Finding your purpose, or what you “should” do with your life is not an easy task. It’s typically a long, dynamic journey that will change multiple times as your life changes, too.
You could be content with how your life is going for you now and are simply wondering “what’s next?”. Maybe something with you feels a little off, and you know you could be doing more to live your life to the fullest. Or you could be overwhelmed, at a complete loss and don’t know where to even begin.
We want to live a life of purpose and accomplish something important or significant. We want to live a meaningful life.
Although you probably have some idea, a lot of us don’t really know what direction to take. We don’t wake up one day knowing what we truly want to do with the rest of our lives.
I’ve personally spent many sleepless nights wondering what I should do with my life, and I’m still not 100% confident that I know the answer.
Your Life is Not Limited to Your Career
Most of us are expected to choose our life’s path when we are teenagers in high school who haven’t really yet explored what the world has to offer.
The traditional education system teaches you a little bit about a lot of different things. Then you are expected to “find your purpose” and make significant life decisions based on this. And what, just hope that you made the right career choice? Hope that what you value and enjoy doing at 18 years old will be the same as when you’re 50? And that it is something that has a rewarding career path?
It seems a bit problematic, don’t you think?
Although many people think their life purpose is tied to whatever career field they choose, it doesn’t have to be. Your life is not just your job. It’s your family, your relationships, your hobbies, your passions, the way you spend your free time.
You really could “do” a lot to have a fulfilling life.
Volunteer. Start a new hobby or get back to an old one. Sell all of your belongings and live on the road. Have 10 kids. Or 10 dogs. Write a book. Run a marathon. Start building something.
What you should do with your life really depends on what you value, what you want to do, and what you are capable of doing.
5 Steps to Help You Answer “What Should I Do With My Life?”
Figuring out what you should do with your life requires thinking, reflecting, and researching.
You may decide to sit down and do your best to figure things out now. (There’s a helpful, free printable worksheet available in my Career & Job Searching Resource Library!) Or you may decide it’s better to take some time with it, step away, and let your answers to these questions evolve in the back of your mind.
There really is no “wrong way”, as long as you try.
Here are some thought-provoking questions and strategies to help you get a little clarity and direction when you don’t know what you should do with your life:
1. Who Were You in the Past?
Thinking about what you’ve done in the past is a great place to help you figure out what you want – and don’t want – for your future.
Start by going all the way back to your childhood, and ask yourself:
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- How did you pass the time as a child? Did you play outside in the mud all day? Did you paint or draw a lot? Were you always reading? Or watching tv or playing video games?
- Were you part of any clubs, sports, or extracurricular activities?
- What classes were your favorite? Which ones were easiest for you?
- What classes did you not like or not do well in?
Next, think about how you got to where you are today:
- What jobs have you had in the past?
- What did you like and dislike about them?
- Are there any milestones or major life events that led you to where you are?
- What hobbies or volunteer work are you currently involved in or would like to pursue?
- Are there things that you used to enjoy doing that you no longer do? Why did you quit?
- Would you as a child be happy with who you are now? Why or why not?
2. Who Are You Today?
Now that you’ve done some reflecting on your past, think about your present.
Start by thinking about the characteristics you have that make you who you are:
- What do you value?
- What value can you provide to others?
- Who or what do you care about?
- What are you good at? What skills and strengths do you have?
- Where do you have the most potential?
- What are you passionate about?
- What are your interests or hobbies?
- Is there anything that you find easy to do that others find difficult?
- What are you often complimented on?
- Are you an expert at anything?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What are you willing to struggle or fight for?
- How would you describe or identify yourself?
- How would others describe or identify you?
Think about the things you want and that you know you don’t want in your life:
- How would you describe your dream job? What job do you think you would find most fulfilling?
- What would you like to be known for?
- If you had to change careers, what new job could you see yourself doing?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of? (Professionally and personally)
- What does a “perfect day” look like to you? A perfect week? A perfect month?
- What do you need to be happy (or happier)?
- What will you not tolerate? (At work, in your relationships, etc.)
- Have you received negative feedback on anything?
- Is there something else you would like to learn or improve upon?
How do you spend your time:
- What do you do in your spare time?
- What activities make you lose track of time? What could you spend all day, every day doing?
- When you are bored, stressed, or unmotivated, what do you do?
- If you had to leave your house for 40 hours per week, what would you do?
- What would you do if you had no Internet or computer access for those 40 hours?
Why aren’t you currently doing what you want to do:
- If you didn’t have to worry about making money, what would you be doing with your life?
- If you didn’t have to worry about failing, what would you be doing with your life?
- Have you actually tried to do any of these new things?
- What’s stopping you?
- Are you scared to move forward? What fears do you have to overcome?
- Are you worried about what others will think?
- Is it outside of your “comfort zone”?
- Do you not have the time, qualifications, education, or resources needed? How can you change this?
3. Who Do You Want to Be in the Future?
We never know what the future actually holds for us, but it’s nice to let our imaginations run wild, isn’t it? But not everything has to be just a daydream. Some things could become your reality if you plan and work towards it.
When you picture your future, think about your career, family, relationships, finances, experiences, dreams, and desires.
What does your future entail:
- What expectations do you have for yourself?
- What does your lifestyle look like? Do you work a traditional 9-5 job? Or do you work longer shifts with more days off?
- Who do you want to be in your life? (Professionally and personally)
- How are you going to make a difference? What problems do you want to solve?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- How do you want to be remembered?
- If you knew you only had 10 years left to live, what would you do with that time? What if it was only 5 years? Or 1 year?
- What changes in your life do you anticipate or know will happen? (Graduating, getting married, buying a house, etc.)
- How will these changes impact your future plans?
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4. Put It All Together
Don’t worry if you didn’t know how to answer all of these questions. Finding your purpose in life is a process that will take time.
Going through these questions will help you put it all together and give you some direction that you can consciously start working towards (even if you don’t know exactly what that entails just yet).
Think about your answers, overall:
- Were there any patterns or themes that stood out to you?
- What questions were the easiest to answer? Which ones were the hardest?
- Did any of your answers surprise you?
- Can you be more distinct with your wants? (For example, wanting to be a millionaire probably really means you want to be financially secure.)
You also have to know what obligations and things you have to do with your life are. This could include:
- Financial obligations (paying your mortgage or rent, bills, food, etc.)
- Providing for and taking care of your family and loved ones
- Taking care of yourself (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, etc.)
- Giving back to your community
With these needs and obligations in mind, focus on how to include the things you want in your life :
- Do you already know of any opportunities available to you?
- What industries or types of jobs meet what you’re looking for?
- What organizations would benefit from your knowledge and skills?
- Is there anything that overlaps what you are good at, what you are interested in, what the world needs, and what you could get paid for (also known as your Ikigai)?
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “reason for being”. It is where your passion, your mission, your vocation, and your profession meet.
5. Do Something to Change Your Life!
Now it’s time to actually take action and start living your life, rather than just thinking (or procrastinating) about it.
You won’t know what the right thing is for you until you try.
This doesn’t have to be major, life-changing actions. Start small. Pick two or three things that you find interesting to gradually explore and build upon.
- Read relevant books or articles
- Start your job search
- Research the job market for the career paths that interest you most
- Read the job description for anything that could lead to your dream career noting the job duties, qualifications, and salary ranges
- Update your resume
- Volunteer and help others
- Start practicing or brushing up on your skill-set and talents
- Improve upon the common transferable skills that are always in demand, such as communication, customer service, marketing/sales, and technology
- Take a class (online or in-person, free or paid)
- Meet with a life coach, career coach or recruiter
- Find a mentor
- Set some career goals
- Say yes and accept opportunities
- Reach out, network and connect with new people
- Follow and engage with industry leaders or inspirational people on social media
- Request an informational interview with your top organizations
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Let go of whatever is holding you back
- Find the courage to face your fears
- Make mistakes and learn from them
What Are You Going To Do With Your Life?
Stop worrying if you don’t have it all figured out. It takes time to find yourself and discover your passion.
Living your best life is empowering, but so is the process of discovering your path in life.
So don’t be afraid to approach your life differently. Do what interests you. Stop aimlessly chasing a paycheck and find meaningful work instead.
It’s never too late to live the life you want.
YOUR TURN: What do you “do” with your life? Do you live your life to the fullest? Please leave a comment and let us know!
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.