“What Should I Do With My Life?”

Wrong question…

I’ve received this question in various different forms over the past week. For some reason people think I know what they should do. To be honest, I’m just as clueless about you as you are.

This is also completely the wrong question to ask. You should really be asking: “Why do I exist?”

This is a much deeper and harder existential question to answer but there’s a few general lines of questioning that can help you figure out a path to the answer.

Your Values:

Figure out what you hate about other people. This is what really grinds your gears. What really gets under your skin. Things you try to never do. People you try to avoid.

Figure out what you love about other people. This is what you love about your best relationships, your friends, your family, your heroes. This is the person you aspire to be.

Your values lie somewhere in between those two do’s and don’ts. Find opportunities that reinforce your values and say no to the people and opportunities that run contrary to your values.

Your Desire:

What would you do if survival wasn’t an object? If you had all the money and time you could ever need with no responsibilities? What would you do? What would you create?

Think back deep into your childhood when your youthful naivete filled you with the lightness of an unfounded feeling of self-importance that outweighed the crushing self-doubt that serves as the hallmark of adulthood.

Taking a cue from Warren Buffett, make a list of 25 things you want to do. Now cross off all but 5. Don’t ever look at the other 20 ever again.

Those top 5 bring you joy. They are what you would do every day if you could. So go out and do them.

Your Problem:

What problems do you face every day? What do you see that bothers you immensely? How might you fix it for yourself?

Solve a problem. Be a solution not a job description. Do something that matters to you. Not to anyone else. Not for anyone else.

Make it personal. Your passion lies in the intersection of the problems you see and the values you hold.

Your Habits:

Discover your habits, both good and bad, and replace them with better ones.

List out all the things you do daily or routinely. How many of them help you? How many hurt you?

You cannot stop a habit cold turkey without tons of mental anguish. The human mind doesn’t work that way. The best thing you can do is to replace a bad habit with a good one.

Work backwards from the result you want. Break it down into simple steps and create a new daily habit. I call this the push and the pull.

The push is a small daily action that compounds over time. It’s a simple discrete activity that works steadily in the direction of your aims. A deliberate practice that you work to improve. What is something you can do immediately? Go do that.

The pull is a longer-term goal. Think a monthly objective. It is something that you setup your deliberate practice to achieve. This goal has to be discrete and obtainable within a given time frame. It serves as a specific objective to accomplish. Run a marathon. Launch a product. Lose 10 pounds. Tie it to a certain “do-or-die” date and work backwards.

Next, pick a horizon. This is a bit more nebulous. Build a company that employs 5 people full-time. Own your own house. Become a pilot.

I call these objectives your “horizon” because they serve to orient you. You have something in the distance to shoot for.

A good rule-of-thumb is that your horizon normally takes two years to reach. For businesses, it takes that time to find out whether or not a venture is worthwhile and it normally takes seven years to become a success. Take the time to venture forth towards your horizon.

Your Skills:

Figure out what you can be the best at.

For example it’d be incredibly difficult to be the best in the world at violin or unicycle. However, I can be the best in the world at violin unicycling. The more creative you get with combining multiple seemingly unrelated fields, the more likely you will become the expert at the intersection.

Those five things you wrote down? Work at the intersection of all of them. Reach out to the leaders in those fields and tell them what you’re up to. If you ask for their help (politely) the worst thing they can do is say no.

Finally:

Go do. Test it out. Life is a series of ridiculous experiments. You either do something or you don’t. At the very end you only have what you remember so create some really crazy stories.

A few simple tests will tell you far more than locking the thoughts up in your head. Put all of this down on paper, share it and start testing things out. You’ll be surprised at how quickly things start changing.


So to summarize: why do you exist? What is your purpose? Take a look at your values, desires, problems, habits, skills. Let me know. I’m always interested in meeting passionate people. Good luck.