Ikigai: Finding Your Purpose While Working Remotely

Are you doing what you’re truly meant to do? How can you know for sure? One way to get started is to look abroad. Like the Danish concept of hygge and the Swedish notion of lagom, the Japanese term ikigai encapsulates a massive existential idea into a single, oddly-spelled word. Your ikigai is your motivation, your aspiration, your production, and your passion all in one. It is the reason you get out of bed in the morning and the reason you keep going year after year.

To find your ikigai, you have to shift between looking abroad and looking within. Consider these four fundamental questions: What do I love? What am I good at? What can I get paid for? What does the world need?

The intersections of those answers will point towards your ikigai. And what you find there could be frightening. It might necessitate relinquishment of long-held assumptions regarding how you feel you are supposed to live to unlock how you, as a specific individual, are best suited to live. It might mean letting go of your desk and going out into the world.

That change is not as scary as it once was, and you do not have to do it alone. More and more people are leaving their cubicles and deciding on a customized and portable work environment of their own. While a remote job might not be the perfect alignment of your ikigai, it could get you closer. Studies show that remote workers are happier, more productive, and feel more valued than they did in their old roles. What’s more, online education options mean that you can get started on training for that new path right now, from home.

Finding one’s purpose is an evolving, lifelong task of self-evaluation and reevaluation. There are many layovers on the journey to your ikigai destination, but by breaking free of the temporal and geographic limitations of a nine-to-five office job, you can make more time to explore both abroad and within, and realize your passions, your talents, and ideals. There is more meaningful work available in a remote setting than ever before.

Read on to learn about some remote work opportunities that could get you closer to finding and living your purpose.

Five Meaningful Remote Jobs

Software Developer

Software development is a natural fit for those who wish to work remotely. The growing need for skilled developers is so ubiquitous across both public and private sectors that no area of interest is off limits.

The creative and personal sides of software development are often understated as a whole, but quite prevalent in practice—with clever bits of coding and considerate design, developers create sleek and useful applications that can appear like helpful magic to the end consumer. Whether those applications are games, tools, or enterprise-level infrastructure, a developer plays a crucial role in making people’s lives just a little bit easier.

While many software developers have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science or a related field, a notable portion of working developers are self-taught, motivated individuals who sidestep rigorous institutional training.

Online Instructor

Roughly six million students enrolled in online postsecondary courses in 2015, and as that number continues to grow, so does the expected number of jobs for postsecondary teachers. While pay can vary widely depending on the institution, subject, and grade level, an online instructor can take comfort in the intangible benefits of their profession—and perhaps realize their own ikigai through helping students find theirs.

An online instructor will typically be responsible for designing curricula, recording lectures, and distributing and collecting assignments. The soft skills of an instructor can be just as important—mentoring and coaching students through an individualized approach that centers on the learner first, and the material second. Postsecondary teachers at traditional institutions often need a doctorate, but online programs (especially those offered through community colleges) may only require a master’s degree.

Grant Writer

Grant writers are the heroic gunslingers of the freelancing world. They swivel their pens out of metaphorical holsters and fire off proposals for funding of scientific research, fine art education, and aid for the needy—fighting for projects with longstanding impact. In addition to persuasive writing ability (and a little panache), grant writers need a solid technical understanding of the project they are proposing.

Considering many grant writers are self-employed, moving from project to project, they’ll need to be able to research, listen, and adapt. Most grant writers have at least a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, or communication, while other, more technical grant writers will either have an MBA or an advanced degree in their area of specialty. But in the end, all that matters is the quality of the words on the page, as far as the grant writer’s qualifications are concerned.


That cliché image of the nurse in a white dress may soon be as antiquated as the idea of all nurses being female—the new image might be one of a smiling nurse in business casual clothing, smiling from the other side of a digital screen. Remote nursing over the internet is growing in popularity and may lead to more time-critical responses and improved patient outcomes.

As the field is just beginning to emerge, a telenurse’s responsibilities are often limited to counseling patients, making referrals, promoting healthy lifestyles, designing plans for disease prevention, and performing research. In time, advancements in telenursing delivery may activate specializations in nursing once thought to necessitate brick-and-mortar contexts. The education requirements for nursing remain rigorous—two to four years of schooling, state licensure, and continuing professional development, at a minimum—with advanced practice nurses needing a master’s or doctor of nursing degree.


Everyone wants to be understood. Despite what some tech applications might have you believe, machines are a long way from perfecting language. It is not a surprise then that, in an increasingly connected world, translators are in growing demand.

Simply put, their responsibility is to translate from one language to another, either in text or voice, but the context in which that translation takes place can be almost anything. From Netflix and TV subtitles to intergovernmental contracts and copywriting departments at global companies, translators are there to make sure the message is not only translated, but understood.

While some translators may have bachelor’s degrees, or higher, in either their area of specialty or another communications-related field, many translators are natively bilingual individuals with a knack for the puzzling intricacies of language.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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