Discovering my Ikigai

The bank I was working for gave me the opportunity to relocate to Sydney, Australia for 3 years. Professionally it was a big leap, taking on new responsibilities. Personally it was an exciting adventure in a fantastic country that I’ve always wanted to visit.

I’d emptied my place in Paris, sent my boxes to the removal company and was about to arrange my farewell party, when, 3 days before the trip, my boss called and informed me that due to the uncertainty of the financial crisis the new position had to be canceled.

At that moment I knew that I couldn’t stay in that company any longer.

I was a classic product of French “high achiever” mentality. I’d achieved it all. I was a good student and got accepted into one of the best business schools in France. I’d achieved the goal of the French educational system.

I didn’t think it through much, I was attracted to finances and followed that “perfect” path to start my career as an investment banker. I worked in amazing places, traveled a lot, had good career opportunities, a good salary, interesting projects, and I was really good at it. For many I’d achieved a dream life. I couldn’t complain.

But during my first days at the bank, I had the sensation that I was missing something.

I wasn’t sure what that feeling was, but I remember having little motivation to go to the office and then counting the hours until I could go home. I knew that I wasn’t passionate about my job and I’d read everywhere “find your passion” in order to have a happy life. But, what was it?

After my opportunity in Sydney was cancelled, I quit. I left the bank without knowing what to do next; I felt betrayed, like a mere number. I took vacations for a few months, I unplugged.

In less than 2 years, I went from being a banker in Europe to a social entrepreneur in Mexico. Now I’ve been living in Mexico for 8 years. I had a “successful” professional life, why did I choose something completely different and risky?

Ikigai: finding a meaning

The Japanese would say I’ve found my ikigai, which can be translated to the reason for living or life purpose. In the book Ikigai, Héctor García and Francesc Miralles explain that for inhabitants of Okinawa, Japan, Ikigiai is “the reason we get up every morning”. They are famous for being part of the so-called “Blue Zones”; places in the world where people have a high longevity. 

They affirm that the key for a long lifespan is to never stop working or being active. They’re always busy with an activity that gives them a purpose.

The following diagram displays the 4 components needed to find your Ikigai:

When I was a banker, I was between the Profession and Passion zones. But I felt I wasn’t doing something the world needed. I felt satisfied but had a big feeling of being useless.

During my vacations, I read a book by the Dalai Lama that helped me acknowledge how I could be more useful to the world: serving others – particularly those in need. Who doesn’t want to eradicate poverty or social injustice? This sounds obvious, right? In the social and cultural world I’m from, it wasn’t.

I discussed these topics with a coach and realized that serving others might be my life purpose. After volunteering on a few projects, I realized that I had a strong attraction to becoming an entrepreneur as well. Myself and three co-founders created Connovo, a social impact company builder that replicates successful global social enterprises in Mexico.

I discovered that being an entrepreneur is really challenging. I had a lot of uncertainties: about how capable I was to do it, the business model, others opinions if I failed.

I imagined the comments: “We told you. This wasn’t for you. Go back to Paris and stop playing the social entrepreneur in México”. Raising funding was an absolute challenge.

We were first-time entrepreneurs, we used our own savings to find funding. It was an ambitious dream with a lot of anxious moments. However, I really enjoyed developing this project, I believe deeply in what we want to achieve, and I had amazing co-founders. Finally I felt the sensation of fulfilment. I was doing what I considered to be the best for me at that moment.

Finally, being persistent paid dividends and a Dutch foundation granted seed capital to start the company. This gave me the confidence in my entrepreneurial skills and to start living from them. In the beginning we paid ourselves a minimum salary, but after a couple of years we were able to generate enough income to live comfortably. 

In that moment, I’d reached my own Ikigai, doing what I love, living from it, making a positive contribution to the world and doing something (I think) I am good at.

How to find your Ikigai?

Finding your Ikigai requires deep self-exploration and self awareness. It’s a personal task and each of us have our own unique way to find it.

Here’s what worked personally for me:

  1. Look for support: A life coach, therapist or spiritual guide knows practices to help you find your true meaning. After quitting and taking a vacation, I looked for an expert in professional transition. Although I felt like I needed a professional path with a positive global impact, I didn’t have an idea what to do, where to start and I was afraid. I found a coach with a personal and professional path similar to mine; we clicked, and this generated trust and collaboration.

He helped me to design a professional path which aligned with my interests, principles and values. He also helped me make difficult decisions that meant leaving everything behind and starting over again.

  1. Live new experiences and take risks: As Joseph Campbell said:

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

After planning my life path with my coach. I started to follow it; I helped develop an investors network in Europe, analyzed farming projects in Tanzania as a volunteer, and helped to start a support programme for social entrepreneurs in México. My objective was to validate the idea that I liked this sector, I knew that these experiences matched activities from my Ikigai.

I understood that I really liked social entrepreneurism and high impact investments, I also understood that I wanted to be an entrepreneur despite not having any experience. I was afraid of failure, but I was more scared of having to go back to France without even trying.

Living new experiences can open other perspectives.

  1. Surround yourself with people who believe in you: In my opinion, the most important thing is to have a support network that believes in you and your new life projects. Because when we face change, there are moments of fight, uncertainty and existential crisis. My girlfriend and future wife was key to helping me out in those times of uncertainty by always believing in me. I also had amazing co-founders, we built our dream together and helped each other in difficult times.

Finding your Ikigai is to walk with yourself, feeling your intuition, exploring and living new experiences, leaning on people who believe in you, and sometimes leaving the life you’ve already built.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us..” 

Joseph Campbell

Nicolas Demeilliers

Nicolas Demeilliers

Coach of Entrepreneurial Leaders

Nicolas is a coach of entrepreneurial leaders and a social entrepreneur. He is a co-founder at Connovo  the first impact venture builder in Latin America, which built three high impact companies impacting over 19,000 low-income and vulnerable people in Latin America. Nicolas fell in love with Mexico and a Mexicana and is now the happy father of two girls. He also loves capoeira, sailing and playing flamenco guitar.