What do you want to do with your life? It’s almost cliché. But that makes it no less unavoidable a problem for one coming of age, or even for one well into adulthood. When we ignore the problem of finding what we want to do with our lives, we became no less uneasy, only more resigned. There’s no easy answer or plan to identify one’s ideal situation, but this article is meant to give a few general things to keep in mind.
Examine your assumptions.
I think most of us have some idea of what we want to do with our lives. We simply do not realize it because we assume so many restrictions, some of which may be superfluous. Examples of these are:
- You have to make a lot of money.
- You have to stay in a particular city/area.
- You have to satisfy those around you.
- You have to reach your goal within a certain time frame.
Realistically, some considerations such as these must be compromised for you to do what is best for yourself. It may be impossible, for example, to find a given type of work without moving far away. Or, it may not be practical to satisfy yourself while also making all those around you happy. However, my point is not that these considerations are not important, but that you have to question them. Some of them may actually be important to reaching your ideal state. But you have to approach them as questions, rather than concrete restrictions. This leads me to my next point:
Don’t overestimate the importance of work.
One such assumption is that what you want to do with your life must be defined by your career. It’s an important consideration, to be sure, but there may also be reasons to compromise it. In previous articles, I’ve talked about my love for Thoreau, and he spends a large part of his book Walden discussing how one can live cheaply, the reasons for doing so, and the problem of working too much.
There are myriad other things that can affect your life that you should not dismiss: you may have worthwhile hobbies, you may want a family, or you may just want to spend time studying topics that interest you. There is a romantic notion that what you should do with your life is to make these things into careers, and sometimes this is possible; however, when it is not—as it rarely is—you should not compromise them without further consideration. Indeed, they may be so important that you adjust your standard of living and work less to prioritize them, and I find this an immensely respectable decision to make.
Be specific with your goals.
This is as relevant to generally being successful as it is to our current issue. Pursuing a specific rather than a general goal means making tangible progress and deciding whether it is a worthwhile goal sooner.
For example, say you think you want to be an engineer, but you are not sure of what type. If you just pursue engineering in general, then your progress toward becoming an engineer will be slower. And the disadvantages of the goal will be slower to present themselves. However, if you make your goal to become a mechanical engineer, then you will much more quickly get a fuller idea of what engineering is like. Thus, you can confirm that it’s a proper goal for you. Also, you will make more tangible progress learning difficult skills and putting them to use, and you can leverage this progress if you decide instead that you want to be an electrical engineer, for example.
A certain amount of trial and error seems to be necessary to decide what you actually want to do. My point here is that the best you can do about this is probably to speed up the process and to make sure that you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time by making identifiable progress.