You are here to learn 3 steps to move you towards a future that you’re excited about. That means you know that what you’ve been doing isn’t working and you’re open to learning a new way to do things.
You’re ready to take steps towards figuring out what you want to do with your life, and that is to be celebrated!
Not knowing what you want to find your purpose is also a really hard place to be. And not knowing how to do with your life is incredibly common.
Two things can be true at the same time: it is difficult to not know what you want to do with your life and it is also completely normal.
So what can we do? Where do we start? What steps can you take to figure out who you want to be as you live your one precious life?
Well, I have 3 steps that will help you begin your journey to clarity. They're simple, straightforward, and - best of all - easy to do.
3 Steps To Take When You Don't Know What To Do With Your Life
In my online course about finding your purpose, I share that you likely have more answers inside of you than you likely believe you do right now.
I’ve included 3 steps below that you can take right now to begin the journey towards living with purpose.
But it’s important to note that the outcomes of these steps are starting points. It’s like dropping an address into maps. Just because you need to head north to start doesn’t mean you won’t turn left or right ever again. You will need to course correct.
This is a process. And these exercises are tools that will serve you more than once. They can be used again and again whenever you need a little clarification or help seeing your next right step.
Let’s get to it…
1. Phone A Friend or Family Member
One reason some of us feel disconnected from our life’s purpose is that we’re trying to conform to what others think of us rather than living in a way that is truest to ourselves and our values.
Sometimes we’re doing this consciously. Sometimes unconsciously.
The only way to get a full understanding of where you’re making choices and where your following default settings that are set to jumping through other peoples’ hoops is to actually ask a few questions of the people you are closest to.
In my course, this is where we start. In week 1, we work Outside In so we can make highly visible any as-yet-unseen constraints that we may be conforming to.
Then, once you can see them, you get to decide if those outside notions of who you are are true or if you’re living to an external set of expectations rather than internal ones.
Here are the questions I encourage my students to ask 3 to 5 people that they know well.
- What do you think are my 3 strongest qualities?
- What do you think is my 1 weakest quality?
- What do you think are 1 or 2 careers that I’d be good at? Why? (These suggestions should be different from the job you either currently hold or are focused on pursuing now.)
- What is your favorite memory of me? What do you like about that memory?
It would be wonderful to have a mix of perspectives that includes people you know really well in many domains, as well as those who only know you in one context.
Some examples of people to choose from would be a parent or grandparent, a close friend or significant other (peer), mentors (coaches, teachers, family friends, etc.), and someone younger than you (younger sibling, someone you mentor or teach, etc.).
Ideally, this would be done via email with a face-to-face (or video) conversation to follow up that way you have a document plus you can get a sense of the tone and your interviewee can expound upon their written answers.
It’s challenging to do so, but you should try to complete this exercise as an uninvolved observer. Don’t get defensive. Don’t resist what comes in. Simply receive what people offer, and say thank you for their help.
Once you’re alone, process your thoughts about the interview by journaling.
Write about the following questions for each interview you held…
- How well do you feel seen and understood?
- Bearing in mind that how people perceive you necessarily involves their own filters and lenses, can you understand why you are viewed in a particular way from the outside?
- What did your interviewee share that feels true to you and in alignment with how you’d like to continue moving through the world?
- What seems incomplete or wrong to you? Perhaps something feels misaligned because it’s not how you feel you move through the world. Or you believe that it is what you show the world, but it doesn’t align with how you truly feel and who you believe yourself to really be.
Take it all with a grain of salt. This is a small sample size, and you’re not writing anything in stone as you process it all.
That said, patterns often emerge as you explore. Those patterns have the power to help you identify hidden misalignment between people’s perceptions and expectations of you and how you genuinely wish to move through the world.
Seeing the misalignment is the only way to begin to free yourself from it and from the ambivalence or apathy you may be feeling about your future.
2. Prod The Present
Here’s a not-so-fun truth: you can’t think your way out of a funk.
Answers won’t appear to you if you’re standing still. Ultimately, you’re going to have to start moving.
But, if you think about it, you’re already doing some things. But you’re probably not asking the right questions about those things to get any deeper meaning from them. So the easiest way to get started is by looking at what you already do and exploring those activities through a specific lens.
Let’s say, for instance, that you like to play video games.
I used to work as an ACT & SAT tutor and my clients’ parents would harp on video games as the cause of their kids’ motivational woes.
But, honestly, video games were not the problem for most of these college-bound teens. A lack of clarity around their future goals was.
Video games aren’t always a problem.
Sure, you can sink too much time into them. You shouldn’t do any singular thing compulsively for hours on end day after day.
But, barring addiction, there are a wide range of skills people are learning from video games: leadership, communication, strategic problem solving, etc.
The actual problem with the way we communicate with teens around finding their passions is that we often don’t go a layer deeper and ask the most important question of all about the activities they already love: Why?
Somewhat ironically, those parents I worked with could have used their kids’ passions for video games to all of their advantage by getting granular and really teasing out why their kids loved gaming.
For instance, I used to love the strategic side of Call of Duty and PubG and hanging out with my husband and his cousins, but I was terrible at the rest of it. So I had a great time a few nights a week as a decoy who would serve as a lookout and die purely as a distraction for my team.
It was great fun!
Why did this work for me? Why didn’t I get mad when I was so much worse than everyone else playing?
I like mental exercises and hanging out with friends. I don’t care enough to spend the time necessary to be good at elements of games that require precision.
As an entrepreneur, I am really good with high-level strategic thinking. It’s what I help folks with all day long in my online mastermind for entrepreneurs and as a organic content strategy consultant.
And you cannot keep me away from a good entrepreneurial conference. I love seeing my entrepreneurial friends and making new ones too.
You know what I suck at?
Detail-oriented stuff like putting the right file in the right folder on my desktop and taking care of my books.
See the connection?
What I love and hate about my work tracks with my experience playing video games. The more you know about yourself, the more you can put yourself in a position to do more of the stuff you like and less of the stuff you don’t.
But - spoilers - finding out what you want to do with your life does not mean you will love literally everything about that calling.
Identifying your purpose is not a zero-sum game.
There are always going to be things you don’t want to do, but it’s somehow less revolting when you understand why you don’t like it and can move through it as quickly as possible knowing that the stuff you love to do is on the other side of Yuck Hill.
I think this is what people mean when they say adulting is hard. But adulting isn’t hard if you tip your daily scales in favor of the things you enjoy.
But you can’t tip the scales in your favor if you don’t look at both sides of the scale, and - make no mistake - there will always be a counterbalance.
So let’s explore the counterbalance, shall we?
What aspects of your current activities do you dislike? Why? Sadly, you can’t avoid some things sucking some of the time, but you can be clear about what it is you dislike about them.
Let these questions - both the positive and the negative - help give you direction. Then, using your newfound information, try something new that stacks the deck to lean positive.
And, if you love it, keep going. Keep asking yourself what specifically you enjoy and why you enjoy it. Keep going the layer deeper so you can learn more about what you want to spend more time doing
Or, if you hate it or it’s a neutral experience, no worries. Explore the specifics of why you’re not enticed by it and then try something new again. And again.
The answers are in the doing.
3. Name Your Values
Piggybacking off what you’ve learned from the first two exercises, can you take a step back and see the bigger picture and name the values that underlie the actions and thoughts that resonate most with you?
When something lights you up or breaks your heart, what is it about that thing that sends you to a heightened emotional state?
This is a riff on the second step but it’s even more important because, while it’s great to understand why something impacts you profoundly, it is fantastically useful to distill that why into a word that resonates with your identity.
To quote my patron saint, Our Lady of Vulnerability, Brene Brown:
True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
Patron Saint of Vulnerability
But you cannot achieve self-acceptance without going deep inside yourself, stripping away what no longer serves you and stepping fully into your values and aligning actions that allow you to fully live those values.
For my Lord of the Rings fans, you can think of values being like the Light of Elendil, the gift Galadriel bestows upon Frodo saying: “May it be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out.”
These tiny, compact words hold deep meaning for us. They have the power to light the path for us in the darkest moments of our lives, keeping us tethered to our truest selves as we push into uncharted territories.
When we carry our own light, we cannot be lost.
If you’re not sure what kinds of words to use as values, here’s a short list to get you started.
This list is by no means exhaustive. These words are merely a jumping off point. Be creative. Or Google lists of values and use a thesaurus if you like.
The most important thing is to find 5-10 words that resonate deeply with the most true vision of yourself. They may be a mix of primarily currently lived values with 1 or 2 aspirational values in the mix.
Use words that call up specific memories, provoke strong imagery, or stir up emotion inside you.
Then write them down on a real piece of paper. Put this list somewhere you can see it every day, like on your bathroom mirror or your bedside table.
Set your true north every morning by reading your list and committing to taking the actions required to live those values fully.
Read your list every night and assess how you did. And know that, on days when you were knocked off track, you can do better tomorrow.
Internal shifts take time to set down roots. Keep going. You’re on the right track.
Moving From Not Knowing What You Want To Do With Your Life To Clarity About Your Purpose Takes Action
Not knowing what you want to do with your life does not make you a failure.
The reality is that most people go through periods when they feel like they lack purpose or aren’t moving in a direction they’re happy with.
It isn’t failure. It's just life.
Failure is knowing that you’re unhappy or that you lack direction and then continuing to choose the same things. No matter how you feel right now, you do have choices. And you likely have a lot more choices than you regularly acknowledge.
You came for some actionable ideas and you have them, so it’s time to get going!
And, please, let me know how it goes. The internet can be a lonely place and, as you read above, I love making new friends!
The best way to get in touch is to join my email list below and reply to me via the welcome email. Your email will come straight to my inbox so I can hear how these steps worked for you.
I’ll also let you know when my next post about finding your purpose goes live. I typically send an email every week or two. I try not to wear out my welcome. 😉
If you want to stay connected, this is the best way to do it.
Or, if you 're looking for support and accountability as you begin your journey towards naming and living in your purpose each and every day, check out Big Why Life. I'd be honored to guide you as you do this deep work and begin bringing your amazing gifts to the world.
Either way, I can’t wait to hear from you…