“I don’t know what to do with my life”

Do you regularly catch yourself thinking, “I don’t know what to do with my life?”

You are not alone. Everybody, at some point, struggles with defining their purpose. Some people take up the challenge. But many other people settle for an unfulfilling 9-to-5 existence.

Let’s make sure you are in the first group.

Learn about moving from goals to hypotheses, and why your early childhood holds important cues about your purpose in life.

1. Be Patient With Yourself

Understand — nobody has it completely figured out. I know 7-figure entrepreneurs who, on the surface, live the perfect life. But when you talk to them, you quickly realize that they are just as confused as the rest of us.

In fact, successful people are often most riddled by self-doubt. They focus so much energy on one particular area of life — business, athletics — that they necessarily fall behind in all other areas of life.

Am I saying you should stop caring and only live for the moment? Absolutely not. You should have goals. You should develop the right habits. You should surround yourself with the right people.

But don’t despair if you don’t figure it all out in the next five minutes. This life thing is tricky. It might take you years or decades to get the hang of it.

2. Move From Goals to Hypotheses

When somebody exclaims, “I don’t know what to do with my life,” they are essentially bemoaning that they have no goals. It makes them feel like a loser.

But goals are indeed tricky to come up with. They require a lot of personal insight. You need to know…

  • … what excites you
  • … what you are naturally good at
  • … what the market wants
  • … what lifestyle you want

Chances are, you don’t know any of these things yet. You are still trying to figure it out.

The solution is to take a step back. Instead of fixating on an end-all goal, just come up with a hypothesis. With a hypothesis, there is no pressure to get it right. It’s just a hypothesis.

Let’s say you regularly ponder the following options:

  • “Maybe I should follow my passion for playing the drums.”
  • “Maybe I should double down on learning how to code.”
  • “Maybe I would like to get licensed as a real estate agent.”

If you have no clear favorite, just pick one (roll a dice if you must). A hypothesis just acts as a starting point. Its only function is to get the ball rolling.

3. Test Things Out

You now have a hypothesis about what you want out of life. Great. Now you must test that hypothesis.

Never expect to get it right the first time. Realistically, you will have to try many different hypotheses and reject most of them. But with each round of testing, you gain new insights. Eventually, you will have clarity.

What is the time investment here?

From my experience, it takes at least 3–6 months to get a feel for a certain job or activity. You should immerse yourself several hours per day in it. If, after 3–6 months, you still feel excited about it, it might be a keeper.

At this rate, you could be testing out 2–4 new ideas every year. In five years, that is 10–20 projects you could explore. Some people will figure it out quicker, some will take significantly longer. For example, it took me about 15 years to develop a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life.

Not surprisingly, many people refuse this process. They don’t want to waste years walking in the wrong direction. They think they can figure it all out on the drawing board. But in reality, they accomplish the opposite. They waste years trying to come up with the perfect plan, and in the end, settle for a boring 9-to-5 existence.

Don’t let that be you. In the grand scheme of things, five years of testing out different ideas is nothing. Pay the way forward.

4. Get an Outside Perspective

To figure out your direction in life, get an outsider involved. Where you are blind to yourself, they will see right through. This could be a therapist, a coach, or an accountability partner. If they are good at what they are doing, they could potentially save you years.

Don’t rely on friends too much. They will be reluctant to tell you the full truth about yourself. They know that if they did, it would damage the relationship.

5. Understand That It’s Not Always Going To Be Fun

Even when you find your passion project, it will not always be fun.

For example, I enjoy running my coaching business more than anything else in the world. In essence, I get paid to have interesting conversations with interesting people. In my book, it doesn’t get much better than that.

However, I will never enjoy writing invoices. I will never love doing my taxes. And even writing for this blog is sometimes a struggle.

But that’s just the way it is; even the most inspiring projects have some dull aspects to them. To think that everything about our work should be fun is folly.

6. Don’t Try To Be Too Many Things

People who exclaim, “I don’t know what to do with my life,” often struggle with prioritizing. It’s not that they have too few ideas — they have too many.

They want to run a successful startup. They want to explore life as an artist. They want to travel the world. They want to compete in MMA. They want to date around.

In short — they want it all.

But it doesn’t work that way. To become extraordinary at one thing, you must say “No” to most other things. That is the price of success. Whoever is trying to tell you otherwise is either bragging or trying to sell you.

7. Combine Things in Unusual Ways

I just said you should pick one thing. But this doesn’t mean you can’t merge several disparate things into a new thing.

Consider the still-young sport of triathlon — the first modern triathlon event took place in 1974. Until then, you could either be a swimmer, a cyclist, or a runner. But then some enterprising person thought, “What if we take all of these sports and merge them into a new sport?” And so they did.

The merging part is the important part. You are not trying to be three things at once. You are not trying to become world-class in any of the foundational sports (swimming, cycling, running). You are trying to be the best at the synthesis — triathlon.

You can apply this principle of merging to your own life. For example, you might have a passion for professional sports, a background in marketing, and also suffer from an autoimmune disease.

Now, you merge these elements into something new — you offer personal branding services for pro athletes who suffer from an autoimmune disease. The uniqueness of your offer will right away appeal to a certain subset of the market. At the same time, you will have zero competition.

If you have a hard time deciding what you want to do with your life, this is a great option. Just remember — don’t try to juggle multiple things. Rather, merge them into a new thing.

8. Don’t Settle for a 9 to 5

In the end, many people who don’t know what to do with their lives will settle for a 9 to 5. They grow tired of feeling lost. They start thinking, “What am I doing? I should just get a job, a mortgage, and an SUV, like everybody else.”

Don’t fall for this. The 9-to-5 life is fundamentally flawed. There is no scenario where you end up happy.

First, you lose your freedom. For half of your time awake, you are company property. You must do as you are being told. It’s the worst feeling in the world.

Second, you are stuck with a bunch of colleagues you didn’t choose for yourself. Many of these people you would never voluntarily spend time with. But now you have no choice.

Third, the idiocy of large organizations. The bigger a business grows, the more inefficient its processes become. Operating in such an environment feels like tilting at windmills.

This is not just some 9 to 5s — it is every 9 to 5. These problems are systemic; there is no getting away from them.

Don’t give up yet. There are plenty of ways to escape the 9-to-5 prison. Yes, it will take longer and feel more daunting at times. But in the end, it will all have been worth it.

9. You Are Not Too Old

Whenever I encourage coaching clients to explore new options — professional or personal — the number one objection is age.

“But I am too old to change careers.”

“But I am too old to start traveling.”

“But I am too old to break up and find someone new.”

Interestingly, I get this argument from every possible age group, which suggests that it is simply an excuse.

“I am too old” — what does that even mean? Who made this rule that you can’t do anything daring past a certain age?

It is also not factually true. There are plenty of people who had their breakthrough later in life:

  • Ray Kroc started the McDonald’s franchise at age 52.
  • Arianna Huffington founded The Huffington Post at age 55.
  • John Stith Pemberton was 55 when he came up with the original formula for Coca-Cola.
  • Charles Ranlett Flint founded the “Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company” — which later became IBM — at age 61.
  • Harland David Sanders created the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise at age 65.
  • Painter Anna Mary Robertson Moses began her successful art career at age 78.

The problem is not with age. The problem is with deviating from the social script. We are being told that past 35, you shouldn’t take any risks anymore. You must now do what everybody else is doing — playing it safe until you die.

But if you do what everybody else is doing you will be as miserable as everybody else is. Success, by definition, means going against the grain. That is what you must do.

10. Revisit Your Childhood

Most of us have the wrong idea about finding our passion. We think there is some magical, novel activity out there that will clarify everything. We just haven’t found it yet.

This is misguided. In all likelihood, your passion has already manifested itself. And it happened early on, during your childhood. Understand — your childhood experiences provided the building blocks for your adult personality. Anything later in life cannot have the same impact. The source of your passion is these early days.

When you go searching for your purpose in your childhood, look for activities that you enjoyed so much, they made you forget the world:

  • Maybe you spent weeks in your room, binge-reading any book that you could lay your hands on.
  • Maybe you couldn’t get enough of the outdoors, spending all day exploring forests, lakes, and secret caves.
  • Maybe you had a special connection with animals, always seeking out their company and caring for them.
  • Maybe you enjoyed building things with your hands, like wooden swords or tree houses.
  • Maybe you were in love with martial arts, looking forward to your Thursday karate class all week.

Any of these cues point to one or several fulfilling career paths that you should have taken. Sometimes, the answer will be pretty straightforward. If you always had a special connection with animals, you probably would love working as a veterinarian, a ranch hand, or a dog trainer.

But often, the answer won’t be so straightforward. The cues are there, but you must interpret them correctly. The challenge — the same cue can mean different things to different people.

For example, if you loved training martial arts as a kid, it could literally mean that should brush up on your skills and start a martial arts gym.

But it could also signify that you enjoy protecting others. If that’s it, a career as a policeman might be right for you.

Or maybe you were fascinated with the complex body mechanics of martial arts. Then, working as a physiotherapist might be your calling.

Again, it will help to get outside input. Where you struggle with interpreting your childhood cues correctly, a therapist or a coach will often take one look and see things clearly.

11. What Would You Do if You Knew You Could Not Fail?

A great thought experiment is to ask yourself, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” The goal is to get your secret desires out in the open — these dreams that you have stuffed down so far, they don’t even register anymore.

For example, I had the idea of becoming a content creator as early as 2006. But I was too afraid. I would certainly waste my time and fail in the end. So, I went with a different option and buried my dream — for 15 years.

I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had stopped fixating on the outcome so much. In the end, you are much more likely to succeed with an activity that you are passionate about than with something that sounds good on paper but is not you.

12. Give Yourself Some Credit

You might think, “I don’t know what to do with my life,” and feel bad about yourself.

But in truth, you should be applauded.

Most people have faced the same question as you at some point, but couldn’t bear it. So, they chose the easy way out. They became doctors or accountants like their parents wanted them to.

Now they enjoy the trappings of success, but deep inside, there is this nagging feeling. They realize they took the coward’s way out.

That is not you. You might be struggling, but you are still searching. Give yourself some credit for that.

13. Associate With Other “Seekers”

There are other people like you — people who sense that a 9-to-5 existence cannot be the answer, that there must be something more.

When you build a network of such “seekers,” you are less likely to quit. The peer pressure from your family and friends to “get your life straight” will be counterbalanced by these new contacts. They will encourage you to keep following your own path.

How do you find these non-conventionalists?

One option is to start traveling. Certain places in the world attract free spirits. Bali, Chiang Mai, Lisbon, and Medellin all come to mind.

You could also explore certain subcultures. For example, I have met lots of other freethinkers through the ENM (ethical non-monogamy) scene.

But by far the best option is to learn how to talk to strangers. If you can initiate contact at will, you’ll be more likely to meet like-minded people. Over time, you will develop a sixth sense of who is for you. It takes some moxie, but it’s worth it.

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