At some point in our lives, we find ourselves asking this dreaded but necessary question.
What should I do with my life?
Right now, you may be feeling stuck or confused. I’m here to tell you that it’s normal to wonder about how you plan to navigate the rest of your life.
When you were young, your parents probably wanted you to become something practical – like a doctor or an accountant. You probably had a more fanciful idea of what you would be – like an astronaut or a famous athlete.
Now that you’re past that, you realize that much of life is just trying to make ends meet. Ideally, you want to pursue your interests at the same time. It’s all a balancing act, and you may find yourself on autopilot most of the time.
Maybe you’re able to live above your means, but you can’t stand your job. That situation isn’t so unique. Day in and day out, you tolerate your feelings, but you can’t shake the feeling that you should be doing something else.
These feelings of unease and discomfort are strong indicators of what you want in life. When you figure out why you’re so unhappy, you’re setting yourself up for a positive change by making a series of choices. We’re going to explore all those choices in this guide.
The Reason Why You Don’t Know What To Do With Your Life
Human life was a lot simpler back then. If you were born into a tribe of 30 people 5,000 years ago, your daily life would have been drastically different. It would have revolved around hunting, gathering, and building structures out of mud, stone, and wood.
Back in the Stone Age, people didn’t have to worry about careers and self-care. Their purpose was laid out for them because their needs were so immediate. What were their needs?
“How am I not going to get eaten by lions?”
“How am I going to eat later?”
“Who should I mate with?”
And that’s about it. These days? There’s a lot more to be concerned about.
“What am I going to wear?”
“Where am I going to eat?”
“Does so-and-so hate me?”
“What of the 13 peanut butters should I choose?”
“Do I need to renovate my house?”
“Do I need to upgrade my car?”
“Is it time for me to ask for a promotion?”
“Are my kids doing okay with online schooling?”
“Do I need to see a therapist?”
“Does my spouse think I’m still attractive?”
The number of our daily concerns has gone way up. We’re not just worried about our next meal. We’re also concerned with our careers, love lives, savings, kids, and overall contribution to the world. That’s a tall order.
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What Has Changed?
Physiologically, we’re not much different from our ancestors. It’s our environment that is changing. Basic survival is no longer our concern. You’re not going to get eaten by a bear on your way to work. Your next meal is just a few clicks away or tucked away in your well-stocked pantry.
Naturally, our problems have evolved. Let’s look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a perfect display of our current needs:
This hierarchy works because you can’t fulfill upper levels unless you fulfill the preceding level. Our ancestors probably only got to the “love and belonging” part. They had no concept of esteem and self-actualization.
Because we as individuals and as a society have evolved mentally and emotionally, we spend a lot of time pondering our purpose in life. How come some of us never get to figure it out? Because it’s easy to get stuck.
Around 900 million people in the world feel like their lives are lacking in various degrees. What should be your takeaway from this?
1. You are not alone. Tons of people are also struggling to find their purpose in life.
2. Your search for purpose makes total sense, and it’s completely natural.
Reconfiguring Our Minds
Thinking that you have some preordained destiny is a dangerous belief. Trying to seek out your one true purpose can put a loss of stress on your mind. In some cases, it even leads to anxiety and depression.
You may find yourself fixating on this thing that you desperately want to see. Then when you think you’ve found it, you question whether it’s right. Here is the secret:
You may or may not change the entire world or influence millions, and that’s ok.
Some people have a hard time accepting this thought because they may think too highly of themselves. Around 108 billion people have inhabited the earth, and a good majority of them are – well, dead. There’s only a select few that we remember.
Now, out in the universe, there are most likely many earth-like planets just in our galaxy alone. It means that some of these planets could potentially have life.
In the whole history of humankind, your life is represented by a meager .04% of the entire time humans have been around. It makes you feel insignificant, doesn’t it?
Well, I would argue that this thought is actually freeing. It frees you from the pressure of having to stand out in th universe.
But our existence is still awe-inspiring. Why? There is an infinitesimal chance of you being born, yet here you are, beating all the odds.
In our quest for significance, we naturally question our purpose. We know that even though we’re blips in the universe, we can make an impact, however small.
You don’t have to think of all the people who are highlighted in our history. Most of us can’t be Elon Musk creating and running Tesla and SpaceX at the same time. Just think of the nameless people we’ve lost in the recent past. All of them impacted their circles.
This quest starts with pain, and there is going to be suffering throughout. I’m not saying this to discourage you. As you work towards finding your purpose, and when you’ve finally found it, the pay-off is going to give your true relief and happiness.
Are you ready to take control and take your first steps? Good. Be proud of yourself, and let’s get to work!
7 Steps To Find Your Purpose In Life
Before we begin, I advise you to take notes to keep track of your thoughts. This process involves writing and being completely honest with yourself. I went through the following steps to become who I am now.
After completing these steps, I’m more aware of what truly matters to me, and I pour all my time and dedication into all those things. If you follow these steps to a tee, I’m sure you can achieve the same level of peace that I’m at right now. Got your pen and paper handy? Great, let’s begin.
Step 1: Accept the pain that comes with life.
I know, you didn’t want to hear this. I’m not even talking about the journey to enlightenment or success. I’m just talking about life in general. As time goes on and things change, simply being is going to hurt.
If I completely let myself go, doing things I shouldn’t be doing, like staying in bed all day and avoiding socialization, my back will ache, and I’ll get depressed. I’ll burn through all my savings and most likely have to move back in with my parents.
If I do what I’m supposed to do in a conventional sense, like get a higher education, work a 9 to 5 job, and start a family, I’ll grow resentful for not following my own dreams. I’m going to be bitter about how the world has dictated my life, and I’ll feel stuck in a life that I don’t think is truly mine.
So what if I do what I want and make sure those desires are in line with respectable goals? It will still hurt. I’ll get impatient when I don’t see the results that I want and fumble through things that other people find easy. I will doubt myself whether or not I’m able to stick to my plans.
There are also painful life events that everyone goes through, like death, illness, and heartbreak. Those things are inevitable, and we all have to deal with these events in our way.
So the first step to self-actualization is realizing that it’s going to hurt. Life includes pain, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just a matter of choosing what kind of pain you’re willing to endure.
Asking The Right Questions
We’ve been raised to yearn for a lot of things. If you ask yourself things like “Do I want a million dollars?” or “Do I want a six-pack?”, of course, the answer is going to be yes. But should these be the questions we should be asking ourselves? Probably not.
A more productive question would be “What is it that will make me feel truly fulfilled?” or “What is worth sacrificing for?” These are far more meaningful and realistic.
Remember, all paths involve some kind of suffering. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s never going to be easy. Let’s look at an example that most people will understand. Consider Sam and Frodo. They spent months trudging through rough terrain, tired, hungry, traumatized, and hurt. But in the end, when they finally defeat Sauron, their pain was worth the safety of Middle Earth.
When you think of where you’d like to be in life, how peaceful and satisfying that’s going to be, the steps you take towards getting there will be worth it. If something is worth pursuing, it will then outweigh your suffering.
Nothing comes easy in life. Even if you were born to the best circumstances, you would still have to toil to find your identity. It’s wildly unrealistic to expect life to be a breeze. Ultimately, we have to regulate our emotions and keep our eyes on the prize when the going gets tough.
When you have this ingrained in your mind, you’ll be able to recenter yourself when life throws you curveballs, which it inevitably will. Trust me; there will be moments when you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” You have to be able to answer that question every time it pops up. Otherwise, you’ll end up right where you started.
To summarize, this step is all about acceptance and managing your expectations.
Step 2: List down the things that truly make you happy.
I’m not talking about puppies and ice cream. I am talking about the kind of work you might enjoy doing every day. I’m talking about the kind of relationships that you want to have.
To zero in on these things, it’s going to help to list down everything that you might enjoy doing. Don’t fixate on how these activities are going to get you results. For example, don’t write something down because it’s going to get you a lot of money or temporary pleasure.
Try listing down things that you could realistically spend your future doing, like “open a restaurant” or “write a book.” Don’t limit yourself to a few things. Go ham and have fun with it. By the end, you should have a list that looks something like this:
- Set up a blog I can earn from
- Become a world-famous chef
- Publish a cookbook
- Curate a profitable Instagram page
- Learn a new musical instrument
- Master a computer coding language
You get the idea. Now dream big and get writing!
Step 3: Edit your list.
The secret reason why people don’t end up succeeding is not that they’re lazy. It’s because the goals that they have don’t inspire them. So you have to really want what you’re going to work for to stick to your plan.
As you go through your list, stop on each item and ask yourself: “Why do I want to do this?” This process is personal, so don’t be afraid to be completely honest. Let’s say you wrote down “be a famous actor.” Ask yourself if you’d be in it purely for the fame or if you genuinely value that sort of creative process.
If the answer to your “Why?” is shallow and unrealistic, simply cross the item off. Again, the most important indicator if something is worth your while is if you’re willing to suffer for it. By the end of this step, you should have a list of attainable yet ambitious goals that you really want to pursue.
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Step 4: Focus on your goals one at a time.
You might be tempted to work on multiple items on your list all at once. Don’t do that. Why? There is always going to be a finite amount of time and energy that you have. It’s a better use of your resources to zero in on one item at a time.
This isn’t to say that you should throw away all your responsibilities and shift your focus solely on this one goal. What I’m saying is that this first goal of yours is going to be the one extra thing that you have to manage in your life on top of everything else.
You still have to pay the bills and bond with your loved ones, right? I’m just saying it’s smarter to dedicate your extra time to one thing instead of making very little progress on a lot of things.
At this point, you also shouldn’t neglect the little things that give you relief in your day-to-day life. You can still pick up that book or controller if you need to decompress. Just have one extra thing on the side that you think is worth adding to your plate.
I have to tell you again that you must only choose one item on your list at a time. This way, you’ll see noticeable progress, which should encourage you to move on to the next item.
Within all of us is the urge to make a difference, to create, to contribute. It’s high time that you give in to that urge to work towards self-actualization.
When you’re trying to pick the first goal that you’re going to work on, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this doable for me right now?
- Am I willing to give up certain things to make room for this new goal?
- Will the reward be worth it?
- Am I excited to start working on this right away?
- How much progress should I see to know that my efforts are working?
Remember, you’re free to do anything you want, but you can’t do everything. If you’re still unsure about what to pick, choose one that could supplement your current situation in life. Are you feeling artistically dry? Choose “work on my sketchbook every day.” Are your funds low? Choose “find an online job that utilizes my skills.”
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Step 5: Create an in-depth action plan and stick to it.
After you decide on the goal that you’re going to commit to, what are you going to do about it? Write down an in-depth action plan that busts all your how’s and why’s. Ideally, you want to display this plan where you can easily see it every day. This could be on your bullet board or on your computer desktop.
First, write down why you’re dedicated to this goal. It could be something like:
MY GOAL: TO BECOME A WELL-PAID AUTHOR
WHY: I want to earn money from doing something that I’m passionate about. I also want to make an impact on my readers’ lives and feel like I’m a positive force in the world.
Second, write down all the larger steps that are involved in realizing your goal. It could be something like:
- Hone my writing style and get inspiration from my favorite authors.
- Learn all about the publishing process.
- Write the first draft of my book.
- Get a publishing deal.
- Work with a publisher to polish my book.
- Think about the next book I’m going to write.
Feeling overwhelmed? Take a deep breath and focus on one step at a time. Break them down into smaller, easier steps. It could look something like:
- Hone my writing style and get inspiration from my favorite authors.
- List down your favorite authors and determine what you like about their style.
- Write at least 500 words a day that isn’t for your journal.
- Start laying out a rough plot for your first draft.
If even the bite-sized steps are too much for you, break them down even more. Remember, this is all about writing down actionable steps that aren’t too daunting for you right now. When you’re happy with your action plan, ask yourself which steps are easier to commit to.
Put those steps higher up on your to-do list to get the ball rolling. Your to-do list according to your short-term goals could look something like this:
- Read my favorite author’s new book every night to get inspiration. It might take me a week.
- Dedicate 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night for writing.
- Decide on setting and character names.
- Start walking 30 minutes a day as my new form of exercise. It could give me time to think about my book.
As you can see, these smaller goals seem more sustainable and less daunting than writing a whole draft right away. It’s important not to get too ambitious and be kind to yourself. Acknowledge how much you’re able to accomplish each day and adjust your expectations.
When you start checking things off your list, it will feel so rewarding. It’s like giving yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, however small the task was. You’ll then feel even more motivated to move on to your next tasks. Remember, the hardest part is starting.
An Important Tip:
Before we move on to the next step, please know that people who tend to over-commit end up quitting their goals. Patience is key when it comes to turning your dreams into reality. It’s always better to be slow and steady than to take up too many things all at once. You risk disappointing yourself and feeling discouraged when you over-commit.
How do you make sure you don’t over-commit? Look at the other things you’ve got going on. Are there areas in your life that you’re neglecting? Are you exhausted all the time? Do you get mad at yourself when you can’t check things off your list quickly? If you said yes to any of these questions, I think it’s time to reassess your mindset.
Step 6: Observe how you carry out your action plan for the next six months.
There is a risk of overthinking here. All these steps are fairly straightforward, but we tend to complicate things, don’t we? The trick is to keep calm and carry out your action plan for the next six months as best as you can. Don’t sabotage your progress.
As you carry it out, observe how your life is going. Have you changed your mind about this goal that you committed to? Are the steps that you laid out still doable? If not, then it’s to do some adjusting.
But before you give up on a goal, make sure to give it at least six months to assess its achievability fully. If after six months you find that you haven’t accomplished much or the endeavor is proving to be too difficult, move on to something else.
What you’re trying to do here is find something that is sustainable for you. If you have to let go of a goal, don’t beat yourself up about it. Think of it as a chance to start afresh. This is why Step 2 is important. You need to have something to fall back on in case things go awry.
Step 7: Check-in with yourself.
If you make it to the end of your 6-month commitment, you may come to a couple of different conclusions, which are:
- Your goal seems to be totally attainable, and you can’t wait to keep working at it.
- Your progress seems to be going at a fairly steady pace, but some parts of your checklist are too much to handle.
- You find that your goal isn’t sustainable, and you no longer want to pursue it.
If one of these conclusions apply to you, here’s what to do:
- Great! Enjoy the fruits of your labor and let it inspire you to keep moving forward. If you find your current checklist a little too manageable, maybe it’s time to add more things in and tackle a new goal.
- Great! As you can see, success comes at a cost. You’re going to be stressed, and it requires a hell of a lot of planning. Don’t be discouraged by the difficulties you encounter. The trick is to keep adjusting.
- Great! Then it’s on to the next endeavor. Just because something seemed like a good idea in the beginning, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn and change your mind about it. Don’t think of yourself as fickle or weak because you gave it a fighting chance. Be excited about the next goal you’re going to pursue.
See? You can’t lose. All outcomes are great as long as you put in the time and effort. At the end of the six months, you’ll definitely learn something about yourself, and you come out as a better person.
This Is What You Should Do With Your Life
Life is a series of making decisions. There’s no way around it. So tell yourself, “I am grateful to be alive, and I will make decisions to better my life and the lives of others around me.” You are entitled to take up space and make changes in your surroundings. That’s what we’re here for – to make changes.
Whether these changes are for good or bad is entirely dependent on your personality and aspirations. If you follow the steps I’ve laid out above, you’ll find out just how effective your actions are, and you’ll soon find a purpose for your life.