I thought I should write this because I went to an event today and ran into someone in their mid-twenties who was grappling with this question.
I know it’s a question you constantly ask from about age 10 till say, age 30 unless you still haven’t got an answer by then. I know it’s a question asked by a lot of people older than 30 who want to change careers or lifestyles and so on. I have had partners, family members, friends, acquaintances and students try to find answers to this question. Sometimes they have thought to ask me.
I can only give you an answer based on my experience.
The answer involves you thinking a lot about yourself, what you want, what you need, and what your resources, limits and opportunities are. So be forewarned, you need to be prepared to know yourself if you want the answer. And once you have the answer, there is still hard work ahead so you should be prepared for that too.
And you have to let go of societal expectations because this is your life, you only have one that you currently know of (even if your religion leads you to suspect you have others awaiting, this is the one you are in so make the most of it) and if you are lucky enough to be one of the 20% of the people on the planet that are even in a position to contemplate this question and make a choice, then you need to choose what you want not necessarily what society/family/culture expects you to. Think of the 80% who don’t get to choose but would do so in a heartbeat if they could be in your shoes.
So first of all, we need to answer some questions:
1) Do you know what you want to do? You know – that thing that you gravitate towards doing for the pleasure of doing it even when there is no actual reward for it? What is that thing? Is there anything? Make a list if you have several things. Don’t think about whether it will pay or not, just list everything.
2) What kind of life do you see yourself leading at say, 30, or say, ten years from now? What kind of lifestyle? What do you do for fun? Who do you socialise and associate with? What have you achieved by then? Again, make a list if you need to and again don’t be concerned about money at this stage. Out of these things, what do you think are “needs” as opposed to “wants”? Separate them out so you know. Understand and accept that as you move through life, this picture will change.
3) What are you good at? Is there something you are good at that you really like? Is most of what you are good at, stuff that well would bore you to tears? Make a list, make a sub list of the things on said list that bore you because it’s important to remember which ones they are. Again, don’t think about money yet.
4) If nothing has jumped out at you yet from those lists so far, then what you need to do is go out and EXPLORE. Go out there and go see what there is to see. Pick an interest on your list and study it and see what else crops up. Sometimes when you study a subject you realise you don’t want to take it any further than that and that’s great because you can move on to the next thing. You don’t need to wait for a degree or a course, just go raid the bookshelves at a nearby library. Or call someone up who has the same interest and quiz them. I get students coming up to me and asking me questions about freelancing and most of them then have the information they need to decide then and there that it isn’t for them which means they get to go try something else that will make them happier instead.
5) Chances are if you have explored a bit, you have a list of ideas. Sometimes they don’t seem very career or job related – they might be goals instead.
Here is where the story comes back: The person I spoke today wants to get a pilot’s license but they haven’t done it yet because they need to pay for part of it. Said person has a job and said they didn’t have the “dedication” required to complete such goals and also said they were “intimidated” by another person who was “good at everything” and also “nice”.
To me, this is a red flag. It means that this person doesn’t really want that license or at least hasn’t explored the world enough or stepped outside of their comfort zone to figure out what they really want out of life and that perhaps that license is the most awesome thing they want to do right now and so they should. It means that perhaps they are caught up in the idea of a “career” rather than “Hey – I’ll get a pilot’s license and see what I can do with that, that I like.”
6) We are going to deviate slightly because I now want you to make a list of your resources that you have on hand. Now this list should include knowledge you have, tools, skills, but also people who can help you, programs, services and groups out there that can help you and so on.
7) I also want you to make a list of your limits. Are you limited in how much time you have right now? Or money? Or energy? Perhaps you can’t do certain things for as long as others can. Perhaps you have less or more stamina, less or more patience and so on. You cannot make good decisions unless you know these things or you will risk burning out or failing disastrously.
8) Back to regular programming. So, now take your time, look at your list of ideas/goals/projects/dreams/bucket list/whatever term you give it and decide which one you can work on now.
At this point, you have an idea of what you want to do, you have an idea of where you want it to take you, you have an idea of what and who you have available to help you and you know what you want to work on first.
So now we get to the how.
9) First, take a look again at where you want to be ten years from now and work backwards. Where does your said project fit in? What does it require you to do? Is there an obvious career path involved that you can move into or adjust to your needs? How will you measure your progress?
And then, you need to figure out if you are going to work on it in chunks in between other things? Or do it in one straight go however long it takes?
This really depends on you. I achieve several things in a few years by swapping between them as best as I can. I work on my books when I am not required to be working on my MA for example and then swap back. It means my book takes longer but it has benefited from doing so, so it doesn’t matter to me so long as I know I am steadily plodding towards the end.
10) Do said project/goal/whatever. If it is connected to what you are most passionate about in life at that point (of course you can change passions, you’re not stuck with one thing throughout if you don’t want to be), then there are two things you need to know: it will be really hard and you will struggle but also you will sacrifice a lot of things without realising it just to get it done.
12) Re-visit step 2) and then rinse and repeat from step 4 onwards.
When you are working on projects and goals that move you towards where you want to be in life or what you want to be doing or what you are passionate about, then there will be no excuses, you will prioritise without realising it, and you will happily sacrifice all sorts of things that people around you will be amazed by and the sacrifices will include people who don’t understand what you find important in life.
And you won’t have time to sit and look at others and moan that they are intimidating or that you don’t have something that they have like “dedication”. If you don’t have dedication, then figure out what you do have and use that to your advantage. Or find a work around option, like the doing things in chunks method.
And by the way, it doesn’t have to be a career. If what you want is to be a house-wife/house-husband then that’s fine because it’s your choice and what you have decided you want. So then go out there and work on being the kind of person that would be someone your future partner would feel happy to settle down with – work on being reasonable, responsible, caring, giving, open, communicative, honest – all the things that make a relationship work. Go for it.
By the mere fact that you were born in the 20% and therefore can think about this and read this post, you are lucky. So go be happy. Go get to know yourself, flaws and awesomeness and all, and have a think about what you can and want to do and where you want to be and who can help you.
Then go do it. Be patient with yourself because sometimes things take time and the longer they take the more you will appreciate them. And be happy. Because you cannot change the world for the better unless you are happy.
Go change the world. It’s waiting.