When You Don’t Know What to Do With Your Life and Career

September 30, 2020

Some say that following your passion is not the way to go when it comes to work. I couldn’t disagree more.

We spend a huge chunk of our lives at work. In fact, it is estimated that the average person clocks over 90,000 office hours during lifetime.

That’s roughly 12,000 days, folks.

Now, I don’t mean that you should be jumping for joy every morning. Going to work still sucks, sometimes more than others. But waking up to 12,000 days with a sinking feeling in your stomach isn’t very smart, if you ask me.

The problem is that you simply may not know what you want to do with your life.

You might be working in a soul-sucking job, feeling lost and confused about what to do for a career. You might be worried about whether you will ever find a job that will truly resonate with you.

I know this feeling all too well because I have spent the majority of my adulthood searching for my true calling.

Luckily, I have made some progress, too. Here are a few realisations I’ve made along the way.

It’s not so much about planning as it is testing your way forward

I grew up watching Ally McBeal and perhaps as a result, I developed a weird attraction to the legal world. However, due to an unknown reason, I somehow ended up applying to business school instead.

After the first year of studying and gulping down too many tequila shots every Thursday, I was faced with the decision of which major to choose.

Marketing? — Nah.

Management? — …umm, sounds more like “Master of Leadership on Paper”.

Finance? — Not with my math head. Besides, sounds boring anyway.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I had made a terrible mistake in not applying to law school.

So I did.

Fast forward ten years, I got my law degree and I’ve since worked in a bunch of legal roles in Finland and abroad. Does this mean that I found my ultimate calling in law? Well, not exactly.

Over time, I have realised that I am not the analytical research rockstar I thought I was. I’m a creative people-person who likes to go gaga now and then, not to sit alone behind a desk for 9 hours straight.

This realisation led me to jump ship to HR and wellbeing. I’m now building my own company and I couldn’t be happier.

But I didn’t achieve all this by having a plan. I just tested my way to where I am today. And that is what you should be doing, too.

You can’t know what you want to do until you have tried it. You must venture out on unknown trails. No amount of planning or thinking can change that.

So instead of obsessing over which path to take, just try something. Only time will tell which career path is right for you.

Your true calling is not something you find, it’s something you feel

The mistake many of us make is thinking that we can find a perfect solution to our existential career dilemma. We think that if we just keep looking long enough, we will find the answer.

But you can’t just sit down and brainstorm your way to your calling, because it does not reveal itself that way. Your purpose is already all around you. You just have to heighten your senses to feel it.

Sounds a bit New Age, I know, but hear me out.

Rather than perceiving your mission in life as one specific and concrete thing, think of it as small, invisible sparkles in the air.

You can’t see them or collect them, but they are there. And whenever they touch you, you feel an inexplicable sensation of joy and relief.

Paying attention to your emotions is the most effective way to make sure you are on the right path. This means that you have to get to the bottom of what excites you the most and stresses you out the least.

Is it when you get to plan a marketing workshop or a kickoff day for your colleagues? Is it meeting customers? Sitting alone at your desk and pumping those numbers? Interviewing candidates? Or, like for me, boring people to death by raving about emotional wellbeing?

It doesn’t even have to be something that you are working with right now. Just think of any kind of tasks or work areas that would make you happy.

Once you have a clearer understanding of them, you should start looking for ways to express yourself through them.

You could figure out how to include more of these tasks while staying on your current career path. Or, you could do a 180-degree turn and start planning for a complete career shift. Yikes!

You don’t have to wear the same hat during your entire lifetime

Choosing your favourite dish is a bit tricky: you might love pizza but you probably wouldn’t eat it every day for the rest of your life. The same goes for your career.

You don’t have to discover your one true calling, because you probably have many. There are several roles that could be a great match for you.

It all comes down to matching your career choices with your inherent needs. These are the deepest needs that you must recognise and then fulfil in order to be happy. The sparkles in the air, remember?

For instance, you could feel a strong need to help people. There are several ways to fulfil this need. You could work with workplace wellbeing or nutrition. You could become a nurse, a therapist or a doctor. You could even start writing books that inspire people to feel better.

Your preferences may also change from time to time. That’s why the traditional view of our careers being set and rigid is outdated.

Don’t think of yourself as a lawyer or an accountant or whatever it is that you do. You are a smart and curious person with many different preferences and needs. You don’t have to limit yourself to your degree or current role.

Just aim for having at least some of your deepest needs fulfilled in each job. And if that’s not the case right now, it might be time to move on.

Your mind is the biggest obstacle for becoming the person you are meant to be

A few months ago, I was on a flight back from a wine-fuelled trip to Paris when I came across the inflight magazine story of a 82-year-old Japanese DJ. This lady started playing EDM beats at an age where most people wouldn’t even dare to listen to them anymore.

Say whatever you like, but this is a great reminder of not to make excuses to justify our inaction.

If you really want to figure out what to do with your life, you can’t limit yourself to conventional choices. You must let go of the limitations you have set for yourself and start dreaming big.

Don’t blame the circumstances, the industry practices or the world. Work your butt off to become what you are meant to be instead.

Naturally, we are all human with our fears and worries. We are terrified of failure and making the wrong choices.

Luckily, you don’t have to become a fearless superhero smashing everything that gets in your way.

You just have to make a conscious choice to go forward, no matter how scared you are. Like on any long-haul flight, discomfort is the price you have to pay to get to paradise. But you will get there.

Feeling stuck and unsure about what to do with your life can wear you out, but you are not alone. We are all a bit confused.

After all, the options are endless and ideally, we would like to have it all.

But we don’t have all the time in the world and we cannot have everything. That’s why you simply have to take some action, preferably sooner rather than later.

Don’t wait for an “aha!” moment. Look for small glimpses of excitement instead. After all, discovering your purpose is not a matter of thinking, it’s a matter of doing.

Now, pump up that volume and let the beat take you where you need to go.