December 13, 2013 was graduation day. I had been envisioning that day for what seemed like forever. The previous semester, I snuck into a graduation ceremony just to visualize the end result and gain some extra motivation. On several occasions, the clock would strike 2:00am the night before a big exam, and I’d catch myself wondering, “how am I ever gonna make it?”
I asked that question more times than I can count, and somehow I always seemed to find an answer. But there was an even bigger question that was weighing on my mind and I'd always assumed that if I ever made it across that graduation stage, I would be able to answer it. I had convinced myself that at the end of the day, I wouldn’t just be receiving a degree, I’d be receiving the answer to my question. “What should I do with my life?”
I went one for two.
I marched proudly across that stage, thankful that my name had been called (and pronounced correctly). Some combination of joy and relief welled up inside me as I took hold of that degree, and yet… something was missing. I still didn't have the answer I was looking for.
Sure, I had a cushiony job lined up in Boulder, I seemed to be on the right track with my relationships, I had a general plan moving forward. And yet the question remained, “What should I do with my life?”
It turns out I'm not the only one who has felt this way.
Many of us went to college "undeclared," hoping to sort things out when we got there.
"Just get those required classes out of the way, take a few electives and you'll figure it out," they said. Nearly half a decade later, required classes completed, electives tried, graduation looming, mounds of student debt accumulated, and we're all still wondering when we’ll have things "figured out.”
Or maybe you subscribed to a different recipe. Maybe it wasn't college, but a particular relationship that you built your life around. You had it all figured out in your head. Part time job, full-time-job, marriage, baby, family, happily-ever-after. But as we diligently walked through the prescribed steps, the question remained, “What should I do with my life?”
Somewhere along the way, we were told that we would figure things out by doing. "Learning by doing" is great. Learning by spending thousands of dollars and multiple years to get some sort of general life direction sounds like a catastrophe. Unfortunately, that's the process some of us signed up for.
Maybe you're just a few steps away from embarking on that “self-discovery” journey. Maybe you're just a few steps in. Or maybe you’re so far down the trail, that it looks like there's no turning back. If that's you, then it's important to know something:
We're gonna be alright. Now is not the time to panic.
"But Canaan, I've committed 80k to my degree, I'm interviewing for positions that I'm not sure I even want, and going in a direction that I'm not sure I want to go. This seems irreversible. I'm becoming corporate America!"
I get it.
I’ve been there. It’s a daunting feeling, but know this: Your life isn’t over. In fact, it’s likely just beginning, and you have an opportunity to shape it and guide it in new direction. At any moment, you have the power to drastically change your life, and here’s the best part, you don’t have to turn everything upside down to do it.
The key to life change is not a radical shift in direction for a few days. It’s a slight shift in direction from here on out.
As exciting as that may sound, there’s something important that must happen before you ever go about changing direction and that’s knowing where you are today. If you don’t know where you are today, then even a slight change might take you further off course.
So, where are you today? More importantly, who are you today? Is your life’s path aligned with who you are and who you want to be? Those aren’t rhetorical questions by the way. This isn’t a gut-feel type of thing. It’s also not something to speed through either. Don’t spend a few hours with these questions, spend a few days, weeks, even months. You spent that amount of time getting to know your love interest in high school. Heck, you spent that amount of time getting to know your dog. You know the ins-and-outs of your friends’ personalities. Do you know those things about yourself?
If all that feels a little overwhelming, that’s ok. It probably should. These are big questions and if we try to tackle it all at once, we’ll likely make a mess of things and end up more confused than before. All you’ve got to do today is find the start button. And lucky for us there are quite a few start buttons out there. Here’s just a few:
1. Take a Personality Test
This may seem silly, but when used appropriately taking a personality test can get the wheels turning and lead you to ask questions you wouldn’t normally think to ask. The caveat here is that 9 out of 10 personality tests are complete garbage, so you need to be highly selective in the test you take.
My personal favorite test is the Myers-Briggs test and the best place to take it is 16personliaties.com. This test has been developed over the last century, primarily by well-known psychologists and data nerds, so I take it a little more seriously than something you’d find on Buzzfeed.
Regardless of the test you take, it’s important to realize that all tests are going to be somewhat limiting in their results and shouldn’t be treated like the gospel. It’s impossible to funnel every single human being into a personality type and assume everything about their life.
2. Start Journaling
Journaling is a game-changer, especially when you’re considering taking your life in a new direction. I made some massive changes in my life the last few years and journaling was a major catalyst for that. Write just a few minutes a day. Keep track of your emotions, your accomplishments, what you’ve been thinking about and pondering.
It may not seem like much, but checking in with yourself, and being able to return to your journey later will make you much more aware of your current position and where you’re going.
3. Perform a self-scenario
This is something that’s a little bit unique, and probably more intense than the previous suggestions, but it can completely change your perspective.
Start by asking yourself this question:
Based on your current lifestyle and habits, where will you be in five years? Again, this isn’t meant to be a rhetorical question. Really take the time and evaluate every detail. If nothing were to change, what would you be doing every hour of every day? Who would you be with? What would you be doing? What are your motivations? What mood are you in? Really internalize those questions.
How did that go for you?
If nothing were to change, what does your life look like?
Maybe, you didn’t really mind what you saw. If you’re like most in the world, then chances are you didn’t see a doom and gloom future, but you probably weren’t living out your dreams either. If you were anything like me the first time I really tried this, you visualized a life that was, fine.
Not good, not great, but fine.
And if fine is all you want, then by all means, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you’re interested in something more, than I would encourage to take a leap of faith and do a second self-scenario, but this time, visualize your life exactly how you want it to be. Then simply write down what you see. That’s it. That’s the first step of the journey.
The first step isn’t quitting your job. It’s not dropping out of school. It’s not breaking up with your significant other. It’s simply asking yourself, “Am I ok with fine?”
The point to all this isn't to change your life in a day. It's to get you asking the right questions. Start there. Start with the first domino. I think you’ll find it leads to so much more.