When I Taught My Students About Ikigai, Here’s What Happened

In this article I shared how I came to devise an employment programme for my final year students that had ikigai at its heart.

Here, I want to explain some details of the programme and some of the results I gained.

What was the programme?

The programme was run over 11 weeks with my final year Fashion Marketing students, with seven in-person sessions and four self-directed sessions over the Easter break.

I sent a weekly email newsletter to the students for 10 weeks, which had a session recap and homework as downloadable PDFs. I included creative activities, video and images (no-one likes a boring email).

Because these were my marketing students, I used marketing concepts to help them approach ikigai. In marketing you have your objective (the goal), strategy (overall way of getting there) and your tactics (ways of implementing the strategy). So:

  • Ikigai was the ‘core objective
  • Strategies were for achieving ikigai
  • Tactics were for implementing the strategies

Many careers programmes focus purely on tactics (such as writing a CV) without considering the ‘core objective’ – the ultimate purpose of the activity. Keeping the objective in mind meant the strategies and tactics we discussed were meaningful and relevant for the students – they were writing their CV for a purpose they believed in.

The sessions I facilitated were a combination of explanation, discussion, and independent and group activities, and were very relaxed. We covered everything from ikigai to salary to skills and vision boards. I also got to dream up ikigai-achievement strategies with the students, in a mentor/coach capacity.

My favourite aspect of the sessions was the way the group bonded with each other; they went from 15 or so strangers to 15 friends who understood and cared about each other’s passions.

That, for me, was worth all the work.

The results

I managed to wrangle feedback from the students before they left to get into the big, wide world, and the results made me do a happy dance.

They’d approached the course expecting it to be tactical – as one said, “more about cvs and cover letters”. Ikigai was a brand new concept, and they found applying it to a range of ‘normal’ employment ideas was quite challenging.

This was some of their feedback on that:

“It let me know that it is important to know myself in order to know what I can do and should do.”

“…it was more about actual purpose which I really liked”

“[Elly’s] approach to careers was on a larger, more thought provoking scale. The programme’s focus on Ikigai made us look at our whole lives rather than just a job.”

Although my sample size was small, I was really pleased to see that they’d started looking at their work differently; rather than succumbing to external pressures, they’d started to turn inwards to make decisions. Importantly, one of them said they no longer expected there to be “one exact right way” to continue their career.

For a generation plagued by social media comparisons and FOMO, this was massive.

But my favourite bit had to be when I asked them what one thing they would take from the course into the future. Here’s what some of them said.

“…knowing that we’re all in the same boat and it’s okay to not know exactly what you’re doing”

“That there is no one path to achieve your goal”

“To look for personal fulfilment in a job.


I just want to share that last one again.


One student would remember and hold with them: “to look for personal fulfilment in a job“.

That’s what they learnt from the course. That means before, it wasn’t seen as important.

Perhaps what we’ve been telling our young people – actually, all our people – has been wrong. We’ve focused too much, accidentally, on external pressures for work, rather than what fulfils us.

That, to me, is the essence of a creative career; moving towards what fulfils you. Living your ikigai.

So, did they find it?

Did my students find their ikigai?

I didn’t ask them.

Why didn’t I ask them?

Because it’s a hell of a lot of pressure to ask a graduating student “Did you discover the reason why you get up in the morning?” while they launch themselves into adulthood.

Do I think they did find it?

It’s hard to answer.

I believe it’s only by attempting, failing, getting burnt and getting back up that we find out who we truly are, and what we truly want to achieve in our lives.

I spent 27 years not knowing why I was here, and doing lots of things for lots of reasons that didn’t make me happy. And I think I was lucky I discovered my ikigai when I did.

My students (now graduates) have a lot of attempting, failing, getting burnt and getting back up to do yet. That’s the way life is.

But they have an advantage; they know there is something out there that will fulfil them. Their ikigai is out there.

By planting the seed of ikigai in their mind, I have brought them one step closer to finding it.

“Even though I do not yet know what my ikigai is, and was reassured by Elly that this takes time to find, being aware of the concept has adjusted how I think about my future career. Having one purpose that drives forward every decision is a powerful thing.

For me, I was always concerned with having that one particular calling; a job title that I could aim for throughout my education. However, I never knew and do not know at this time what this should be.

Finding an Ikigai makes the prospect of choosing a career less daunting as everything becomes broader; with personal fulfilment as the criteria, a lot of avenues appear to open.

One final note: a big thank you to all the students who took part in this programme; you were brave and it was an honour to help you.

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