What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do with Your Life
“My life is going nowhere. What do I do?”
I can’t seem to shake this question. I see it constantly from my followers and strangers on the internet. The funny thing is, most of the time, these questions are coming from people in their mid-twenties. They seem to think their lives are over before they’ve even begun, and that, to me, is heartbreaking.
It’s a time when excitement and apprehension mingle. On the one hand, there are so many employment options and opportunities. On the other hand, there’s a societal pressure to choose and settle comfortably into one (preferably well-paid) career. Then, there is excitement to build a personal life—a spouse, a family, a home—contrasted with the fear of student debt that threatens to collapse that dream.
In the end, it boils down to a dilemma of comfort vs. passion, security vs. excitement.
I don’t fault anyone who makes that choice to take the path that feels secure and familiar—the one that reminds you of the straightforward progression of your college years.
But I want to talk to the ones who are considering a less conventional road.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to speak directly to these people — these young men and women full of ideas but with no idea where to start.
Although I don’t know your specific situation, I will say this: you’re young. You have time, and time is the most valuable thing in the world. You may not yet have a network of professional and personal connections. You may not have more than $50 dollars in your bank account. But you have time.
There will be pressure from others to settle in for the long haul—to find a lucrative career, a nice spouse, maybe put a down payment on some suburban starter home. Don’t be fooled. There will be time for all of that (if that is even what you want).
If you want to spend a couple years chasing your passion, go for it! However, you can’t half-ass it. Full throttle ahead, or nothing at all. When you decide to buck the traditional routine, you have to pave your own path. You need to be willing to put in the work. Learn to love the things that you fill your time with. Work hard. Success will come.
But you’re probably thinking I’m full of it.
That’s fair. You’re probably used to your mom, aunt, best friend, and neighbor telling you to wait your turn, to keep your nose down and work for a comfortable and stable life.
Okay, then let me quote someone who’s enjoyed far more fame and global acclaim than myself:
“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” -Steve Jobs
But how do you find that passion you may ask?
1. Be an active participant in your own life. Your early 20s is a time when you are still figuring out how to live your life. Maybe you just got out of college or maybe you’re just realizing that your first “grown-up” job isn’t all you thought it would be, and you’re used to having your life laid out for you by your teachers or your employers. The fantastic news is this: You can do whatever you want. Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, it’s time take initiative. Take notice of the things that you want to change, and DO IT. Don’t be passive.
2. Try things. Anything that strikes your interest. Do you like games? Cool, learn a programming language. There are plenty of free online resources. Do like to write? Awesome, start blogging. How about foreign languages? Go download an app like Duolingo. These experiences are more valuable than most people realize. The process of teaching yourself skills rather than just absorbing information from teachers or employers will help you to become a more independent thinker and help you to develop a sense of who you are as a person.
3. Love the process and forget about the destination. If you find something you love to do, you have to work like hell to make sure you can keep doing it. Sure, you probably won’t see any immediate profits from, say, taking an unpaid internship in an industry you find interesting or from writing movie reviews for your entertainment blog. However, as long as you keep pushing yourself to learn new things and progress, I promise you that there will be benefits.
4. Don’t lie to yourself. This process will be hard. Most people will make excuses as to why they can’t live the life they want. They’ll think that they can’t move up at work because their boss is a jerk. Then, guess what? Find another job. They’ll think that they don’t have the skills to do what they love. So what? Learn them! Yes, there will be real roadblocks on your journey, and you may end up in a place that you never dreamed of, but that’s why I’ll refer you back up to point #3. Take a hard look at yourself and ask what is holding you back from getting what you want? Find your weaknesses, and learn how to fix them. Again, the internet has a ton of professional development resources on how to learn anything from networking skills to graphic design. Check out Udemy and Khan Academy to start.
I can tell you from experience that sometimes this other path is lonely, and it is seldom easy. So let me be here for you. Know that I want nothing more than to see more people who are not afraid to follow that nagging feeling in the back of their head that says, “I want more than what society has laid out for me.”
When those conflicting emotions of anticipation and anxiety threaten to overwhelm you, remember: You can do whatever you want. There is no one road that leads to success. So take risks, and do what makes you happy. Now, no more excuses. Get out there, and get what you want!