The college tour guide looked me dead in the face and said.
“Are you undecided?”
I looked at the cluster of people on my right — the engineers. To my left — the hopeful computer scientists.
“Um… I don’t know, actually.”
He smirked. I remember the smirk.
“That’s probably a yes.”
Even in high school, it was a mystery to me how anyone could be so self-assured, especially young people.
Keith would be a famous sportscaster and Mandy would be on Broadway and Kaci would be a teacher and Holly would sing for a living. These were truths, not opinions. At 17 years of age, these people knew.
And me? Nobody knew, including me. I was Todd.
Todd was undecided.
You can see how teachers could have a problem with “undecided.” Imagine if your responsibility was to guide pimply, hormonal half-adults into rule-following, job-holding citizens. The choir director who walked like he had springs in his shoes, the Spanish teacher who had more sass than height, the homeroom counselor whose hair didn’t so much curl as zig zag — they all asked:
“What are you going to do with your life?”
Most of the time, I shrugged. I didn’t have a 5-year plan.
I didn’t even have a 5-day plan.
You remember that list of people I pointed out up there?
Well, Keith isn’t a “famous” sportscaster. He works for a smaller AM radio covering a local college team. Mandy isn’t on Broadway. She plans weddings. Holly doesn’t sing for a living. She is at home with her children.
Only Kaci — the one we all knew would be a teacher — is living the life we all assumed she would live.
I say these things not to point my former classmates out as failures. Quite the opposite, actually. Keith, Mandy, and Holly are all thrilled with their lives. They haven’t failed anyone. They haven’t fallen short.
Here’s what happened: Life changed. They adjusted.
This adjustment, I think, is key. Despite the absence of a meticulously detailed life plan, I still managed to graduate college with honors, earn a MARCOM industry award for my videos, write a bestselling book, go from 12 to 57,000 followers on Medium, and write a post which reached number one in the world on CNBC (a thing my mom has actually heard of!).
Many of the Internet gurus seem to assume there is one consuming passion out there, that you need only reach out your hand and find what you were meant to do for the rest of your life. At that point, all feelings of insufficiency will fade. The butterflies descend from above as you embrace your one true purpose for the next 30 years of your life.
For almost everyone I know, this is not the case. If you’re coming out of college right now, you have NO IDEA what life will look like for you in five years. Looking at the big picture, you may not even be the type of person to have an ideal job. You might have nine different careers by the time your life is over. You might be like me and juggle 3 different jobs at once to figure out what makes you happiest.
If you’re interested in living the undecided life instead of the planned one, here are my 6 best tips for doing so successfully.
1) Pick One of Your Hobbies and Do it For 31 Days
Here is one of the more stupid things you can say at a young age:
“I have a passion for ______”
If you haven’t being doing ______ for several years, through thick and thin, you do NOT have a passion for ______. At best, you have an interest in ______.
The hierarchy goes like this:
Interest > Activity > Passion
You don’t just get to have a passion for something. You earn it. The Latin root for the word “passion” actually means “suffering.” This shows up in the history of storytelling as well. Any movie you see, any book you read, any television show you watch, the main character will have to pass through a great trial before achieving her goal.
When I thought I wanted to be a writer, I went through NaNoWriMo, a program which requires you to write an entire novel in a month.
It was demanding.
It was brutal.
It turned me into a recluse for the entire month of November.
And I loved every second of it.
Odds are, if you can do something for 31 days, you have a pretty decent career indicator.
2) Focus on Your Abilities, Not Your Job
That will look something like this:
“I want a career in marketing.”
“Well, marketers are cool.”
“Um, because they get to make stuff and put it in front of people. I want to do that.”
“Because I love recognition”
“In order to find something that fulfills me, I need to work in a job where lots of people see what I’m doing.”
Do you see how your career has widened? You went from “marketer” to “anything which gets recognized.”
It’s easy to get stuck on a job. When you focus on your abilities, and (more importantly), why those abilities matter to you, you open up infinite career options.
3) Don’t Get a Job
Here’s one thing my phone provider, my internet provider, the electric company, my mortgage holder, and my credit card have in common:
They do not care where I get money to pay them.
In the new world, you have the ability to act as a mad scientist, tying your work as a crochet expert to your penchant for numbers. Does it really matter if you pay the rent from buying, re-upholstering, and selling a couch online, butpay your phone bill through freelance graphic design work?
The Web is not a magical faucet of money. It does, however, provide the connections necessary to build a life for yourself.
Become a Mad Scientist. Test to see what works for you, and then go all in on your favorite(or the most profitable).
4) Absorb What Other People Know
3 years ago I sunk an enormous amount of time into someone else’s book at a HUGE pay cut. He wanted the book done in a very short time. He had a very specific vision which is tough to translate to written word at times. Like many busy people, he has trouble articulating exactly what should be done.
What am I forgetting?
Oh, right, and he was the 6th employee of a business which went public for well over a billion dollars.
Honestly, I had no idea what he could specifically give me when I took the job. I didn’t really care. I’ve learned more about business in 10 hours of Skype calls than I have in 3 years of working at an actual company.
The longer I live, the more I realize: I know nothing. Every single person I’ve met is an expert at something. My job is to ask them what they love, watch their face light up, and then drink up whatever information I can.
5) Network with experts as often as possible
With the price of college skyrocketing, we’re going to start seeing the return of makeshift apprenticeships in the world. But without connections, how are you supposed to find someone who can help you learn?
Here’s a framework that’s worked well for me:
Find someone who does what you want to do
If you’ve been on the internet for more than 10 seconds, you should know how easy this is to do. This platform alone is how I’ve made the majority of the connections that changed my life.
Offer up your abilities to them for free
Working for free is one of the more hotly debated topics in a world where all intellectual work can falls somewhere between “priceless” and “worthless.”
As for me, I try to start every relationship by offering my time for free. By doing this, both you and the expert your reaching out to can start a trial relationship. You have the opportunity to wow them, at no risk to their own finances or reputation.
Ask *specific* questions about their industry
The secret of experts is this — they LOVE to talk about what they are good at.
BUT — there is a right way to do this and a dead-wrong way.
The wrong way:
“So, can you teach me SEO?”
This is a terrible question for someone whose knowledge base is so big, they wouldn’t even know where to start.
Instead, ask this question:
“What SEO trends are on the rise this year?”
The more specific you can be, the more likely your chances of understanding a lesson it would otherwise take you 10 years to learn.
6) Randomly pick a skill and become the best at it
Yes, you read that correctly.
If you are undecided about life, I can’t tell you everything is going to magically work out. Maybe at 24, I would have said that.
Here’s what I can tell you, though, will full confidence:
Humans honor skill.
One path in life is setting goals.
Another path is becoming really, really, really, really good at one thing.
When in doubt, become great.
Figure out the rest in time.
You have time.
Much love as always ❤
— Todd B