“Back in my day, we didn’t have a choice. You worked where you were told or wherever there was work. None of this fancy ‘what do I want to do with my life shit’. I miss those days.” – Your Grandad (maybe).
Whilst grandad might genuinely miss those days, not knowing what to do with your life is actually a fantastic problem to have. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I’m going to anyway. Throughout the course of history and even around the world today, people don’t have a choice about what to do with their life. Whether it is by their government, their parents or their rulers, their lives are set for a pre-determined course. If you are reading this, you are probably free to pursue whatever you want to pursue, and that is a great gift.
Not knowing what you want to do with your life is a modern ‘problem’. When we are reminded that we are going to die one day and this is kind of it, it heaps a certain amount of pressure on deciding how you want to spend your days. Fear not though, because here are some useful ideas on how to decide what to do with your life:
Realise that you’ll never have it all figured out
You won’t because no-one does. There are people with money who don’t know how to find inner peace. There are people with inner peace who don’t know how to make money. There are people with both money and peace that don’t know how to tie their shoelaces.
Just like the retirement myth, if you are dedicated to life-long learning and growing, there will never be a time when you think ‘alright, that’s enough learning for one lifetime, time to just chill now.’ A few days of chilling and you might start to get bored, and then realise you don’t know how to cope with boredom so you have to learn some more.
The same is true in the world of jobs. It is not uncommon to find people switching careers in their 40s, 50s and even 60s these days. According to AgeUK, the number of self-employed people aged 65 and over has more than doubled in the past five years.
Not having things figured out is a good sign as it means that you are still willing to fail and still willing to try new things.
Focus on building skills
The most valuable asset that you can take into the uncertain, technologically advanced future is your skillset.
One of the wisest entrepreneurs and investors there is, Naval Ravikant, says:
The five most important skills are reading, writing, arithmetic, persuasion and programming. If you’re good with computers, if you’re good at basic math, if you’re good at writing, if you’re good at speaking, and if you like to read, you’re set for life.
With automation taking many jobs in the future but also creating many more, it is likely that future employment will require more person-to-person skills. Adaptability is also key whenever we move into a time of uncertainty (which is almost always now), so skills like learning how to learn are incredible assets that you can pick up.
Find your perfect combination of strength and interest
In order to hit the sweet spot when it comes to deciding what you want to do with your life, you need to find the perfect crossover between your strengths and your interests. If you are good at something but aren’t that interested in it, even if you are paid well, most of your life is going to feel like a chore. If you are interested in something but aren’t good at it, you can always try to improve it but you will face stiff competition from people who are already great at it.
World-famous entrepreneur Gary Vee that you need to “double down and triple down” on your strengths, and forget your weaknesses. It is important to find out what your (many) strengths are, find out where your strengths and interests intersect and go all-in on that. One way to find your strengths and uniqueness is to think back to when you were 10, 12, 14 years old. What were you doing that other kids weren’t doing?
Escape the grip of society, friends and parents
This point isn’t a complete rebuff of society, friends and parents. Society is what it is for the simple fact that, for whatever reason, it has worked for most people most of the time. However, society usually operates on a lagged timeline compared to reality. Friends and parents can also give sound advice but have the tendency to impose their own biases, preferences, strengths and weaknesses onto you.
This is why it is so important to escape the grip of what society, friends and parents want you to do and seek out what you want to do. The best way to do this is to research and recognise what is actually available to you in the world, what your goals are, and where the two cross over. By far the best resource that I have found when it comes to this sort of stuff is Tim Urban’s incredible blog post “How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)“. It also features the best cartoons:
It is for sure a painful process breaking out from the moulds and expectations that these concepts and people place upon you and realising who you truly are. There will be blood, sweat, tears, shame, embarrassment, anxiety but a shitload of treasure on the other side that will make it more than worthwhile.
Find something you are willing to suck at for a while
To get good at anything, you need to be willing to suck at it for an undetermined amount of time. Most likely, it is going to be longer than you hoped, but that’s just the way it is.
Whether it was learning to walk, learning to drive, learning to control your temper or learning to water ski. There were probably many times when you thought you were close to achieving greatness, only for you to fall on your face again. This is a natural part of any learning curve – including careers and deciding what you want to do with your life.
If you are just chasing money and have no interest in the pursuit, it is unlikely that you are going to be willing to fail many times before you get sick of it and quit. If you love what you do and are in it for the long-run, failing becomes weirdly fun because it shows you where you need to improve and gives you something to work towards.
If there is something in your life that you suck at but actually don’t mind sucking at for now, then you are probably on the right track to finding something amazing down the line.