“What do I want to do with my life?”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Do you still struggle to answer these kinds of questions? You are not alone. I’ve been an enrollment advisor for non-traditional college students for over a decade and every single day I talk to people who are trying to figure out the answers to these questions.
I’ve talked to kids in high school and I’ve talked to 80-year-olds, and everyone in between. Maybe it’s just my line of work, but it seems that trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives is one of the hardest parts of life.
We hear about those crazy people who claimed they would be a doctor when they were two and then they actually went on and did just that. We get frustrated and annoyed, wondering why we’re now 38 years old and we still have no idea what we want to do when we grow up.
If this is where you find yourself, feeling like a grown up and still struggling to figure out what you’re grown up self is supposed to do with this one and only life you have to live, then this post is for you. Here are 5 things you can do to help you begin to uncover the answer and finally figure out what do with your life.
1. Brainstorm, Journal, and Do Some Self-Reflection.
Grab a notebook and start writing. Write about your dreams and goals. Write down all of the things you said you wanted to do at one point or another. Consider things you’ve tried and write down what you loved and didn’t about each job you’ve had.
Think about what excites you and makes you want to work. What are you good at? What education and training do you have? Think about the significant life experiences you’ve been through and brainstorm what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and what types of things those experiences have led you to be passionate about.
Grab my free workbook on 30 questions to help you develop clarity for your life and journal through your responses to those questions.
Take some time, maybe even a few weeks to just think and ponder your question of what you want to do with your life. It is a big question that deserves a lot of good thought. Don’t try to find the perfect answer or expect the heavens to open with a loud booming voice from God giving you exact clarity. I can assure you that the answer to this question will likely always be a little foggy and unclear (more on that in a moment). But when you take the time to reflect and consider, you are certain to gain a little more clarity and guidance on which direction you should be heading.
2. Include Other People.
After you’ve spent some time in your own head, it is really important to get out of your head and your isolated room and talk to other people about this important decision.
Talk to your friends, family, and coworkers and find out what they think you are good at. Ask them what they think is most important to you. Invite them to give you ideas and suggestions for career ideas and opportunities you might enjoy.
You also want to interact with people beyond just your family and friends to help you consider new options and ideas. Talk to others (both strangers and those you know) about their careers. Find out what people love about their jobs and what they hate. Ask questions about why they chose their current careers, what wakes them up in the morning, what things make them want to run away, and discover their challenges, struggles, and greatest wins.
Learning these things can not only give you ideas that you may have never considered but they can also give you further questions to think and reflect on for yourself. It can help you identify challenges and struggles you never considered to help you narrow down what you don’t want to do. And it can also help you discover exciting parts of a career that you do want to include in your own dream.
3. Try Some Things.
Because I work with non-traditional college students (this means people who are interested in going to college but are not fresh out of high school), I regularly get the chance to talk with people who thought they wanted to go down a certain career path, jumped in with both feet, and then realized that they hated it. It is one thing to imagine yourself in a career and quite another thing to actually be doing that career day in and day out.
Before you go diving off the deep end into the career you think you might love, take some time to try it out. I promise you will thank me for this advice later. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve talked to who are tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree in an industry they can’t stand. Or the number of people who call me after decades spent in a career that has literally sucked the life out of them and made them miserable for years.
Maybe that’s exactly where you are right now. You’ve found yourself in a career that you just fell into. Or maybe you thought you wanted to do it but once you got into it you realized it wasn’t what you expected. While there is no way to guarantee that you’ll love a job, there are some ways to “try before you buy.”
If you have come up with a career idea you think you might enjoy, see if you can find a way to job shadow someone who is already doing it. You might also be able to volunteer in that field for a while to confirm if it’s something you’ll love or hate. Alternatively, you might try to get a part-time job or start a side business in this new area to give you some actual day to day experience before you take the leap.
4. Relax and Enjoy the Present.
Perhaps you hate your current job and you are desperate to find something else. My advice to relax and enjoy the present probably has you rolling your eyes and groaning. It sounds ridiculous and obnoxious. But unfortunately, this is an important part.
What I mean by relax and enjoy the present is to pay attention to your right now. Everything in life can teach us if we’re willing to pay attention.
Sometimes in our frustration and desperation to get out of where we are, we ignore the things right in front of us. The reality is that what you are going through right now can help you learn things that can help you discover your next step. Instead of fighting and being miserable where you are, use the time and the circumstances you have to figure out where you might want to go.
We hear people talk about five-year plans. And I think it’s important to have a vision and a plan for your future. I’m not against 5-year plans. But the truth is, five-year plans don’t usually happen. Life has a way of surprising us and taking us in places we never expected. So think, brainstorm, consider, and make your 5-year plan. But hold it loosely.
The more important thing is to just be present in your right now. Today, you could meet someone that will open a door you would never have dreamed of. Something might happen tomorrow that changes the trajectory of your life forever. Be open, be flexible, and be present to see what God is leading you to today. You probably won’t see a clear, exact path to take, but if you pay attention, you will notice the next step.
5. Remember that life isn’t about the destination.
We ask ourselves “what do I want to do with my life?” or “what do I want to be when I grow up?” there will be just one, big important thing. That’s not really how life works though.
There isn’t one big, huge thing you were put on this earth to do. You were put on this earth to live a full life. If all goes well, you could be walking this planet for 80-90 years. I hope you intend to do a lot more than one thing in all of those years.
Sometimes we stress ourselves out searching and striving for that “one thing” that we miss out on the opportunity to do all of the many things God wants us to do in our regular every day.
Perhaps you are supposed to pursue one career path for a while to learn and grow and accomplish something and then maybe you are supposed to go a completely different direction to do something else. That doesn’t make the first career path wrong or a waste. Don’t regret where you’ve been or the choices you’ve made. Allow each step in your journey to teach you. Be faithful and do your best wherever you find yourself.
There won’t be a day where you suddenly discover that you have arrived. You’ll likely always have a longing and a feeling for something more or something different. It’s not necessarily because you’re in the wrong place. It’s not because you still haven’t figured out what to do when you grow up. The reason you always have a feeling of longing and discomfort is because life is a constant journey. We are always learning, growing, and pressing forward on our path. The unease you feel is simply the motivation you need to keep moving on your journey called life.
Don’t hate this unease, embrace it. Listen to it. Allow it to lead you to your next right step.
Today’s Action Step
Take some time to pause and consider what the “pressure” and “unease” you are currently feeling is trying to tell you. Are there new opportunities you need to look into? Are there new skills you could be learning? What is your next stage of this journey? What can you do today to press yourself forward on your life journey?