One of my earliest memories in life was me reading stories to my parents. You read that right, instead of my parents reading me bedtime stories, I read to them.
As early as I can remember, I loved being the narrator, the talker, the pontificator (is that even a word? who cares).
In grade school, when it was time to read out loud, the other kids in the classroom always pointed to me because I read faster than everyone else in the class. They wanted to get it over with so we could go to recess.
In high school in college, writing essays was easy for me. I’d wait until the last minute and get A’s on every paper. Teachers commented on my writing skills on more than one occasion.
I used to write poems in middle school to impress girls (didn’t work).
I tried writing a book when I was in high school. It was a young adult novel about a boy who loved chasing after the girls in his class (gee, I wonder who the character was based on).
You see the point, right? I’ve been a writer — a person who liked to read, think, and articulate my thoughts — for my entire life.
But I didn’t pen my first word until I was 25.
Why all the wasted time? I more or less knew what I wanted to be, but put it off because…?
You Already Know What You Want to Be, You’re Just Putting it Off
Why so much angst over ‘finding your purpose’?
I get lots of emails from people who’ve read my work and the number one comment I get time and time again:
“I don’t know what to do with my life.”
The funny thing about it? Often, they’ll mention what they want to do with their lives in the message they sent me, but they’re blind to it because of the ten-foot pile of rationalizations, excuses, and self-told lies that cover the answer they’ve been looking for.
Note the problem isn’t the lack of knowing what to do, but a multitude of other factors.
Let’s talk about the real reasons you’re not doing what you want to do with your life. Until you address those, it won’t matter whether or not you know what to do with your life anyway.
You’re Still Haunted by Your Parents’ Opinions
Good or bad, your parents leave an imprint on you. They project parts of themselves onto you. While well-meaning, their aspirations for you might not have anything to do with you. Humans underestimate their propensity to use other people as vehicles to deal with their own problems.
Parents do this often. From the failed-athlete father who forces his kid to practice relentlessly — in lieu of having a life — so he can make it to the NFL to the helicopter mom who lets her fears dictate her kids behavior to the self-made entrepreneur who wants their kid to take the reigns of the company, parents can inject themselves into you.
It’s up to you not to let them.
In one of my favorite books, the Way of the Superior Man, the first chapter tells you to “live like your father is dead.” Until you let go of your parents’ expectations for you, it’s difficult to follow your dreams and do what you want to do.
It doesn’t matter how old you are either. Your parents will always be older. You’ll always be their kid no matter what.
There’s a huge difference between physically and psychologically leaving the nest. Once you accomplish both, you’re free to do what you want.
You Don’t Think You Can Pull it Off
If a genie were to remove all barriers to success and guarantee you that whatever you wanted to pursue in life would work out, I bet you’d suddenly know what to do with your life.
Our biggest problem isn’t a lack of knowledge about ourselves. It’s fear.
You know what you want to do, but you’re afraid. And fear is no easy mess to untangle. It’s almost insane how much our minds control us as if they were separate entities. The moment you think about doing ‘that thing,’ the inner critic whispers right into your amygdala.
“What will people think of you?”
“What if you fail?”
“You’re going to embarrass yourself.”
How do you overcome these feelings and thoughts?
Unlike other self-help writers, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s hard. After writing two books, making tens of thousands of dollars writing, getting my work read by people all over the world, I still feel like a fraud.
I still wake up and wonder if I’m cut out for writing. And I’ve been writing for four years now!
I will tell you this. The fear might not ever go away. It does lessen, though. When I feel afraid I remind myself that I’ve published two books, made tens of thousands of dollars writing, and most importantly have put in the work without quitting.
The only antidote to fear is work. And it won’t be easy. You won’t always feel good.
Maybe you shouldn’t even aspire to feel good at all.
You Want to Feel Good About Yourself
Avoiding the things you really want to do with your life can make you feel good about yourself.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who talked about all the things they could’ve done? It’s almost like they give themselves credit foraspiring to do something.
In fact, that’s exactly what we all do. The idea of potential is seductive because you never have to leave that fantasy. You’d think taking action and pursuing your life’s goals would be the ultimate feeling, but the pursuit of goals has one huge caveat — it might not work.
When you live in Potentialville you can bask in the glory of your aspirations. This works for a while until you get stuck there.
Then, you realize you’ve wasted time. Those aspirations turn to regrets. You look back on your life and think, “This is it? This is all I’ve done?”
To remedy this, try accepting this concept — maybe you’re not supposed to feel great about yourself all the time.
Maybe you could try harder, do better, take more risk, stand taller, be bigger and bolder, and go from potential to kinetic. Maybe self-acceptance isn’t what you need to focus on right now.
This isn’t to say you should beat yourself up, but your situation might not change until you stop pretending it’s ideal when it’s not.
Once you step outside your comfort zone, you realize feeling good about yourself isn’t the only thing that matters.
Working out doesn’t always feel good, but it makes you stronger and healthier. It’s a good metaphor for life. You’ll go through stress, trial, and tribulations on the way to doing “the thing,” but you’ll be stronger because of it, regardless of whether or not it pans out the way you want it to.
Enough with the positive thinking. Doing more — and feeling all the negativity and turbulence that comes with it — might be a better solution.
Every single day of my life, I experience it as if I were the center of everything.
Not a moment goes by where I don’t think about how circumstances and situations affect me.
When I publish a new post, I subconsciously tell myself the entire universe and every inhabitant in it is going to stop dead in their tracks to judge my words and pounce on me when I say something stupid or embarrassing.
It’s a weird paradox — our ego causes us to constantly worry about ourselves yet also causes us not to do the things we really want.
As much as I can, I try to take myself out of the center of the universe. This is just a blog post. I’m just one of 7 billion people. Nobody really cares about ‘my life path’ except for me. Chill out, do the work, and stop fussing so much over the results or the imaginary ‘fraud police’ who are coming to call you out as soon as you make a mistake.
You’re worried about what people will think of you — from your parents to peers to society to a random person in the comments section — but people are so preoccupied with themselves that you can pretty much do what you want in a state of anonymity.
I Haven’t Addressed the Question Yet, or Have I?
I’ve written about finding your purpose more times than I can count. I wrote a book about it.
Here’s a 5,000-word blog post that covers finding your natural talents and strengths from A to Z.
The thing is…until you address all the other stuff, I can point a neon sign to your life’s passion and it won’t matter.
You already know what ‘the thing’ is. You knew it when you were seven years old. There’s more than one thing, too, so you have options. And you know the options.
Unraveling the layers of fear, insecurity, past judgment & experiences, rationalizations, and everything else aside from the thing itself is the key.
You know that.
Self-help is nothing more than a reminder of everything you already know. It’s repetitious because sometimes you won’t put your foot down until the 124th reminder.
That’s okay. I’ll be around. As long as you’re alive, you’ll be around to make another attempt at finding the courage to live how you want to live.
Just remember, you have everything you need already.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.