Ikigai is having a moment: But WTF is it and why do we need it?

It’s the Japanese concept to help you find your purpose in life, but that sounds like hard work – so we got course creator Laura Bentley to demystify it a bit…

Ikigai: the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning.

Not to be confused with icky guy: another thing that might get you out of bed in the morning.

Yep, we already used that joke on Instagram but it’s too good not to recycle.

So, what we know: Ikigai’s been around for years, but has had a bit of a resurgence recently, and it’s something to do with finding your purpose. And until we sat down with our course creator Laura Bentley the other night for an IG Live, that was about the extent of our knowledge.

Laura – aka That Balanced Life Coach – herself got into it during her own pandemic career pivot last year. She’s now a successful life coach, whose Ikigai – a Japanese concept that can help you figure out where you’re going in life and what it all means (no biggie, eh?) – is basically helping other people find their Ikigai.

“It’s a tool you can use to help you make decisions,” she explains. “It helps you to understand what’s most important to you, and from understanding that you can ditch all the things that get in the way of making choices – because you’re making them from a place where you know yourself a lot better. It gets through the drudgery in your head.”

The key to Ikigai is finding the intersection between what you love (in our case, karaoke, bright colours, chocolate, endorphins, rom-coms), what your strengths are (puns, spelling, buying too many dresses, overreacting and quickly getting over it), what you can get paid to do (puns and spelling has sort of been it so far) and what the world needs from you (er… Discoco?). In the middle somewhere lies IKIGAI. Yup, more thought needed to pin ours down, so it’s lucky we’ve found Laura.

In her case, though, she’s figured out that she’s all about helping women – often mums who’ve reached a bit of a “HOW THE BLOODY EFF DO I DO ALL THIS” crossroads – to find the confidence and self-belief to make big decisions, from career changes to house moves.

“My Ikigai is about unlocking that potential in other people to see potential in themselves,” she says. “The thing with coaching is you’re only working with people for a short time but the effect it has afterwards is that they then have the tools and the mindset to take that forward into their own lives. That’s what I love to do.”

We weren’t surprised when Laura said that listing strengths was often the part her clients struggle with, especially when we’re conditioned to feel guilty about having confidence in our own greatness. “They cringe when they speak about their strengths, because of that inherent belief that if you’re confident and you shout about what you’re good at you’ll come across as arrogant and cocky – all those things women get labelled at when they try to be assertive,” says Laura. “Most of the time people DO actually know what they’re good at – but the hard part is accepting compliments about it. By writing it down, you can go back to it when you’re feeling cloudy and overwhelmed, it helps you reconnect with what’s most important and stops you from spiralling.”

It’s unsurprising that Ikigai is having a bit of a moment right now when you consider how much time we’ve spent in our own heads (and homes) over the past 18 months. “The pandemic has definitely boosted it,” says Laura. “Whether people have had a sudden change in circumstances, or just time to take stock and make changes, a lot of people have had to compromise and are now figuring out how they can fill in the gaps.”

What we like about Ikigai is the practical element. There are a lot of wishy-washy self-development things out there (you could say that demystifying them is Discoco’s Ikigai) that might make you more aware of who you are and all that jazz, but don’t actually lead to any kind of practical solution. The “what the world needs/what you can get paid to do” side of Ikigai makes it a genuinely useful and applicable tool – which is why both corporate monsters and individuals have cottoned onto its magic as a development technique. “Ikigai shouldn’t be the whole goal,” explains Laura. “That’s like chasing a rainbow. It’s more about raising awareness of the different bits of the wheel so you can figure out what you’re not fulfilling – whether it’s an opportunity to earn more money, or the realisation that the organisation you work for doesn’t align with your values. It’s about noticing when something is a bit off and adjusting it accordingly.”

So, fancy a bit of Ikigai in your life? Here are a few great resources to get you started:

Laura’s Ikigai workbook (we’ve had a sneak peek and it is fabulous – asks far more interesting questions than your school careers advisor ever did) is available here – and if you sign up to the Discoco newsletter this week (scroll down and the sign-up box will eventually poke you in the eye) you’ll get a code for £5 off.

You could also read bestselling book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. 

Plus Laura’s Ikigai-based course Living With Purpose & Passion kicks off in September – find out more on her course page here,

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