Oh yes. There have been many times in my life when I’ve returned to one scary realization, “I don’t know what to do with my life.” Have you felt it? Can you relate?
For many of us, it probably starts in high school sometime. You’re like 18, and you have to make this major decision about where to point your life.
And your friend Suzy is like, “I want to work for UNICEF. I’ve ALWAYS known. It’s my destiny.”
And you’re like, “Hold on. What the heck should I do?”
Don’t worry. The feeling of being lost is a pretty common one for us homo sapiens. So you’re in good company. And contrary to Susie and her 20-year-plan, you don’t have to have it figure out right now.
So if you don’t know what to do with your life, this post will help. Before you drop a crap ton of money for college for a degree that you’re not even sure is worth it. Before you quit your job or do something reckless.
Try this framework to figure it out!
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Ask yourself these questions
1. What kind of life do you want?
I don’t know why we start with thinking about getting jobs and careers.
Maybe it’s because we live in a world where people don’t know who they are if it’s not for their job. At least, that was my parents’ world.
In my world, all my best career plans have fallen apart like 10 times.
So, in my experience, it’s stupid to start by asking what kind of job you want. Instead, ask yourself what type of life you want.
What type of life do you want?
- Do you want to be busy and in demand?
- Do you want to have access to powerful people?
- Do you want to run for office? Do you want to travel the world?
- Do you want a simple life in your hometown?
There’s no right answer here. Everybody wants different things.
Try to be as honest as you can about what you want. When I was 18, I wanted to travel with my band. We went on little tours, and I was crammed into a van with like eight other sweaty boys.
The band is long gone, but I’ve never stopped loving travel. That spirit of adventure is something I want in my life.
So sit down with a pen and paper and make a list of the things you want in your life.
2. Who are you really?
I’ve tried for a long time to be somebody I’m not. I got a PhD and tried to do very serious government work, working on very serious projects, around very serious people. People who wear suits and pantsuits, people who quoted statistics and research.
And I f****** hated it.
It took me years to realize who I actually am. I’m a creative. All I ever really want to do is create things, whether it’s this blog, music, photography, or God knows what else.
When you’re young, it’s easy to let other people tell you who you are.
And if you don’t know what to do with your life, it’s really easy to let other people tell you. Your parents might have some ideas. Your friends and teachers might have some ideas.
The really mind-blowing thing is that all those people care about you, but none of them necessarily know what’s right for you. It’s time to start listening to your own compass.
Again, if you are a journaling person, you could sit and write an answer to these questions:
Who are you really?
-what do I care about?
-what do I want my life to accomplish?
-what types of people do I want to spend my time around?
-what types of things do I do for fun?
Doing this type of work will give you more clues to who you actually are than trying to find the right job.
3. What do you spend your time doing?
We started touched on this above, but what do you spend your time doing? There are clues in that.
For some people, the thing you spend your time doing might become your career. If you really love drawing, you might go become a graphic designer. If you really love coding, you might become a developer.
But you probably knew that already.
Contrary to a world that thinks that everybody needs to find their passion, I don’t believe that everybody needs to do their passion for a living.
So if you want to turn your passion into your living, that’s cool.
But if not, what do the things you do tell you about the kind of work you should be doing?
For example, say you like playing video games. You might be sitting in your living room in your underwear munching Cheetos with your headset on, but you are doing something. You are planning strategy, working with a team, communicating, and probably trying to win. Guess what? That’s what a lot of people do in business! Maybe that’s a clue.
Or maybe you are the person who is building something in your basement. Maybe it’s a Lego castle or a model railroad. Full disclosure, I was this dork when I was a kid.
Maybe for you, there needs to be project management and constructing something in your future.
You don’t need to overthink this, but the things you do have clues for your future.
4. How can you make someone else’s life better?
Part of being a human is helping others. Some of us are more wired to think like this than others.
But if you are looking for something to do with your life ask yourself: how can I make someone’s life better?
Maybe you want to create a product or invention. Maybe you want to work for the government and fix your city – Leslie Knope style.
I started this blog because I was frustrated by the career advice I saw for students. I wanted to make it better.
We get so much joy from helping other people as humans. What could you do to help?
5. What are you good at?
So, there might be a connection here between the thing you’re good at and the thing you like to do. But not necessarily.
I’ve been enough people in careers to know that there are lots of people doing something they are good at but don’t enjoy that much.
And there are some people who ignored what they are good at to do something they are more passionate about.
I’m not saying either one is right. Generally, the things that you are good at will earn you more money. But there’s not a perfect divide.
6. What opportunities do you have?
What opportunities do you have? All of us have an unlimited potential.
Doing this kind of stuff will open up opportunities and create a future you can’t imagine right now.
But there are other ways to create opportunities too. Heck, walk around with a lawn mower and offer to mow people’s lawns for money. You will create opportunities for yourself.
So do you take stock of what opportunities you have. But also put yourself in a situation where you can have more.
7. What kind of money do you want to make?
Last but not least, what kind of money do you want to make? Does it seem like a stupid question?
Trust me, it’s not. I’m in my late 30s, and it took me a long time to wake up and realize that I like having money. But I also spent years chasing degrees and jobs that I thought were my “passion” but left me unhappy and penniless.
If you dream of a life where you have a million-dollar house in sports cars, you are going to have to make some decisions to make that happen. If you just want a tiny home on 10 acres of land, you might make different decisions. So if you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life, this should be part of your thinking.
But full disclosure, this probably changes as you get older.
4 Truths about choosing what to do with your life
- There are no right answers. I mean, if you want to believe in God or the universe or whatever, that’s cool. But from where I’m sitting, there are no right answers. That means that you’ve got time to explore.
- You’ll be forgotten. I don’t know why, but when I realized that every single human being on the face of the planet will be forgotten, it was liberating. Given enough time, we will all be forgotten. So don’t spend your time chasing things to make other people happy.
- Privilege: if you have the chance to make something of your life. If you have agency and can create the type of opportunities you dream about, you have more privilege than most humans who have lived on this planet. Be thankful.
- Nobody’s thinking about you. If you have anxiety, and you’re scared to make a decision for your life based on what others will think, guess what? Nobody is thinking about you. They’re all thinking about themselves.
What are your next steps?
If you’re at the stage where you don’t know what to do with your life, here are some concrete steps you can take to help you figure it out.
1. Try some stuff
I think the number one thing you can do is to try some stuff. If you’ve done the work above, answer the questions, hopefully, you’ve been able to narrow down a little bit to the sort of things you would actually like to try.
Before you go and enroll in college to do a certain career, why not shadow somebody for a week and see if it’s what you like to do? Before moving into a certain industry, can you get a part-time job there to get a feel for what it’s like?
You could read all the blogs in the world, but there’s nothing compared to your own experience.
2. Informational interviews
One of the best ways to get a feel for the world is through informational interviews. I first heard about this concept, and it was called “50 cups of coffee.”
The premise was simple. If you’re doing career changes, and you don’t know where you’re going next, go have 50 cups of coffee with strangers. By the time you are done that, you will be in a much better position to make your career decision. Heck, when I did this I had job offers before I was done.
I know it’s scary, but reach out to people who are doing interesting things. Ask for 20 minutes of their time. And then ask them informational interview questions to figure out what they do, what it’s like, and whether it’s the right choice for you.
This is my answer to a lot of stuff. If you can come and take some time and travel. Go see the world.
It’s been one of the biggest privileges of my life to spend time in different countries, learning different languages. Each one of those journeys gave me perspective, helped me appreciate what I have.
Here’s a random example. I was always super passive, a pushover, and friendly to a fault. Then I went to live in Greece. In Greek culture, you have to push back to get anything done. It’s expected that you will push back when somebody says or does something, and nobody thinks less of you for it.
I came back more assertive. And that has made me more successful in business.
Anytime you travel, you learn about yourself in the world. So if you are in the position to, give it a shot!
4. Be patient
Remember what I said at the beginning? Nobody has this all figured out. And I mean nobody. I mean 50-year-olds and regular basis who don’t know what the hell they want to do with their life, or feel like they’ve wasted it.
In fact, this is probably just part of being human.
So be patient. You don’t need to have all the answers right now. You just need to take the next step.
5. Join a community
Someone I knew became a mom for the first time. And she told me about how liberating it was when she joined a community of other moms.
They would sit around and talk about how hard it was for them.
And she would say, “holy crap! They’re just like me!.”
Joining some kind of a community where you can be around people at the same stage of life as you, and at different stages, works wonders for this. Even if you don’t have it figured out, you realize that you’re not alone and that other people have gone through it before you.
Religious communities were perfect for this in the past. But if that’s not an option, think about what you can find locally. Clubs. Drop-in nights at the library. Ymca. Crossfit. Find a place where you can meet other people. It makes a difference
If you were one of those people saying, “I don’t know what to do with my life,” I hope this article was helpful. No matter what age you are, you can always start something new or open a new chapter.
Now Read: 12 High Income Skills to Teach Yourself