achieving career satisfaction may be to look at your values and use them to create unique goals. One concept in career exploration that I find helpful is called “Ikigai.” In Japanese, this translates into “a reason for being” or discovering your motivations for getting out of bed in the morning.  There are four elements to Ikigai:

  1.   What you love to do;
  2.   What the world needs;
  3.   What you are good at; and
  4.   What you can get paid for.

If you meet all four criteria you have achieved Ikigai. Let’s go through an example:

What do you love?

This is a simple question that is very hard to answer. When my clients struggle to come up with a response, I encourage them to think about what they liked to do as a kid. Oftentimes, what we enjoyed at a young age carries with us in some form into adult life. 

Ex: I like helping and connecting with people; I enjoy school and learning about psychology – these preferences could translate into being a therapist.

Does the world need it?

This question is about assessing demand for what you would like to do. Based on our example, there is certainly a need for therapists given the prevalence of mental health issues and lack of resources around mental health in general. There are also many areas of specialization – substance abuse counselors, for example, are in high demand due to the opioid epidemic.

Ex: There is a strong world need for those who want to help people (especially good listeners) and know psychology.

Are you good at it?

Assessing whether you are good at something involves identifying evidence of past successes related to the skills for being a therapist. Some questions to ask may include:

Are you good at talking with and listening to people? Connecting with them? Do people look to you for guidance? Can you apply psychology concepts to dynamic situations? 

Ex: My volunteer experiences and internships involved reaching out to people and organizations to form strategic partnerships. I excelled at this role and am confident that I could apply these skills well as a therapist.

Can you get paid for it?

This involves researching potential opportunities for the chosen line of work. Given the demand for therapists, there are many ways to be remunerated.

Ex: I can get paid as a therapist in private practice, hospitals, community health centers, and many other settings. 

These questions often evoke deep thought and reflection. If you take a look at the diagram above, there are categories in addition to Ikigai:  

  •   what you are good at + what you love is your passion; 
  •   what you love + what the world needs is your mission; 
  •   what the world needs + what you can get paid for is your vocation; and 
  •   what you are good at + what you can get paid for is your profession. 

Life is too short to be stuck in a job that makes you unhappy – it is time to find and express your Ikigai.

References

Oppong, Thomas. “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life Might Just Help You Live a More Fulfilling…” Medium, Thrive Global, 10 Jan. 2018, medium.com/thrive-global/ikigai-the-japanese-secret-to-a-long-and-happy-life-might-just-help-you-live-a-more-fulfilling-9871d01992b7.