If you’ve asked yourself what should I do with my life more than once, know that you’re far from alone in this. A few days ago, my seven-year-old daughter seemed stressed out, so I asked her what was wrong. She looked at me with concern and said, “What happens if I grow up and I don’t know what I want to be?” On the inside, I chuckled because it was such a cute and innocent question coming from her. On the outside, I hugged her and told her she shouldn’t worry because she had a long time figuring that out.
Just a year before, she had told me that when she grows up, she’ll be a teacher on Monday and Tuesday, a doctor on Wednesday and Thursday, and a scientist on Friday. It feels strange for such a young child to ask herself what I should do with my life, but is there ever a good time for that question? It will pop up one day or another. If I had to choose, I’d rather ask it when I’m seven and not when I’m twenty-five or thirty-five like I did.
That begs the follow-up, is there ever a good answer out there?
The Problem With Life Purpose
The truth is, there is no answer. There is no “real” answer to “what should I do with my life?”. Wait, wait! Don’t run away. I promise you this is going somewhere, and it’s not the beginning of a nihilist cult or a clickbait so I can ramble about a prophecy. Stick a bit longer, and it will make sense.
The main problem with “what should I do with my life” is that the question is too open-ended, and you can’t even organize the options in front of you because they’re just too many.
It’s like a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet. The tables and trays of food extend in every direction, and the smell pulls you like invisible strings. You wonder, What should I eat? I can’t eat everything, although I like everything. (well, maybe not the oysters).
The difference here is clear: although there are a lot of options, they are still limited. You can observe all of them in just a few steps and a couple of sniffs. As you walk around those tables, empty plate in your hand, your brain is doing a quick analysis.
You narrow things down in just a few minutes and return to your table with a full plate and a smiley face.
Unfortunately, when it comes to life as a whole, you can’t see those trays; they don’t exist. And even if they did, they’d be so long that you’d have to run for days to go around them.
That’s because life is complex, and the myriad of possibilities makes it impossible to put together a list to chose from.
Then, there’s the second problem.
You were okay with the food at the Chinese buffet, even if it wasn’t your absolute favorite. Even if it were okay-ish, you’d still leave that place with a scratched itch and a head filled with dopamine. You’re happy.
When it comes to the purpose in life, we’ve all been conditioned that it must be grand; it must be giant. So big that it will lift us off our feet and make us fly above the world, where we can observe the magnificence of our presence on Earth.
Excuse my French, but that’s a load of crap.
We Are All In The Fog
No matter what you do or don’t do, there’s always something else that you could be doing. But, as you realize, you can’t do everything, much like you can’t try every single food at the Chinese buffet. The trick is you won’t know if it’s good or fulfilling you until you do it.
And therein lies the paradox. You have to select something and try it out; pure theory won’t work. That’s where things get terrifying.
What if I chose the wrong thing?
Is there such thing as choosing the wrong thing? So long as your choice has your mind, heart, and soul behind it, how can it be wrong?
It might not turn out the outcome you desired, but it will never be wrong. It will be a flashlight you shine through the fog to reveal the path. If you interpret every wrong turn you take as showing where not to go, things no longer appear so gloomy.
But, you’ll say: what if the wrong turn takes a really long time and there’s not enough time in my life to change the path? If the wrong turn is very long, then ask yourself, was it indeed a wrong turn?
With the plate full of food in front of you, you might still think: “Eh, I should’ve tried the lobster. Too late now.” You still leave happy, but could you have been happier? Perhaps, but does it matter? It shouldn’t because you achieve happiness through your own decisions; focusing on how much satisfaction you could’ve achieved had you had chosen differently is counterproductive and doesn’t add value.
It’s the same way with life. If the choices you make and the decisions you take are not random, then there is a reason why you’ve made them. In that sense, they are not wrong. They will merely reflect your level of self-awareness and judgment at that moment; they are a part of your learning and growth.
For instance, I know that my daughter’s judgment at six to have three different jobs throughout the week reflects her lack of understanding of how careers work in the real world. If she still has the same judgment at fifteen, that might be a problem.
In the end, it all comes down to that self-awareness and looking at life as a huge Chinese buffet. How do you do that? Simple: use some good old questions that never fail.
3 Questions to Ask Instead of What Should I Do With My Life
What Do You Hate With a Passion?
Much like I don’t care to see oysters at a buffet, you don’t want to allow anything you genuinely despise even make it in your list of options.
You might ask why anybody would ever do that, but you’d be surprised how many do. It’s a matter of priorities.
Two things in life will throw a wrench in your plans when you have them or don’t: money and status.
Several things in life lift your status and give you money. Some, give you both. Of course, it’s a matter of how you use them, but that’s not the point.
Often, when you chase merely the status and the money as an end goal, you might act against your values or do things that you wouldn’t think you’d do. In the long run, those activities will turn into the opposite of passion. They’ll be dreadful. Perhaps you’ll have the money and the status, but you won’t have happiness or fulfillment.
Don’t read this as an implication that having money and status is wrong. It’s not, but the way you approach it and what you do to get it matters.
So, using your list of values and beliefs, make sure you remove as an option anything that you believe you’ll never enjoy doing or being.
What Do You Love When Others Do It?
We all have our heroes; in the media, in our family, in history. Everywhere, the world is dotted with different people we admire and, sometimes, idolize. We aspire to be like them, do what they do, and understand why and how they do it.
What others do and how their lives make you feel are potent catalysts. They’re like a super-charged flashlight that can cut through the fog and hand you a shortcut.
You already know how you feel when you see them do it. It’s a mental shortcut because you know that you’d probably feel the same way or even stronger if you were to do the same or similar thing.
So, list your heroes and what they do. Write down why they inspire you and how you feel when you are inspired. How does it manifest in your body?
Can you picture yourself doing similar things?
What Does My Obituary Say?
Yes, we’re going there; it’s gloomy as hell, but it’s effective. I don’t think you should blame me for this one, though. I learned about this question from Dr. Stephen Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
True to the title, this is a highly effective question. It asks you to set yourself at your own funeral mentally. As you hover above the people gathered, different folks get up and give a eulogy to you.
I promise that if you manage to get through the creepiness of it all, you won’t be disappointed by this exercise.
The question is: what would you like those people to say? Think about friends, family, co-workers. How would they talk about your life and about what you did?
Let the answers come to you in the form of an actual obituary or eulogy. Then, write them down in as much detail as you can.
Those ideas will provide you with an anchor; they’ll reveal deeply hidden desires that you have about your life that you might otherwise be afraid to say out loud.
It’s like a fan that thins the fog so you can see the path even better.
So, what does your obituary say?
6 Tips To Help You Figure Out What’s Next In Life
A critical thing about what’s next in life is that it doesn’t matter if you are aware of it or not. It doesn’t matter if you know the answer—life goes on. Every day, you wake up and do things. Sometimes you do great things; other times, you do shitty things. No matter what, you do something. Even lying down in bed moping qualifies as doing something.
Life will continue to go on regardless if you know what you’d want it to be.
However, there are some things you could do that would make that proverbial fog even thinner. None of them are giant steps on the Moon or earth-shattering paradigm changes.
They are tiny steps you can take along the still-foggy path. With each step, you’ll ruffle that fog and reveal more of the way.
Here are six tips to help you further in your quest for what’s next in life.
Move and be active
Tony Robbins once said, “emotion comes from motion.” Many times, your body follows your mind. You sit and walk a certain way when you’re sad, and you do it differently when you’re happy.
Thankfully, it also works the other way around. When you are sedentary for a long time, your mind becomes sedentary as well. The longer you are in that state, the fewer opportunities you’ll see in front of you. Much like your agility, flexibility, and balance wither away in your body, so does your mind’s sharpness.
To prevent that from happening, move because when you move your body, your mind follows.
It sounds silly, but when you don’t know what to do with your life, you can decide that one way to circumvent the terror of its answer (or lack thereof) is to say this: I will wake up every morning and exercise or take a walk or do yoga.
It’s amazing what power such a simple and, yes, silly way to answer it that is. But it works because Tony Robbins is correct: your mind will follow your body.
Talk to people
No one lives alone or isolated on an island, at least not the vast majority of us. We all live somewhere in the vicinity of other people–some we like, some we don’t, some we love, others we despise.
However, some people are always there for you. They’re the ones who won’t judge you for your thoughts or your appearance. They won’t tell you that your ideas are silly. Instead, they’ll listen and be there for you.
They may not have the answers, and they, themselves, might be in their own different fog. But talking to people about the fog is what makes that fog lose its grip on you.
Often, you feel alone in your fogginess; when you talk to other people and realize that others are in the same boat, you won’t feel alone anymore.
Talk to others and see where they are; share how you feel. That’s not to say that you’ll get all the answers, but it will help jiggle your mind and, eventually, you’ll create the answers yourself.
Connection with others boosts your ability to think clearly and expand your mind.
I hear many people who ask about what’s next in life, but they’re not willing to attempt to change anything. I know because I was one of them for many years.
One thing that was oblivious to me is that if you do the same thing in the same way repeatedly, you’ll always get the same results. So, if you lift the same weight one million times, your muscles will never learn how to raise a heavier weight.
Challenging yourself means understanding and accepting that to get out of the rut, you need to change, and change requires a little bit of pain and suffering. It requires you to step outside of the comfort zone boldly, albeit in a healthy way, and test those boundaries.
Often, the answer to what should I do with my life lies on the fringes of those boundaries, just outside of them. If you never tiptoe there, you’ll never get to them. The more you push those boundaries and expand the comfort zone, the more “Chinese buffet tables” you’ll reveal.
So, be bold and challenge your physical, mental, and emotional limits.
Do one thing
To continue the Chinese buffet analogy, when you feel overwhelmed by too many options and want to try everything at once, you wind up stuck in place. The best way to get unstuck is to do one thing with the most return on investment for you.
This one is tricky, but it works well when you feel stuck. I often advocate the need for everyone to have a lifelong vision paired up with good goals. Once you have that vision set up, you might feel overwhelmed about the first step. How do you even get there?
In other words, you have an answer to what should I do with my life, but you don’t have an answer to what should I do with my life next. That next is the critical piece.
To help you get out of that rut, you need to identify a minor step you can take toward one area of your vision. If your idea is to change professions, one first step would be to sign-up for a class. If your idea is to buy a new home, one first step would be to research locations.
Whatever it is, look at the whole process and zoom in on the beginning. Everything has a start, and the tendency is to make that starting point too big. Although thinking big is great, you might get stuck when you’re thinking too big in practical terms. So, work to identify that easy first step that you need and take it boldly.
Train your judgment
Decision-making is one of the most critical skills you can have, and not just in business but in all aspects of life. When you train your judgment and learn how to make quick decisions with confidence, you’ll find yourself trying more things which will give you the chance to experience multiple things.
When your judgment is impaired due to lack of experience, your self-awareness suffers. That will chip away at your self-confidence and self-esteem, which will only get you more stuck.
One of the biggest fears that spawn from the question of what should I do with my life is not the lack of answers but your inability to state if the answers you get are right or wrong. The more you agonize over that, the less you are likely to move on and try things out.
Therefore, practicing decision-making and constantly training your judgment is an essential step before answering the question with courage and being okay with the answers.
Fail often and be okay with it
Like I said above, one great thing to improve the clarity in your life is to eliminate those things that you don’t want to do. One of the best ways to do so is to be okay with trying out many things and failing at them fast. Failure doesn’t equate to quitting; it’s a simple method that allows you to identify early all the things you don’t enjoy.
Note that I’m not advocating to automatically cross off the list all the things that you failed at. I’m talking about a mindset change of being okay with failing. If you are afraid of failure, the chances of you trying things out will diminish significantly. You’ll narrow the scope of your experiences to the point where you’ll only do those things you’re comfortable with, hence the lack of challenge.
Keep telling yourself that it’s okay to fail. In fact, it’s not even failure, but learning how not to do something or figuring out what not to do. Much like Edison found 10000 ways how not to make a light bulb before he found the right way to do it, don’t think about failing as “being a failure” but as in not have found the right way yet.
That kind of learning mindset will allow you to try things out, and from the myriad of things you’ll try out, you’ll eventually find the one that fuels your passion. With that, you’ll be a lot closer to answering the question of what should I do with my life.
What Should I Do With My Life?
Even people who seem to know very well what to do with their lives and who’ve already done a big chunk of that still ask themselves what should I do with my life. It’s a natural question that comes from pure curiosity and wondering about the future and its possibilities.
However, those who know what to do with their lives don’t linger with that question for too long. They move on quickly and apply the tips above to get to the next chapter. That next chapter will reveal new possibilities and new horizons. Those opportunities will, once again, raise the same question, and the cycle will repeat.
Don’t be afraid of the question; embrace it but be biased to action. Asking what should I do with my life is the first part of your growth and self-awareness. But don’t stay there too long. Ask it, then do something about it.
Action will propel you forward, and you can then leave that question in the rear mirror before you reencounter it in your next chapter.
So, what are you going to do with your life? Whatever it is, do it today!
Other Resources With Answers On What’s Next In Life
- A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
- 7 Ways to Find the Answer to “What Should I Do With My Life?”
- I Don’t Know What to Do With My Life! 5 Steps to Get Unstuck
- 7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- How often do you ask yourself what should I do with my life?
- Was there any major decision that changed the course of your life that you still question today?
- What are some ways you get yourself unstuck when you ask yourself, what should I do next?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!