Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

Why It’s OK If It Takes Time To Find Your Way

Do you know how many times I felt lost after graduating from college? It was more than nine.

I wanted to know what to do. I wrote out plans and mapped out a timeline of my “perfect life.”

I laugh about it now. Eight years after graduating from college, I’m on a path that I never considered.

But it’s a road that I couldn’t consider because I hadn’t yet had the experiences that would shape me.

If you’re like me — and as a goofy human being trying to make sense of it all, you probably are — you likely are asking yourself a number of questions right now.

How do I know what to do next?

Why does everyone else seem to know what to do?

What do I want to be?

What did I want to be as a kid?

Where am I going in life?

First, it’s normal to be asking these questions.

Second, you don’t need to know the answers.

But what do I do next?

This is the wrong question. Asking what you need to do next narrows your vision. It’s taking your limited life experience to try to predict what will make you happy years from now.

And as Daniel Gilbert writes in Stumbling on Happiness, we do a really bad job of predicting what will make us happy.

It’s better to be curious.

It’s better to ask people who are in positions where you think you would like to be how they got to that point — and how they like where they currently are. The people you admire may hate where they currently are.

Doing lots of important-sounding things doesn’t necessarily lead to fulfillment.

How I found my path

My path was not a natural progression. Life didn’t work out according to my plan.

But this was the best thing for me.

I never — not once — discovered what I enjoy through planning out my life. I only discovered what fulfills me from doing, from being “the man in the arena” as President Teddy Roosevelt once said.

I learned that I enjoyed life more when I was only receiving a meager monthly stipend as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later as an AmeriCorps Volunteer than I did while I was working typical jobs.

I enjoyed life more when I took a pay cut to follow my heart and pursue a career in mental health than I did while I was working at “safe” jobs with a good salary and benefits.

What made me happy contradicted what society told me I should be doing.

The noisy static of societal noise builds up in your head over the years, and it’s hard to turn to cut through it all. But when you do — and you must — then you figure out who you truly are.

It’s OK if this takes time. The more time you take to find yourself, the better your chance is of leading a life that aligns with your inner values and purpose.

American culture is not a very reflective one, but introspection is crucial to your future happiness.

If you don’t take time to know yourself, how will you know what makes you happy? How will you notice when you feel fulfilled?

If you’re stuck in doing mode, it’s easy to miss the emotions that signal if you are on the right path.

If you don’t take the time to explore, then you approach life with a closed-off perspective.

If you are closed off to the world, then you’re not making yourself vulnerable.

It’s only when you are vulnerable that you are open to meaningful connection.

What should I be?

Which is why What should I be? is also the wrong question to ask.

You put too much pressure on yourself when you think you need to be a certain thing. And when you are under pressure, you are not going to have the presence of mind to notice what feels right to you.

If you can’t stop the non-stop narrative of thoughts in your head, how will you know what brings you joy?

Let me ask you something. Who are you underneath what society, your family, and your friends tell you to be? Are you living their life, or are you living your own?

When you make decisions, it will be you who has to live with them. If you try to force yourself into a box, it is you who will feel constricted.

Don’t do that to yourself.

To find my path, I tried whatever seemed interesting. I’ve never stopped living life as a student, even all these years are my college graduation.

Curiosity has been the key to my happiness and fulfillment.

And when I had setbacks — and there were many setbacks — I remained open. I noticed what I was feeling and used it all as grist for the mill.

I integrated the lessons I learned and used them to become a better person.

Somewhere down the road, it all started to click.

I’m several years down a mental health career path now. Not exactly what I thought I would be doing after studying finance and political science in college.

And what have I learned?

That not knowing what to do or who to be is completely OK. In fact, it’s the point of it all.

Where you end up may surprise you, but it’s the journey that teaches you and will get you where you need to be.

I’m not lost. Millennials aren’t lost. We’re searching for meaning.

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