How to Decide What to Do With Your Life
Existential crises are the soup du jour.
With the rise of personal development and a generation of people who want more meaning from life, topics like passion and purpose permeate our thinking. The question burns in your mind — you want to figure out what to do with your life.
You have tons of options — maybe even too many.
You want to make a decision, but you don’t want to make the wrong one because, if you do, you’ll feel like you’ve wasted a bunch of time.
Paradoxically, continuing to think about what to do with your life without, you know, actually doing anything, wastes time too.
It’s an enigma wrapped in a catch 22 stuck between a rock and a hard place.
No wonder we’re so stressed out all the time.
I’ve been fortunate enough to more or less figure out what I want to do with my life at least for the near future. Here’s everything I know about finding your path.
Be Grateful You Have the Option in the First Place
When you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life, consider the fact that humans didn’t always have a choice about their circumstances.
If you grew up on a farm in the 18th century, you were going to be a farmer. If your father was a blacksmith, you were to apprentice under him and become one yourself.
Even when we fast forward to more recent times, we still didn’t have as many opportunities as we do now. A few generations ago, you were likely working at some sort of industrial plant if you were a man and stayed at home if you were a woman. Moving into the corporatist era, you got one job, worked there for forty years, and got your gold watch with your pension.
Now, things are totally different. People switch careers like clothes.
Naval Ravikant put it best when he said:
The Internet has massively broadened the possible space of careers. Most people haven’t figured this out yet.
Before you dive into trying to figure out what to do with your life, pause and sit back in awe at the sheer opportunity in front of you.
There’s no need for so much angst in the times we live in, yet there seems to be. Why?
I might have an explanation.
Stop Doing This to Yourself
What’s your purpose in life?
What’s your passion?
These questions send cortisol grenades throughout your body when you think about them for too long. It’s good that people are trending towards wanting more meaning in their life, but we put ourselves under way too much pressure to find our one-true-life-defining-cure-all-magical-fairy-tale-purpose-in-life.
On top of that, the idea of “searching” for your passion or purpose seems like progress. It isn’t. The more time you spend thinking and pondering instead of doing, the further away you move from your passion.
People often take this as “don’t think about your future at all,” but it really means stop overthinking things so much.
That’s the double-edged sword of self-help. It’s useful to think about things like passion and purpose to give you the swift kick in the rear you need to develop them. But this thinking quickly turns into “mental masturbation.” You’re more focused on your fantasies than you are of doing the work because…the work is hard.
It’s easy to think about a new path you want to take in your life. It’s hard to put one foot forward, then the second, and repeat it for however long it takes.
You can’t really decide what to do with your life prior to acting. You’re making an educated guess first. The action crystallizes the vision.
The Formula for Figuring Out What to Do With Your Life
“Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now.”
Don’t overthink the process.
The beginning steps to figuring out what to do with your life are simple.
Follow your curiosity and find out what you’re good at.
For a detailed step by step process for finding your strengths, read this guide.
A few highlights:
- What did you enjoy doing when you were 14 years old?
- Take personality tests — they are scientifically useless, but they’re a good guide to start
- Cross-reference your strengths and personality with careers and paths
I found my passion for writing almost five years ago, but I didn’t realize it the first time I wrote a blog post. No. I wrote one post and enjoyed that. Then a second, third, fourth, etc.
I realized around post 100 or so that I really found it. Doing the work, experiencing the up and downs, and still wanting to move forward after the downs helped me realize it was meant to be.
“Your first 100 blog posts will mostly suck.
Your first 100 podcasts will mostly suck too.
Your first 100 talks will not be perfect.
Your first 100 videos will be nightmares.” — Cammi Pham
The recipe here — gauge your interest in something and do it poorly for a while.
Sucking at something doesn’t feel good. Uncertainty doesn’t feel good. Mentally, we want guarantees, certainty, safety, a sense of ease.
We don’t want to give it everything we have a fail because there’s nowhere to go from that point — it’s scary as hell.
I wish I had the answer to make you feel better about all of that but I don’t.
You will have to suck it up.
Find What You Love and Let it Kill You
The tone of this post isn’t super positive, is it?
I love what I do, a lot. But it’s far from easy.
If there’s one thing to take away from this piece it’s this — most of the good things in your life will come from discomfort.
I haven’t even spent much of this time answering the question “what should I do with my life?” because that’s the least important part of the equation.
I could read your mind, scan through your life’s database, and create a custom-tailored plan for you to follow, but it still wouldn’t matter if you weren’t willing to be uncomfortable.
You, more or less, know what do to with your life. You’re just not doing it because you’re scared.
Here’s the thing, though. If you find something you love, you have to be open to pain.
That’s what love is.
When you get married, you’re essentially giving your heart to someone else and trusting they won’t break it. We all know this deal doesn’t always work out, yet we take it anyway because the positive outweighs the negative.
It’s the same when it comes to a real life path or a real vocation.
Settling for any old career or life is equivalent to dating someone you know you’ll never marry. It feels okay, but you’re missing out on a feeling that’s orders of magnitude better.
If finding this true love is so important, why do we often choose the opposite?
Escape Society’s Box
“Understand this: The world wants to assign you a role in life. And once you accept that role you are doomed.” — Robert Greene
I don’t personally care what you do with your life. I only care about how you come to that decision.
Choose what you want to do, don’t let someone else choose it for you. If you’re obsessed with numbers and you genuinely want to be an accountant, be an accountant. Don’t be one because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do.
I ran into a friend the other day. He asked me how things were going. I told him they were great. I asked him about his life, specifically his work.
“I hate it.”
“Why are you doing it, then?”
He shrugged his shoulders. Most of us aren’t in dire straits. We’re living a metaphorical shoulder shrug.
Before you have any type of passion in life, you’ll have to unlearn all the rules about life, careers, success, status, and all the other societal lessons that were forced on you.
That’s one of the biggest problems — the “live a meaningful life” narrative is incongruent with the “fit into society’s box” one.
If society had its way, you’d continue to do things you hate to buy things you don’t want to impress people you don’t like. People get caught in this situation all the time.
You want to write books, but you’re already a software engineer. Or, you’re 18 years old, you want to write books but you’re dead broke and your parents told you to go to school to become a software engineer.
Careers and money are both important and unimportant. Important in that you need them to survive. Unimportant in that the typical reasons we chase both involve useless status that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of life.
Now that we’ve unraveled some mental layers, let’s talk about the most important aspect of figuring out what to do with your life.
You’ll Never “Figure Out” What to do With Your Life
Your life isn’t a multiple choice test. It’s essay format. It’s open book.
You’re allowed to change your mind. You should change your mind.
If you have the same goals, tastes, and desires fives years from now, it could be a sign of stagnation.
Right now I write. I’m also interested in technology, investing, marketing, and a bunch of other interests that weave into what I’m currently doing. I work on my craft, read, learn about the latest trends in the world, and keep my eye out for new opportunities.
Your problem isn’t figuring out what to do with your life. It’s a lack of action.
If you’re curious about wanting to write, then start writing — physically place your fingers on a keyboard repeatedly.
Want to start a non-profit? Go volunteer.
Want to code? Take a class or boot camp.
Jim Rohn had a saying along the lines of “I’d rather try something than think about it because even if I’m wrong…I’ll find out faster.”
I don’t have the magic recipe to get you to act. I try. I write these posts, respond to emails, have conversations. But ultimately, you’re in the driver’s seat here.
Someone just replied to an email I wrote three months ago telling me they wrote their first blog post.
That. That kind of action right there is the whole key to “figuring out what to do with your life.”