“You’re 26 years old; you should have your career all figured out by now,” My brain says.
My head begins to spin. I feel anxious and scattered.
While everyone else appears to have their lives figured out, I’m standing on a shifting Rubik’s cube. My close friend FOMO (fear of missing out), looms over me like a dark cloud.
“What are you going to do with your life? Another day passes, and you’re still stuck.”
“SHUT UP ALREADY” I yell at the voice in my head.
A few pedestrians walk by looking a bit frightened by me.
“It’s OK; I’m talking to the voice in my head, not you guys!” I laugh.
Here I am going mad, trying to figure out the rest of my life in one sitting. That never worked, but for some reason, I kept doing it.
I had done my fair of soul-searching. Though, I had still not settled on a direction. My pursuits were numerous and short-lived.
My first idea was personal training. Then, I was passionate about environmental planning, only to see that venture fade. I wanted to be in the music industry but felt the constant uncertainty of how I would provide for myself playing music.
It was frustrating not being able to “figure it out.” I envied my friends who seemed always to know their career path.
“Maybe I should have pursued STEM. At least I know I’m walking into a job when I graduate.”
But I didn’t have any interest in those fields.
Much of my confusion was self-imposed. I had such high expectations of what a career should look like when in real life the process is never as sexy as the idea. Nearly any route you take, there’s going to be work you don’t want to do. That’s part of the deal.
“But damn it, If I’m going to spend most life working–it’s got to make me feel good!” I’d tell myself. We all want work that makes us feel good, but you can’t expect that right away.
My indecision was a stressful burden, and I was tired of feeling lopsided. I began looking at the mindset and behaviors of successful people. Finding direction, I discovered would not be gained by stewing in my head. I had to think less and start doing more.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:
It would be easy for me just to tell you to “do what you love.” But I feel that saying is a bit cliché and redundant. If you know what you love to do, and it offers a service that others deem valuable, then go for it. Just be honest with yourself. “Why do you want to pursue this career path?” It’s easy to become swept away by thoughts of grandeur and excess. That’s not a healthy starting point for finding your direction.
Realize if you’re passionate about something, you don’t have to make it into your career. You might enjoy it more as a hobby when there are not any expectations. I would say most people have multiple interests, and that limiting yourself to one thing is a bit narrow-minded. I realized in playing music that my expectations of a successful career got in the way of me enjoying the process. There are plenty of individuals, who don’t mind mixing art with business, but I decided it wasn’t for me. It depends on your needs and preferences. Consider the kind of lifestyle you want. Do you want to travel as part of your work? Or do want predictability and consistency? There are many ways to incorporate your passions into work.
Stop reading about it and act.
Sitting back, and basking in confusion doesn’t do you any good. If you’re anything like me, you love ideas. You can come up scenarios in your head in an instant and obsess over them–good or bad. Don’t judge a potential opportunity without trying it. Often, our thoughts on these scenarios are fear based and keep us from acting.
There’s no blueprint for finding your direction. No matter how many books you read, Venn diagrams you draw, or insurance policies you have, there are going to be obstacles. You will experience rejection, and you’ll have setbacks. At the same time, you’ll know more about your interests, and your skill set.
Unitask as much as possible:
The best way to find your direction is trial and error. Give yourself time to commit and feel it out before moving on.
Short flings are inadequate to judge whether a potential career. It’s essential to uni-task. Is it possible to do ten things at one time as well someone who’s putting all their energy into one thing? It doesn’t make any sense. Once you’ve determined a direction you’re going in, commit to it for at least six months to a year. If you change direction to early, you’ll end up more confused about where to go next. All new ventures take time to develop. Be patient.
There’s a false sense of security in spreading ourselves thin. “What if I’m missing out on something better?” This question is an escape. It provides false comfort that all possibilities are still open. Never fully committing ourselves is bound to leave us frustrated and lost. Eventually, you must accept that you can’t have every scenario. This acceptance was a significant hurdle for me. Though, I realized I’d prefer to move forward and take direction then aimlessly wander into possibilities.
Don’t overthink it.
It’s easy to make our ideas more complicated than they are. I’ve learned most solutions are straightforward.
Sometimes I’m unsure of my next move.
“Should I focus on my blog? ” “Should I pitch to more websites?” “Should I take more writing courses?” “Should I expand my blog topics?”
All these questions usually get me in a rut. If I’m stuck and getting caught in indecision, I remind myself that writing is always a step forward. Keeping momentum gives me a better picture of what to do next. Any movement forward is better than indecision; don’t wait around for answers.
Similarly, starting out in a new direction can feel overwhelming at first. It’s essential you remind yourself that it’s okay to feel this way. If we’re resistant to the initial discomfort were likely to give in to it and not persist. There are plentiful resources online. Udemy is an excellent website for learning practically anything. I took courses in blog writing, music theory, and writing quality.
Adopt the mindset that there is always a constructive step you can take if you allow yourself to slow down and not overreact the moment you’re faced with a challenge.
Hold yourself accountable
Accountability goes back to uni-tasking and adds a third-party element to ensure we don’t stray from our word. Many of us will readily justify our change in direction. We’re experts at lying to ourselves why we shouldn’t stick to our commitments when the going gets rough.
“I can’t do this because I have to be more present.”
“It’s too difficult. I don’t have the expertise necessary.”
“This is not fun; I don’t want to do it anymore.”
These are excuses. You might not be able to recognize them immediately, so it’s essential to have a friend or family member hold you accountable. Most of us don’t want to let others down or feel embarrassed. Have your statement to commit written on a sheet of paper. Give one to the other person, and a copy for yourself.
Any endeavor you pursue will be painful and uncomfortable at times– especially if you work for yourself. Every day is a challenge. Learn to embrace obstacles and feel empowered when you conquer them.
Having the right intention of pursuing a career is crucial. One of my motivations for doing freelance work is the lifestyle; I’ve never desired to work for someone else, so being location independent and on my schedule is appealing. While I haven’t achieved that yet, imagining this liberty helps me from giving up on my goals. I also use prosocial motivation. It’s satisfying to me when people read my posts. I imagine in small ways; I’m helping other people find balance in their lives. Or maybe I made someone’s day. Great.
Motivations for freedom of time and location and prosocial motivation are more sustainable than motives for material and financial gain. While you need money and material comfort to live and be location independent, it’s essential they’re not your primary motivation. Let’s suppose wealth gives you all the excesses you imagined. Initially, it will be satisfying. However, over time you will need to have more to have satisfaction. I’m not shunning anyone who does this, but it’s no mystery that a mindset also focused on others is happier and more balanced.
While not knowing what you want to do with your life is stressful and downright terrifying at times, realize you’re not in this alone. It is normal to feel this way. While there are plenty of people that have it “figured out” they probably won’t tell you what hardships they went through to get to that point. Most of us in one way or another, have moments in our lives when we feel a bit lost. Contrary to our fears, we’re never far from finding our direction again. It’s simply a matter of using the resources at our fingertips and our own wisdom to make it clear to us.