Finding Your <i>Ilkigai</i> (Reason for Being)

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe we’re nearing the end of December already. Each year seems to be going by faster and faster, and so much is changing in our industry, in health care at large, and across our country and the entire world. And that’s enough reason for me to carve out some much-needed time for reflection as yet another year comes to a close. When I look back on 2017, I see a year that’s been about embracing change, making transitions with grace, and trusting that things are as they should be—that the decisions I’ve made are the right ones. And that stands on both a personal and professional level. For me, the key to this feeling of peace is knowing who I am, what I want out life, and what my purpose is—and not compromising on the principles that are true to me.

Identifying My Roots

I’m half Japanese; my mom and her seven siblings were born in Hawaii to Japanese immigrants. Although I am much more like my dad (who’s Austrian) in demeanor, attitude, and outlook, I have always felt a strong affinity for—and connection to—Japanese culture. While we were only able to visit my mom’s side of the family in Hawaii—the large Tanaka ohana (ohana means family in Hawaiian, and it includes immediate family members as well as extended family, in-laws, friends, and neighbors)—a few times while I was growing up, I always enjoyed the time I spent with them. I learned early on that Japanese culture is based on a foundation of deep respect and a constant pursuit of excellence—all while finding enjoyment in one’s self. I was raised with these principles, and to this day, they remain core to who I am. In fact, these tenets are part of what drives me forward; I believe adhering to them has set me on my life and leadership path.

Ikigai: Reason for Being

So, anytime I have an opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture, I jump at it, which is why I was thoroughly excited to find—and now, share—this infographic about Ikigai (pronounced “icky guy”). Moving right on past all the terrible jokes and puns about the English pronunciation of this important word, Ikigai is a way of living—and it’s touted as part of the reason why Japan is home to the oldest population on the planet. Thought to be a combination of the Japanese words ikiru—meaning, “to live”—and kai, meaning, “the realization of what one hopes for,” Ikigai means “a reason for being,” or the idea of having a purpose in life.

Thinking Bigger

Right now, we’re coming up on the end of one year and the beginning of another, which makes this a perfect time to reflect on our own Ikigai—our purpose in life, our reason for getting up every morning. While I would imagine that most of you reading this may have found your purpose in helping others, I would nudge you explore even bigger ways that you can achieve that purpose—to think bigger than you’ve ever thought before. When we first started WebPT, I never believed we’d be the company we are today—that we’d have such a positive impact on so many people and that we’d disrupt an entire industry for the better. But, I knew I wanted to make a big difference in the world. And that kept me going—kept me motivated—as I served my patients and then, years later, my peers and all of their patients across the world.

The Four Questions

With all of that in mind, I would encourage you to carve out some time this month for reflection. Each one of you will arrive at your own unique spin on your purpose; you’ll define your own meaning for your life. To help you get there, though, here are four questions to ask yourself:

  1. What do you love?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What does the world need from you?
  4. What can you get paid for?

The overlap of these questions—as you can see in the Venn diagram infographic I linked to above—is your Ikigai. It’s your reason for being—the perfect combination of passion, mission, vocation, and profession. Now, some of you may already be living your Ikigai—and that’s great. Others may still need to do some exploration to find the perfect overlap. Either way, there’s still work to be done (more on that in a moment).

Staying in Alignment

It’s taken me decades to accomplish, but I can honestly say that I have found my Ikigai in my company, WebPT, and I credit our success to our resounding commitment and focus on our overarching mission to empower therapists to achieve greatness in practice. Now, that doesn’t mean I can sit back and rest on my laurels—nor should you if you’ve already found your own Ikigai. No, staying in alignment with one’s Ikigai requires a continuous process of self-evaluation and refinement. But, it comes with so much joy and gratitude.

Thank You

So, on that note, I want to give a ginormous thank you to all of you who have trusted WebPT to help run your practices and serve your patients. I would have never been able to live my Ikigai without you. It’s an honor serving you—and working alongside you to promote the exceptional value of the physical therapy industry. I see lots of good stuff for us on the horizon, and I can’t think of a more deserving group of wonderful individuals to receive it. Again, thank you for all that you do for your patients and the profession.


As you enjoy time with your family this holiday season, I hope you will reflect on your Ikigai—and share it with your loved ones. Then, come back and share it with your colleagues, your community, and me (in the comment section below), because together, we can help each other achieve them. Let’s make sure 2018 brings us all one step closer to aligning with our own reasons for being.



About the Author

Heidi Jannenga PT, DPT, ATC/L is the president and co-founder of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for the physical therapy profession on a national scale. She co-founded WebPT after recognizing the need for a more sophisticated industry-specific EMR platform and has since guided the company through exponential growth, while garnering national recognition. Heidi brings with her more than 15 years of experience as a physical therapist and multi-clinic site director as well as a passion for healthcare innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

An active member of the sports and private practice sections of the APTA, Heidi advocates for independent rehab therapy businesses, speaks as a subject-matter expert at industry conferences and events, and participates in local and national technology, entrepreneurship, and women-in-leadership seminars. In 2014, Heidi was appointed to the PT-PAC Board of Trustees. She also serves as a mentor to physical therapy students and local entrepreneurs and leverages her platform to promote the importance of diversity, company culture, and overall business acumen for private practice rehab therapy professionals.

Heidi was a collegiate basketball player at the University of California, Davis, and remains a lifelong fan of the Aggies. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and exercise physiology, went on to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy at the Institute of Physical Therapy in St. Augustine, Florida, and obtained her doctorate of physical therapy through Evidence in Motion. When she’s not enjoying time with her daughter Ava, Heidi is perfecting her Spanish, practicing yoga, or hiking one of her favorite Phoenix trails.

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