In this article, I explain why “what should I do with my life?” is a question that is worthy of exploration, what makes it difficult to answer, and some techniques you can use to help you approach it as a process that will lead to helpful conclusions.
Children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. Sometimes advice is offered, but it seems that often the subject has not been explored at a deep enough level, especially given that many people find themselves asking “what should I do with my life?” long after their studies have ended.
WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO ANSWER THE QUESTION: “WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE?”
Put simply, sometimes there just isn’t space to ask this kind of big question, there are more pressing needs to contend with: putting food on the table, finding a partner, paying the mortgage, having and raising children. Choices are dictated by practical considerations that might seem to exclude bigger dreams.
For some, routine and predictability is easier to work with than change, even if they feel miserable or bored. For others, difficult personal circumstances and constraints beyond their control have ruled out the possibility of even asking the question, “what do I want in my life?”.
There are many circumstances that can instigate change by creating a tipping point – bad jobs, bereavement, unhappy marriages, depression, unfulfilled life ambitions, unexpected life changes, children leaving home, to name but a few. These are often necessary forces that drive people to ask for more from their lives.
FINDING SENSE AND MEANING
If your life is a patchwork of experiences that haven’t led you to where you want to be, it can be helpful to remember that we usually make sense of our lives through retrospection, and that there will inevitably be moments where it looks like life has been just a series of arbitrary experiences. However, one key experience or choice can suddenly make sense of all that has gone before. Steve Jobs described this as joining the dots backwards.
When we face forwards, uncertainty is inevitable. It can be reassuring to have a goal or a plan, but to really find a true sense of purpose it is also helpful to remember that life might have other ideas for you, ideas that you cannot yet see.
Your particular blend of life experience may even lead you to create something that has no precedent, so you cannot look around you to find examples of it that already exist. Being willing to work with the question “what shall I do with my life?” is a brave step into the unknown realm of new possibilities.
So what can you rely on as your guide? Modern day life favours logic and thinking over feeling, but this brings with it the possibility of paralysis through over-thinking, or another version of the life you had before under a different guise.
The heart holds wisdom and the key to your desires. The gut plays a role too: it connects you with your instinct and intuition, both helpful navigation tools when you are charting your course in life. There are good reasons for talking about a gut feeling about something, or your heart not being in it. When these two centres can be tapped into, a new way of feeling your way forwards can be found which has the potential to be much more satisfying than plans worked out on paper using logic.
SKETCH YOUR FUTURE
Although the question of what you should do with your life is a difficult one, I believe it is essential to keep asking “what do I want?” and to listen to yourself deeply if you do not wish to sleep-walk through life. Patience and openness are also key. As you move through time, new people, new experiences and thoughts can shape how you see the world and your role in it.
The way I look at this process is like sketching. You have to build up a picture over time, beginning with broad strokes and gradually working into the finer details.
If you would like to set up this enquiry and to follow where it may take you, here are some suggestions that may help you.
1. ALLOW SOME SPACE FOR THE “NOT KNOWING”
Feeling purposeless is uncomfortable, and perhaps even painful, especially when you know deep down that you have something to offer that isn’t currently being expressed.
You may also have strong negative feelings about your current situation. Can you allow yourself to connect with the emotions that are triggered?
If you can, write a few sentences about the feelings that arise so that you have a clear sense of what you are up against. Even though this doesn’t change the not knowing, it begins to build a picture of what your dilemma looks like.
2. EXCLUDE WHAT YOU DON’T WANT
Perhaps the idea of being stuck in an office for another year is too much to bear. Or maybe you know that you cannot spend a moment longer in your current relationship. Start by identifying anything in your current situation that you don’t want. Now you know what you need to move away from, even if you don’t yet know what you would like to move towards.
3. USE TOOLS DEVELOPED TO HELP YOU IDENTIFY YOUR DREAMS AND SKILLS
These two relatively affordable tools offer different ways of exploring what you should do with your life.
Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, offers a programme that uses writing to reflect upon the past and the future, asking specific questions that help people to build a vision of their futures. You can find more information about this process by visiting his website:
Another helpful avenue to explore is Clifton Strengths. This is often used when looking for direction in a career, but can be helpful in life more generally. By answering a series of questions, this programme produces a summary of where your strengths lie, and the sorts of work that you would be well-adapted to. Such exercises can be useful in narrowing down your field of search.
Talking to another person also helps. I offer Life Purpose Work, which uses a combination of techniques to help clients who are in a period of transition to gain clarity about what they are here to do and how they want to do it.
You can book an obligation-free discovery call or contact me to book a session using the buttons below.
Or, read more about Life Purpose Work in these articles:
SOME WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT…
Finally, it is never too late to start enquiring into your life’s purpose. Whether you have just finished school or you have spent many years working, there are no rules to follow, only your own curiosity and desires for a more meaningful life.
If you stick with it, eventually the answers will reveal themselves, and as you gain momentum you may find that you become more than you could ever have imagined when you began asking the question.
In the moments where you feel lost, just remember that everything you do matters and that everything happens in its own good time. You are exactly where you need to be right now and the world needs what you can bring.