It’s OK Not Knowing What To Do With Your Life

When you were a little kid, you were told to dream big. And boy did your little brain fire off on all cylinders and dream big. Kids knew exactly what they wanted to do with their life and it came super easily. “Hey Billy, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Billy would inevitably answer with some kind of heavy machinery (crane operator) or service career (firefighter). All noble career choices young lad, but super fucking tough and underpaid.

But then again, you’re a kid and money magically appeared from Parents Bank, Inc. so it didn’t matter. “Hey Sally, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Inevitably, Sally would probably answer with something girly (surprise!) or moral like makeup artist or anti-human trafficking lawyer focused on cutting down sex crimes from South American countries. Again, super noble.

Then you actually did grow up, and found that you didn’t really stick to what your six-year old self boldly proclaimed. Whoops, but no problem; nothing wrong with that. Not like we can expect to have our minds made up at such a young age when we barely know how to tie our shoes. Throw in the fact that we know how money works and some careers just aren’t worth it to us based solely on that one factor. Again, nothing wrong with that, but you could always take a look at this list, too.

So what’s the problem? What’s “wrong” is that you grew up and still don’t know what to do with your life. At least you think there’s something wrong with that. But ultimately, there’s nothing wrong.

The reality is that no one really knows what the hell they want to do in life. I’m not talking about your current career either, or better yet, what you do to earn a paycheck. No, I mean what you want to do. Very few of us actually know the answer to that. And if you do, you’re one lucky son of a bitch.

Don’t Fret If You Don’t Know Your Life Yet

Pressure gets the best of us. When we aren’t somehow doing something we think is the answer to our desire to A) get paid a decent amount, and B) somewhat enjoy our lives both inside and outside work, it’s easy to freak out. It seems like either someone is telling you life isn’t guaranteed tomorrow or they’re showing you how much they love what they do through your favorite channels (social media).

We think we have to find one thing, that thing, the it thing, in order to check off the bucket list item of “successful professional career”. Like if we can master that, we’ve succeeded. It dates back to your grandparents’ generation. Spending 40 years at a career was the norm, and so was spending all those years within the same company.

You’ve also probably heard the statistic that the average person switches careers (not jobs) somewhere between three and seven times in their lifetime. Whether this holds any merit or not, it still shows that we don’t necessarily settle in on the first thing that we do, whether it’s a big jump or not. Going from finance consultant to management consultant would qualify as one tinier career switch for some people. On the other hand, I think we could agree that going from something like finance to teaching, for example, satisfies as a complete career switch. Both still take some cajones to follow through on.

Either way, there’s a mad dash and subsequent frustration when we just can’t seem to figure out what the fuck we want to do in our life, even after switching more than once. Keep in mind I’m talking professionally here, not personally – if you don’t know what you want to do in your personal life, go read my other articles.

We desperately seek the answer to our career conundrum, and inevitably end up avoiding making many moves, or really any moves, because we aren’t even sure where to step next. Fast forward 10 years, and we’re still chugging along in the same career. Bruhhhh.

What’s the solution to this impatience and frustration?

You Have Three Options

I think the most important question you need to ask yourself up front is the following: if I don’t care for what I’m doing now but got better at it, would I still not enjoy it? And would I want to switch to something else?

There’s a certain truth that talent is overrated and by giving something the hard work it might need (or even deserve), you can begin to excel in it and find yourself enjoying it on a whole other level. But there’s also a good chance that it won’t help, and will just temporarily mask the core problem: you hate what you do.

The reality is when we suck at something, we suck at it and feel like a loser. So naturally if you’re doing something you suck at, it’s not exactly fun and human nature lends us to want to bail out. The math checks out. By getting better at something, you start getting recognition, and more importantly, start feeling good.

Woman on lake in canoe staring at mountains.
Step 1 in finding your life’s calling: rent a canoe and go stare at some mountains.

The flipside is knowing that no matter what, you won’t enjoy it and you want to change. In this case, there’s about 345 ways you can pivot from where you’re at. Two of the 345 ways are taking another job that is slightly different from your current one, and taking a job that is the complete opposite of what you’ve been doing. A third option out of the 345 is utilizing your free time: trying something that is similar to what you’re doing or the complete opposite, seeing if it sticks, and then making a transition to running your own show (i.e. working for yourself).

None of these are an end all be all solution to your problem, unfortunately.

The Best Don’t Define Themselves

When you think about the top people in every industry, whether it’s sports, authors, business, or anything else, we tend to define them by their success in that one area of specialization. And it’s not like it’s the wrong idea – they obviously garnered huge personal success in one particular area. But behind the scenes, they’re probably involved in a lot of stuff. And once their initial “career” ends (an author stops writing his best-selling books, an athlete retires from his sport, a business owner sells his company), another one could begin just as quickly.

Think of an athlete for example; we’re talking huge success compiled in a fairly short amount of time, and at a fairly young age. Because our bodies can’t keep up, or they lost their desire to compete, careers end. But rarely do the most successful people sit around on their ass for the rest of their days.

It’s no different from other top performers in whatever area they found their success in. They might be defined by that area temporarily, but most of them pivot off and dip their toes in a plethora of areas. A real estate mogul could become a best-selling author just as easily as a best-selling author could become a real-estate mogul. Not to say it’s easy doing either. But they both found success in one area and inevitably found success in another.

Your Turn

What does this mean for you, the average schmuck with an average job that you feel just average about?

It means that you probably shouldn’t be so concerned with finding “the one” thing you’re destined to do, and instead focus on kicking ass at something you can enjoy on some level. Just make sure you enjoy it on some level. I’ll repeat it a third time: just make sure you enjoy it on some level.

If you don’t, and you want to make a move, don’t stress so much over the jump you make. It doesn’t need to even be that big of a jump. It also doesn’t have to be your end-all be-all career. Once you find success at doing something you somewhat enjoy (usually monetarily), you’ll find that pivoting isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

Most of all, enjoy the ride.

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