If You Don’t Know What You Want To Do With Your Life, Read This.


Let me tell you: I found myself in some deep Hippie territory when researching this. Another confession: I only wrote this since I myself have no idea what I want to do, and the hippie posts didn’t help much—which I think illuminates the truth of the issue: you are the only one who can figure out for yourself what you want to do with your life. Reading this won’t solve it for you, unfortunately. That being said, hearing it from people who seem to have figured it out never hurts, so I’ve sprinkled in advice from some much-more reputable individuals than me.

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.– Henry David Thoreau

There are a lot of reasons you might feel lost. Perhaps you’ve been taking too much advice from other people to the point you don’t know the difference between what you want and what they do. Perhaps nobody else is doing what you want to and you don’t know how to achieve it. Perhaps you have too many good options and can’t decide what’s best. Indeed, a common misconception is that the more you achieve, the less lost you become. Bad news: you have even more opportunities to choose between.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.– Joseph Campbell

At the root of the feeling is a misconception that everyone else has their shit figured out. It’s like the mid-high-school “everyone’s lost their virginity but me” fallacy. However, as someone who has witnessed first-hand the simplicity of photo-shopping a sunset, I can tell you looks are deceiving. Since nobody can predict the future, we’re all technically lost, so it just breaks down to who feels like their life’s a hot mess and who’s chillin’.

Most people never pick up the phone, most people never ask. And that’s what separates the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail. — Steve Jobs

So what do you do about it if you’re not chillin’? Well, the hippies will tell you to meditate and trust in the universe—and they have a point. As analytical and risk-averse human beings, we naturally want to understand and control our futures, and we can—to an extent. You can plan, but you cannot control external factors, so planning too far in advance becomes useless.

Moreover, if you’re too set on a plan, you might miss killer opportunities (hippie code: messages from the universe) and lose touch with what you really want to do since you’ll ignore your evolving desires if they don’t align with the original game plan. There’s something to be said for manifesting what you want, silencing your internal planner for a bit, and letting the universe do some of the dirty work.

In the attitude of silence, the soul finds the path in a clearer light . . . and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. —  Ghandi

The elders will tell you that time goes by faster each year, which will just aggravate your fear you already don’t have enough time to do everything you want as it is. No matter what anybody tells you, you have 24 hours starting tomorrow to do whatever you want. You have 168 hours this week. You have 8,760 hours this year. And lastly, you have 87,600 hours this decade. That’s enough to kick some butt. Remember: the dude who made history by inventing instant ramen came up with the idea at age 48.

Self-help books will tell you to travel and find yourself, but as someone who travels too much for their own good, I can vouch I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. Honestly, I can spend 10 minutes in the bread aisle just deciding which type of whole-wheat I want.

The idea behind all the “Eat, Pray, Love” solo adventures isn’t to just tan, it’s to reflect. A key element of reflection is asking yourself questions. These can be big, like, “What does success mean to me?” or small, like, “Does the thought of attending classes next week make me feel slightly suicidal?” Most importantly, question the foundation of who you think you are and who you want to be.

The minute you choose to do what you really want to do, it’s a different kind of life.— Buckminister Fuller

Thinking about what you want to do in life in terms of travel is quite helpful though. I’ve found the best way to experience a city is to have some bucket list places you want to go, a map so you can get there, but letting yourself explore the rest of the time. In other words, you should have some idea what makes you happy and you’d like to do, equip yourself with the tools to get there (education, mentors, and the internet would all fall under this category), but then let yourself take the scenic route.

It’s the detours—the guys you date but don’t marry, the friends you go partying with from the hostel then leave in the morning, the places you study abroad but don’t ultimately live—that make for some of the best adventures. And who regrets adventures?

The ship is safest when it is in port, but that’s not what ships were built for.— Paulo Coelho

Other travel-metaphor-based lessons: try out different things. Be the person who metaphorically, and literally, samples all the gelato flavors since (I am this person), they always end up happiest with their decision. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Every time you’re in a new culture you’re pushing yourself, at least a bit, outside your comfort zone.

When you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life and trying new things, you’re going to fail at some. Embrace failure, push yourself, and keep going. And at the end of the day, if you’re having a good time most of the time, you’re doing things right. You’re going to get where you want to go eventually, so relax and enjoy the adventure.

Cover Image via Urban Outfitters.

Also published on Medium.