What Should I Do With My Life? 36 Steps To Your Answer
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Whether you're 16 or 60, or any age for that matter, you will bump up against this question at some point: “What should I do with my life?”
There's nothing quite so daunting as asking yourself this question only to see a vast emptiness ahead of you. How on earth do you know what to do when you have no idea where you're going?
Even if you're gainfully employed in a respectable career, you could still be thinking, “I don't know what to do with my life.”
So many people have lost touch with who and what they want to be because they've been so busy doing what the think they're supposed to do — only to find themselves unfulfilled and bored.
Many people blame the economy or money problems for their unhappiness, but the truth is, it's often more about doing something you're not passionate about. You feel empty and without purpose, going through the motions just to keep the paychecks rolling in.
What Am I Doing with My Life?
When you ask this question and the answer isn't obvious (or it seems to difficult to figure it out), it's very tempting to distract yourself with trivialities. You might spend hours surfing the net, playing online games or lingering over Facebook.
Maybe you shop away the time, tinker with projects, or watch sports on TV. You try to fill the emptiness with something, anything that doesn't force you to think about what you're not doing and what you're not achieving. You know you need to get a life, but you just don't have it in you to shake things up.
Eventually, though, the emptiness rises to the surface, and you have to take action before you fall into complete despair.
- Maybe you're in a job that doesn't inspire you.
- You might be just starting out in the workforce, but you have no idea what you want to do.
- Maybe you're about to become an empty nester or nearing retirement, and the years ahead look confusing and desolate.
Regardless of your age or specific situation, you are standing at a crossroad without a sign to guide you. That's why I think it's so valuable to start by examining what you're passionate about.
Once you discover what you love, you will harness the motivation and momentum to wake up each morning eager and ready to start your day.
But how are you supposed to find your passion and purpose if you have no idea what it is? You may have limiting beliefs that are thwarting your efforts at discovering it.
If you think it's too late or you're too old, or you don't trust your own judgment, or you feel uncomfortable “rocking the boat,” you may be holding yourself back from living your true passion.
You have to commit to the search and have a positive attitude about finding what you love. You can easily start your search without too much effort or time.
- Take some assessment tests to find out where your strengths and interests are.
- Talk to other people who have jobs that fascinate or inspire you.
- Decide if your hobby or interest could somehow be turned into a career.
- Take a course on finding your passion to help you figure it out.
Once you are able to find your passion, it will be easier to focus on the possible things you could do with your life. During this process of trying to find it, there are two important questions to ask yourself:
1. What Do I Want in Life?
Do you want happiness? Creativity? Productivity? Freedom? All of the above? Maybe you're stuck on, “What should I do for a career to feel deeply fulfilled?”
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There are a lot of things that people want out of life, but to obtain them, you have to know what you value and then spend your time in a career or create a lifestyle that supports your values.
For example, if you want to do meaningful work and you have a passion for helping other people, find a way to earn a living by being of service to others.
Take the time to prioritize what you want and what your core values are, and then ask yourself why these values are important to you. To help you do this, check out step #2 below on finding your core values.
2. What is My Purpose in Life?
It is easy to suffer from inner turmoil if you don't know what your purpose is. If you are trying to discover your path, it is important to keep three things in mind:
- First, stop thinking about it and take action instead. Get out there and try different things to see if they give you a sense of purpose. You can't just cross something off of your mental list without trying.
- Second, figure out what inspires you and motivates you, even if it doesn't fit into a traditional career mold.
- Third, let go of the idea that you only have one purpose. The truth is, you may have multiple passions and purposes in life. Stop your quest to find the one thing and accept that many things may speak to you throughout your life.
Let's talk about how you can uncover what you should do with your life so you can enjoy sustained happiness and pursue your authentic dreams.
What Should I Do with My Life? 36 Actionable Steps to Find Out
Step 1: Don't sweat it.
Take a deep breath and realize you aren't alone and this feeling isn't abnormal. You might look around you and think everyone else knows exactly what they're doing and that you're the only person in the world who feels confused and directionless. But that simply isn't true.
The majority of people find themselves at this crossroads in at some point in their lives. Nothing remains static. Our values, interests, and life circumstances are constantly shifting, and with those shifts comes the inevitable restlessness and need to forge a new path.
From my own personal experience going through a confusing time in my life, and from my work with many coaching clients who have been in this position, you WILL find your way through.
Be patient and kind with yourself, and remain confident in your own good judgment and problem-solving abilities.
Step 2: Define your core values.
Whatever it is you ultimately want to do with your life should reflect and support your core values. Your values are your guiding principles and the areas of your life that are most important to you.
If you spend your time pursuing things that don't support your core values, you'll eventually feel restless and unhappy. That's why filling your time on Facebook or watching sports all day makes you feel like a slug. Your values are calling out to you and reminding you there is more to your life.
If you don't know your values, take a look at this list of 400 value words to help you out. I suggest you pick 5-10 value words for both your personal and professional life.
You might have a hard time narrowing down the list, but you'll see you may choose words that are very similar. Pick your non-negotiables and write them down.
Step 3: Assess your current life.
Once you have your values defined, compare your current life or work circumstances to your values.
- Where are you living in misalignment with your values?
- Are there any important values that aren't expressed at all in your life?
- Are there any immediate changes you could make to better live your values?
For example, if one of your values is creativity, what are you doing now to express creativity? If you are doing very little, how can you add more creativity into your daily life or work?
This may not solve your bigger question about what to do with your life, but it does reflect back to you what you want and need more of in your life. This awareness helps you refine any future decisions or actions.
Step 4: Define the skills you enjoy.
Everyone has skills, and these shouldn't be limited to the skills you've learned in school or on the job. You may have innate skills in leadership, communication, compassion, writing, problem-solving, etc. Think about all of the skills you have learned, as well as some of your natural skills.
You may need to ask someone close to you to reflect back what they see as your natural skills. You might take some of these natural skills for granted and assume everyone has them. This list of personality traits might help you define some of your natural aptitudes.
Write a list of all of your skills, and then go back through the list and circle the ones you find the most enjoyable, fulfilling, and interesting. You may have skills you don't find enjoyable at all, and you don't want to focus on those.
Once you have a list of skills you enjoy, go back again and circle the skills that support your core values.
Step 5: Get clear on your personality type.
If you've never take a personality test, like the Myers Briggs personality assessment, I strongly recommend you do so. It gives you a much better understanding of your motivations, aptitudes, and strengths.
Just seeing this information, along with a description of your type and the careers and endeavors best suited to you, is really helpful.
When I first tried to figure out my next steps in life, taking a personality assessment is where I began. This free online assessment is a good one to try. Once you get your four-letter type, do some research online to read more about your type.
Make notes about career suggestions, any information that resonates with you, and any ideas that intrigue or excite you.
Step 6: Pool your information.
On a separate sheet of paper, write down your core values for your personal and professional life, your favorite skills, and any ideas you gleaned from your personality type. Look for patterns and overlaps in the information in front of you.
When I did this exercise, I saw immediately that my values of service, creativity, and autonomy could be supported by my favorite skills in communication, writing, listening, and organizing.
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I also saw how the careers of counseling, coaching, and teaching that were suggested in my personality type could work with both my values and my skills.
This step is really important because it helps you narrow the field of possibilities and makes you focus in a particular direction.
Step 7: Do your research.
Start researching some of the ideas that are forming. You can Google, “great careers for INFJs” (or whatever your personality type is). You can also research “careers that require XYZ skills” or “careers for people who like to XYZ.”
If you don't know if a career move is your next step, then look for volunteer opportunities or hobbies in the areas you are researching.
As you make a list of possibilities (for either a career or other endeavor), then do separate research to discover more about the specific responsibilities, education, knowledge, and skills involved for each possibility.
Step 8: Determine what you're missing.
In your research, you may determine you need more training or education. You may discover you need to buff up your existing skills or gain more hands-on experience. Do your research on exactly what's involved in getting up to speed and how you can do this.
When I was going through this process, I learned I needed more education for either a career in counseling or coaching. I ultimately decided to get my coaching certification because I liked the coaching model, and it required far less time and formal education than getting licensed as a counselor would have.
Take into consideration your particular lifestyle, family obligations, and available time.
Step 9: Review your finances.
Whether you decide to start over in your career, go back to school, or travel the world, you'll need some amount of money to pursue your next phase of life. Maybe you already have plenty of savings set aside, and this isn't an issue for you.
But most of us will need to plan financially for any big life changes. Even if you aren't sure yet what your next steps might be, start setting aside money so you will be prepared when the time comes.
Try to build up a savings of six months to year's worth of income. Don't let a lack of money hold you back from creating a future that is passionate and rewarding.
Step 10: Try something.
You'll never know for sure whether or not you've found what you want to do with your life until you give something a try. Use all of the information you've gleaned to take the next most obvious step, even if you're unsure.
For me, that meant signing up for coaching school. I wasn't completely sure when I enrolled that I wanted to be a coach. I had to immerse myself in it before I felt more certainty.
Experimenting like this might feel like a waste of time, but it's the only way to gain clarity. Even if you discover you're on the wrong path, your efforts aren't in vain. Everything you try gives you information for the next action you take.
Have faith in the intelligence you've gathered from the previous steps, and keep putting your toe in the water of various possibilities until one “feels” right. You really do need to feel your way forward, always measuring your actions against your values.
Step 11: Enjoy the process.
When you are in that stuck place of not knowing, you feel despondent and directionless. But once you begin to take action to figure it out, you become more energized and hopeful.
You may not have complete certainty for a while, but you know you're moving in the right direction.
Try to see the process of figuring it out as your life purpose for the time being. During this time of exploration, your job and mission in life are to explore and discover. Rather than seeing this time as purgatory, envision it as a grand adventure instead.
Step 12: Remain open to possibilities.
As you work toward deciding what to do with your life, you'll encounter many doors of opportunity and possibility. You may think you're headed down one path, only to see an enticing detour that leads to another. Allow yourself to open all doors and take many detours. You never know where they will take you.
I thought my future career was just in coaching. But as I became a coach, I also discovered that I had a passion for blogging and writing. This created a huge additional opportunity that I never even considered when I first began my search. Life is full of surprises.
Step 13: Let go of your limiting thoughts.
Are you stuck in a career you hate but feel you can't afford to leave it? Maybe you have hit midlife and figure you are too old to start over.
Don't let these limiting beliefs hold you back and become your excuses for not making a change. You can change your thoughts to support your goals.
Whatever fears and anxieties you are clutching on to (I am too old, I don't have time, I can't go back to school), acknowledge that they aren't necessarily true. They aren't insurmountable if you give yourself permission to challenge them.
Step 14. Address current problems before jumping ship.
Maybe you don't need a new job after all but rather some changes in your current one. Is there any way that you could love your job if just a few things were different?
Think about the things that are holding you back from being satisfied in your current position and make sure that these are not things that you can change before you decide to move on.
You don't want to find yourself facing the same problems in your next career that you are facing now.
Be sure that it's the nature of your job or some unchangeable aspect of it (like an unscrupulous boss who isn't leaving any time soon) that you want to leave, not something that can be corrected or that is an inevitable part of any job.
Step 15. Do things that scare you.
If you have stayed in a job you dislike for a long time, it may be because you're comfortable and there's little risk associated with staying put.
You have to be willing to take chances and face failure in order to live a life you're passionate about. Try to get more comfortable with discomfort, recognizing that any positive change requires some amount of risk.
You can mitigate your risk if you work on Step #9 to help ensure you are financially stable before you leave your current job.
Step 16. Be willing to put the work in.
Chasing after your dreams might require going back to school to get another degree or working your way back up from the bottom of the professional food chain.
You have to be willing to put in the hard work to get what you ultimately want. But in the big picture of your life, this work is such a small amount of time compared to the life-long reward of living more passionately.
Step 17. Determine the sacrifices you are willing to tolerate.
Everything you do will involve some sort of sacrifice. You have to know your limits in order to know what you want to do.
Are you willing to give up time with your family for a career? Are you willing to accept a lower salary? Define your limits before jumping into something.
Step 18. What are your accomplishments so far?
Think about the things in your life that make you the proudest and that were fulfilling.
Then think about how you can emulate those experiences and use them for a career or avocation.
Brainstorm ways to leverage these previous accomplishments and skills into something that will work with your current career or lifestyle goals.
Step 19. Consider your dreams if money wasn't an issue.
How would you choose to spend your time?
Answering this question can help you figure out what your true passion is. It can also help you set goals and create your path to happiness.
Step 20. What do you not want to do?
A critical part of figuring out what you want to do with your life is figuring out what you don’t want to do.
What about your current job or lifestyle do you strongly dislike? What is making you feel frustrated, undervalued, unmotivated, or bored?
Make a list of these things so you can measure any future career or life change considerations against them to ensure you don't invite them back into your life.
Step 21. Listen to other like-minded people.
Hang out with other people who are doing some of the things you want to be doing.
Ask them questions and invite them to talk about how they made decisions and took action to get to the place where they are now.
If you listen when others are talking, you can inform yourself of their motivations, hopes, and ambitions. People enjoy talking about the things they love, and not only will you learn their methods, but also you'll be inspired by their enthusiasm and passion.
Step 22. Expand your range of possibilities.
Remember, you are looking for what you want to do with your life — not what your parents want you to do or what think you “should” do.
Look beyond the obvious choices or the occupations in which you have skill and experience.
It can feel daunting to consider starting over with something new no matter how intriguing it is, and we often dismiss our ideas or dreams before we fully investigate them.
But give your dreams the chance to flourish by exploring them fully and knowing what it might take to make them real.
There is a way to securely move from your old life to a new one without sacrificing your lifestyle too much.
Step 23. Remember that you're not alone.
You are not the first, nor will you be the last person to want to make a change in your life.
Whether your change is mild or dramatic, you have to know that many people have made changes and ended up living much happier lives.
Many people have been late bloomers, finding their passions in their 40's, 50's, 60's and beyond. Read some inspiring stories
Step 24. Don't let the search overwhelm you.
All too often people get stressed out when trying to figure out what they should do with their life.
The process then turns into a heavy burden that can deter you from finding your path. Relax, it will come to you if you keep searching.
Step 25. Define your own success.
What does success look like to you? Is it all about money? Is it about prestige? Or do fulfillment and passion trump these?
You likely have been influenced by messages from other people about what success means, but your view of success doesn't have to conform.
Revisiting your core values can help you figure out your own definition of success.
Step 26. Find a community that inspires you.
The people you spend the most time with, often your co-workers, become your second family. Do these people inspire and motivate you?
Do you respect them and enjoy being around them? If not, you need to surround yourself with different people.
This might require changing jobs or looking at a different career. But this change is a short-term discomfort compared to years spent around people who drain or frustrate you.
Step 27. What do you wish you could tell other people you do?
When you meet new people, what do you wish you could say when asked what you do?
What answers have intrigued you in the past when other people answer this question?
Use these insights as guidance to figure out what you are meant to do with your life.
Step 28. Think about what challenges you.
If you are not challenged in your life, you can become bored and complacent.
It's hard to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but challenging yourself to try something new, attain a new skill, or take the more difficult (but potentially rewarding) path is an excellent way to re-engage with life.
Step 29. Stop doing what you're doing.
If you are trying to figure out what you should do with your life, then it's pretty clear that whatever you are doing now isn't working.
Instead of spending any more time doing what isn't working, make it your full-time job to find a better path for yourself.
If you can't afford to step back completely, try to cut back so you have room to focus on your search.
Step 30. What will make you feel appreciated?
Everyone wants to feel appreciated for the work they do. Being acknowledged for our contributions is the sustenance all of us need to thrive.
If you don't feel appreciated now, what needs to change so you can get that need met? Where can you find the recognition and support you need to feel good about what you are doing?
Step 31. Have patience during your search.
One misconception about discovering what you want to do with your life is that you'll have a sudden moment of clarity that will spell it out for you.
The truth is, the only way you can know for certain if you are choosing the right path is to start walking it.
Use the clues and knowledge you've gathered about yourself, your life goals, and your values to make the best decision you can.
Then you have to take action and try something. If you discover it's not right for you, you haven't wasted your time. You've learned more information about what does and doesn't work for you.
Step 32. Get started.
The simple act of doing something, no matter how small it is, will get the momentum going and motivate you to take the next step and the next.
Start small, make one phone call, read one book about the subject that you might want to pursue, or sign up for a class.
Step 33. Think about the people you admire.
Following the path of people you respect and admire can help you learn from them and emulate their best qualities.
You've heard that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so make sure that you are spending your time with like-minded people who reflect your values and goals.
Step 34. Believe in yourself.
You have to honestly believe that you can do the things that you want to do. Know that you have what it takes to make the changes you need to make.
If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. Once you are able to face your fears, you will see that they aren't so scary after all.
Even if you feel insecure, keep taking small actions to figure out what you are meant to do with your life. The more actions you take, the more confident you'll feel.
Step 35. Develop your personal brand.
What do you have to offer other people? What are your strengths? Why would someone want to invest their time and money in you?
It is important to have answers to these questions at the front of your mind so you can articulate them when opportunities arise.
Rehearse your personal “sales pitch” so you're comfortable talking enthusiastically and confidently about how you can make a difference to a person or organization.
Step 36. Don't give up.
It's hard to figure out what you should do with your life when you have no clue or when you feel stuck because of finances or life commitments.
But figuring this out is the most important endeavor you'll ever undertake. If you know you need a change but just give in to hopelessness or fear, you're settling for mediocrity, boredom, and unhappiness.
You may not find what you're looking for right away, but don't give up looking. Keep exploring, questioning, and trying out ideas.
Rather than spending too much time in your head, thinking about “How to know what to do with my life,” become a detective whose mission it is to figure it out.
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Learn as much as you can about yourself. Do what needs to be done to prepare financially and personally for your next steps, and take action every single day to move forward.
Before you know it, you'll be living the life you've created for yourself, based on your passions, values, skills, and research.
Have faith in the process and confidence in your judgment, even if you make the “wrong” choice at first. Every choice you make will ultimately lead you to the answer.
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