3 steps to figure out what to do with your life

Doing homework

Not knowing what you want to do is common. The simple fact is that most people go out living their lives without a clear notion of what they want and how to get there. However, those who tend to get what they want out of life are the ones who know what they want. The difference between the two is that the ones who know – make an effort to know. 

Imagine in the not so distant future, going to a restaurant. Imagine the waiter taking your order and you, not even looking at the menu, just say “bring me something delicious”.  How likely will you get something you actually like? What are the odds of getting the one thing you actually crave? 

Knowing what you want means you make the effort to check the menu. It means being specific when giving your order. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s a process that might help:

  • Step 1—Know what life has on offer
  • Step 2—Be specific about what you don’t want
  • Step 3—Open the door to possibilities

Step 1—Know what life has on offer

Tom Hanks famously said, “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Remember, he portrayed a man with an IQ level of  75. Most chocolate boxes come with a little pamphlet telling you what’s inside. 

In life, the pamphlets are stories in books, articles, and films about people who live and lived amazing lives. If you want to know what life has to offer, you need to be curious about the lives of others. Reading, watching, and listening to people’s stories, gives you an understanding of what’s available. Once you get inspired by someone, ask yourself why the story inspired you. Is it the travels, the service to others, or how they overcame the problems they faced? 

It is true that small boutique chocolatiers don’t produce pamphlets and, in life too, there are places to discover and actions yet to be taken. But looking at the pamphlets that life does provide, at the stories that have already been told, you can narrow down where you want to go and what you want to become.

Take action – Get a biography or check 7 Books That Are Almost As Good As A Coach  


Step 2—Be specific about what you don’t want 

The first exercise showed you that your possibilities are endless. The goal of this exercise is to narrow down the list.

Being clear on what you want requires you to understand very clearly what you don’t want. The more specific you are about what upsets you, turns you off, and why, the clearer and more powerful your desires will emerge. 

For this exercise, make a list of statements, of things you would not like to do. 

Avoid statements involving logistics and finance like the following:

  • Logistics –  “I don’t want to work for someone else” (and if that someone wants to hire you to try out new flavours of Ice Cream or bring world peace?
  • Logistics – “I don’t want to work from an office” (and if that office is the West Wing? Or the manager’s office of the Los Angeles Lakers?
  • Finance – “I don’t want to work for minimum wage” (and if I add 50c, will that be ok?

Here are some good examples of things I don’t want to do

  • Sell consumer goods because I feel I don’t want to contribute to the hoarding society
  • Waste time when it is so precious 
  • Stop learning and growing 
  • Be stuck in survival mode

Listing what you don’t want gets the ideas rolling and limits our options somewhat, to combat ‘choice overload’.

Take action – pull out a pen and paper and start your list

Step 3—Open the door to possibilities

No matter where you are now, you are surrounded by possibilities. The trick is to see them. A good way of doing so is to write down three possibilities that opened up during the day, every night before bed. It could be small or silly things, but forcing yourself to write them down opens your eyes to the fact there are much more than just three.

After you do this for a week you will see that we are surrounded by possibilities. Most of the time our brain chooses not to see them. Fear erects walls that don’t allow us to see what’s on the other side. However, once faced with your fear, the wall will just crumble down. 

Take action – put a notebook next to your bed and make a habit of writing down new possibilities 

Following these three steps will get you closer to figure out what you want to do with your life now. However, ‘now’ is by definition not tomorrow. We are changing every day, and you should be ok with having your dream change as well. 

Biographies and obituaries seldom tell the story of the alternative dreams the hero faced. Authors don’t share all the different directions the hero tried out because it would confuse the reader and make for a bad book. But real life is confusing. The heroes didn’t always know what they wanted to be. Jeff Bezos wanted to be an archeologist. George Lucas wanted to be a race car driver (until a near-fatal accident got him off that path), and Ronald Regan wanted to be a priest (then a boxer and an actor, before only much later landing on president). 

These steps will help you figure out what to do with your life now. Bookmark this article, and read it again tomorrow. Who knows where you’ll be heading then…