WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, I had no idea what to do with my life. I would often fantasize about all kinds of things – being a soldier, an actor, a writer, a director – but I’d never really end up trying anything. I just kept being swept along by my same day to day life. I kept doing what was expected of me, despite the fact it made me miserable.
It took me years to stop myself and ask “what the fuck are you doing?” And then a few more years after that to even change anything.
It’s easy to look at other people and think they have it all figured out, that they know exactly what do with their lives, and that we, by comparison, are clueless and adrift. It’s this same sensation that leaves us sitting around all day, staring at the ceiling and endlessly introspecting, often, not about what we should do in our lives, but instead, why it is that we can’t figure it out.
Just what the hell is wrong with us?
Well, for starters, not much. Not knowing what to do, or who you are – is actually pretty normal. Figuring out the purpose of your life is difficult. Really difficult. It’s confusing, it’s frightening, and really makes us question just who hell we are.
And it doesn’t help that when we jump on Google, a lot of the advice blows.
Sometimes we’re told to think about how we’d like to be remembered. But this question is so random, so in flux that it’s almost useless for determining what we want to do right now. It’s also incredible unspecific. Hell, above all I’d want to be remembered for something great like saving someone’s life. Isn’t that the highest aspiration in life? But what does that mean I should do – become a soldier, a doctor, a cop?
Other times we’re asked how we’d change the world, which assumes we actually understand the problems of the world to begin with. Or we’re asked how we’d spend our time – which really depends on how we feel right now. I mean, just try asking yourself that hungover. Or we’re asked what we did as a kid – I mean, I “trained” to be a ninja superhero and drew pictures of dinosaurs. You want me to do that?
Aside from the fact that a Jurassic Park / Batman crossover would be incredible – You get my drift. A lot of the advice out there can leave us just as confused as we started.
It’s not easy to figure out what do with our lives, and often, the questions point us in the wrong direction, or worse, make us think that there just isn’t answer for us.
So, with that in mind, I came up with a few of my own.
It took me years to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and the path to getting there was so lopsided, so illogical, that turning it into questions turned out to be more abstract than I’d originally thought. 4500 words more abstract.
Now, I can’t promise these will make you leap from your chair, dress in latex and take up your new destiny waging a one-man war on crime, but these 11 questions might help you get a little bit closer – just as they did with me.
WAIT – DO YOU REALLY NOT KNOW WHAT YOUR LIFE PURPOSE IS, OR ARE YOU JUST SCARED OF THE SACRIFICE?
Before we even get started, this is probably the biggest thing to wrap your head around. If this site had a motto, it’d be this:
You cannot live the life you want by continuing to live the life you don’t.
All the time, I hear people say that aren’t sure what to do, but when you really do some digging, it’s staggeringly obvious to both them and everyone else that they do in fact know what to do, they simply haven’t made the sacrifice to make it happen.
They already know what their ‘life purpose’ is but instead of taking a risk to embrace a new life direction, they’re trying to fit a new life direction into their current one.
This almost always ends up in failure and the belief that “they can’t do it” or “this isn’t the right dream” where in actual fact, they simply didn’t sacrifice enough of their old life (job, location, relationship, etc) in order to build the new one.
And that’s just not how it works. Drastic life changes call for exactly that: drastic life changes.
So before we move on – do you really not know what to do with your life, or are you just scared?
Now, for the questions:
1) WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU TRIED SOMETHING NEW?
A year or so ago, a good friend of mine told me he was done with his boring office job, and that he wanted a simple life as a tradesman. The rationale he gave me was that he liked to exercise.
He’d spent years studying physical exercise and nutrition, and in many ways was obsessed with it. He was a certified PT, had his own website, and to this day, knows more about health and nutrition than anyone I know.
Naturally, I took him aside and said:
“What the fuck? Why do you want to be a builder? Why don’t you monetize your passion? Why don’t you do something within health and nutrition, exercise and all that stuff you actually care about? Do you realize that trading your physical energy through laboring is a really tough existence?”
He countered that he wanted something that he could get skilled at, that there was no challenge in his current career and none that he saw in health and nutrition. Confused, I threw out a random idea that thought might fit his personality.
He said he’d thought about it and would try a free course tomorrow.
— — —
People always seem to complain that they haven’t “found their life purpose” or “found their passion” yet rarely do they ever pay any attention to the verb central to their complaint.
Let’s start with a definition, courtesy of Google.
Past tense: Found
- Discover or perceive by chance or unexpectedly
“Lindsey looked up to find Niall watching her”
Discover after a deliberate search
“I can’t find my keys”
Finding your life purpose is an active pursuit. And the result is something that happens either as you expect it, or completely randomly. That’s because you’re not born knowing exactly what you want to do – some people get lucky, bump into a football at a young age and decide they want to kick goals and nothing else, other people in their mid-twenties decide they like writing, and start writing books. Some people have big dicks and go into porn.
Sometimes it’s as simple as it happening to you, but more often than not, it happens by complete fluke. It happens as a result of openness to experience.
The more new things we try, the more opportunities we give us to find the things we love.
A year after that conversation with my friend, he’s saved money, quit his job, and after putting in hundreds of hours into the learning coding in his free time is now pursuing it as a career. This wasn’t something he found in the holy grail, he wasn’t visited in a dream, and he wasn’t seized by some higher calling – it’s an idea he came across by random and decided upon it in a random WhatsApp conversation.
An idea he thought ‘I’ll guess I’ll try it out.’
More often than not, what will eventually end up being our life purpose is something we’re only half keen on at the start, and in fact, is something we’re not all that psyched out throughout. It just happens to grow into the thing we can stomach the most; the thing we find the most rewarding.
The thing you’re not so keen on trying now, it might just be your favorite thing ever.
Instead of sitting around asking insane questions like:
Why aren’t I getting passionate about the life that I’m already not passionate about?
Why isn’t my purposeless life suddenly filling me with purpose?
Leave your house and put yourself out there. Try new things. Meet new people. Learn new skills. Learn. New. Skills. Take up new hobbies. Spend your free time experimenting with new experiences.
Because you never know what’s going to stick.
2) WHAT REALLY FUCKS YOU OFF?
Have you ever noticed that sometimes you get angry about pointless shit that doesn’t even bother other people? Have you ever noticed that that same anger seems to give you a special little energy that you don’t normally have access to?
When I was a kid, I used to go and watch movies (typically superhero movies) and get incensed with rage when it didn’t go the way I thought it would. I was like the spotty teen version of Cathy Bates from Misery.
Needless to say, I didn’t have many friends.
I eventually found my way onto internet forums, arguing with random people, and explaining how the story should have gone, how the characters should have changed, and what the film really should have been about.
Most people probably (rightly) thought I was a nut, but eventually, I gained a lot of interest for my strong and occasionally well-reasoned opinions and the whole thing eventually turned into something I enjoyed.
Years later, when I’d ditched the forums, the same irritation with storytelling continued, and eventually spilled over into my desire for personal development. One day, I guess I just woke up and started getting really irritated at what a screw up I was (and thank god for that).
The combination resulted in a few things – one, I improved my life drastically. But two, I started writing about improving my life, the same way I used to write about movies. The eventual result of which was this blog.
There was no linear trail, I simply followed what fucked me off.
And I still do.
Sometimes the answer to what we want to do is what stirs out emotions the strongest. This can anything from anger to insecurity (more on that later), to a general sense of injustice. Humans are emotional creatures after all, so tapping into these emotions is just tapping into what’s already there.
Maybe you’re mad that healthcare is inefficient, maybe you’re deeply insecure about the way female advertising is presented, maybe you feel a great sense of injustice done towards those born without opportunity.
But that feeling, that’s yours and yours alone. Maybe it’s worth seeing where it takes you.
3) WHAT IS OBVIOUS TO YOU, BUT NOBODY ELSE?
Bored one day, I wrote an article on casual relationships, saying they’re largely stupid and that it irritates the shit of me when people complain about their casual relationship woes. I wrote a long article basically saying these relationships are full of shit. That seemed obvious to me. I didn’t really like what I’d written, I agreed with it in principle, but it didn’t really make me feel anything. Regardless, I hit publish and shot it out onto the internet.
Now, over a year later, that article I just sort of coughed up onto the blog still gets me consistent traffic. More than any other article I’ve written. And not just that, it’s the article that most people email me personally regarding; sometimes to agree, sometimes to disagree.
Why is that?
I think it’s this: Derek Sivers wrote a blog post about how the things that seem boring, mundane and obvious to you, are sometimes amazing to other people. It’s something that’s incredibly easy to be ignorant of and is true more often than you’d think.
In the instance of my blog post, a lot of people, especially guys, think it’d be the best thing in the world to have loads of causal relationships, fuck buddies and so on, and loads of girls say that it’s just an easier way to date when you’re young; but in my experience, both for myself and others, this is a load of shit, and always ends in ways contrary to those original planned.
That’s always seemed obvious, boring and mundane to me. I guess to others it wasn’t.
It’s easy to dismiss our opinions, contributions, or creative endeavors as worthless; but the truth is, it’s only us who perceive them that way. Sure, some of the stuff you think and create will stink, but every so often, you’ll settle on something that’s astonishing to other people, that makes them step back and go – “Shit, I’ve never looked at it that way.”
This, in a broader sense, is why radical ideas go so viral in culture. They are astonishing to us, but what we rarely realize is that this is the shit these people think about every day.
4) WHO ARE YOU ALREADY?
A few years ago, I happened across a story about Stephen Spielberg. He was explaining how, as a boy, he would spend hours playing with trains, and making these small films, purely for his own enjoyment. Years later, in an attempt to get his photography merit badge, he showed a film he’d made to some of his friends. The response, he said, set him “on fire” and propelled him on the course to become the Director he is today.
He went on to describe it as follows:
“The thing I really want to emphasize is, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have a choice . . . the dream is something you never knew was going to come into your life. Dreams always come from behind you, not right between your eyes. It sneaks up on you. But when you have a dream, it doesn’t often come at you screaming in your face, “This is who you are, this is what you must be for the rest of your life.” Sometimes a dream almost whispers. And I’ve always said to my kids, the hardest thing to listen to—your instincts, your human personal intuition—always whispers; it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to every day of your lives be ready to hear what whispers in your ear; it very rarely shouts. And if you can listen to the whisper, and if it tickles your heart, and it’s something you think you want to do for the rest of your life, then that is going to be what you do for the rest of your life, and we will benefit from everything you do.”
We often look for clear signs of what we ought to do, but in reality, it’s often in the small arbitrary details, the boring, overlooked elements of our day to day lives where our actual interests or strengths exist. As with the example of my friend earlier, he has an obsession with being the best at solving problems (read: winning at card games), so it makes sense that he’d take to something like Coding, which is entirely about solving problems. For myself, I’ve always had an interest in learning, finding out what’s true and what’s not, and then expressing what I’ve found – it makes sense that as an adult, I’d try to build my entire life and income around this.
When you pay attention to what you’re already doing, you’re already interested in, you give yourself a stronger chance of finding whatever it is you’ll be seized by a desire to fill your time with.
But sometimes, it also pays to look on the flip side…
5) WHO AREN’T YOU ALREADY?
One day, working in my office, I stopped what I was doing, looked around, took stock of my feelings, and realized that I was miserable. And, not just that I was miserable, but that I’d been miserable in the exact same way ever since I was a kid.
In fact, I was kind of depressed.
As a young boy, I found school immensely difficult. I struggled to wake up on time, I couldn’t focus in the lessons, being around complex social scenarios confused me and left me feeling drained, and generally, I felt like I was somewhere I didn’t belong. As I grew older, this continued into my teenage years, and I was constantly left feeling that there was something wrong with me, that I might, despite what my teaches said, be stupid, and that I had to figure out a way to make this work as this was just how the world was. Later, at Uni, I experienced the same (and was asked to leave twice), and then, at work, the same thing happened again.
Until I actually took a second to look.
A few months later, I quit.
I didn’t have a completely clear idea of what I wanted to do – I knew I wanted to write and travel – but more than anything I knew one thing:
I had to work for myself.
I don’t know what it is, but being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, is something that completely destroys me. It makes me feel like one of those deranged animals that pace from one side of its enclosure to the other. Even when the walls are taken away.
It turns out I have a strong need for independence, and the desire to see that need expressed deeply affects my motivation, happiness, and ability to manage depression. And I only realized this, by paying attention to what I fucking sucked at. What I was mediocre at. Where I was half arsing my life.
It’s not always obvious what our passion is, but one of the easiest steps to figuring it out is paying attention to what we suck at; to what tears us down and makes us feel drained.
Instead of focusing all your effort on what you are, pay some attention to what you aren’t.
6) WHAT CAN YOU DO BETTER THAN IS ALREADY BEING DONE?
Despite what your brain might tell you (that, y’know, you in particular suck harder than anyone else), there are actually hundreds, if not thousands of people making a livelihood for themselves doing things that you’d be better at doing.
I mean, if you want to be a film director, someone out there made Transformers, Scary Movie, Twilight, and whatever this is meant to be:
I mean, come on. They really jumped the shark here. But did that stop them? Nope. They’re still making these.
Just because you see your abilities as subpar, doesn’t mean they actually are. In the context of your own self-esteem they might seem awful, but in the context of what you can making a living doing, what you can do with your life – you’d be surprised how well you sometimes fare.
7) HOW DO YOU WANT TO LIVE?
It wasn’t until I saw pictures of people traveling the world, making money from wherever they wanted, and being, for the most part, free, that I really sat down and thought:
“I really, really want that.”
For most of my life, the idea of making money off the internet never occurred to me. I figured that most of my existence would be spent in one place, working for someone in a small room or cubicle, and that was simply the way it was.
But in seeing an example of a lifestyle that I wanted – in this instance, one of freedom (there’s that desire for independence again) – I gave myself a more tangible grasp on what it is I wanted from my life. And because there were living human beings like myself living these lives, it also gave me a blueprint in which to follow in order to have it for myself.
Some were bloggers, others were vloggers, others just made money freelancing online. So far, I’ve gotten involved with two of those.
Since the dawn of time, we’ve been telling each other than comparison is a straight line to misery, and I agree. I’m not for a second saying you should sit there comparing your life to someone else; but what you should do, is look for what kind of life you want to live, and find out the necessary steps in order to have that for yourself.
And sure, we all want fame, sex and truckloads of cash – but it’s probably better to look for something less animalistic than Dan Bilzerian’s life, and instead look for something that connects with you on an emotional level. A life purpose that you actually care about.
It could be removing landmines from third world countries, or living in a shack in the woods. You won’t know until you look.
8) WHAT WOULD BREAK YOUR HEART IF YOU TRIED IT AND FAILED?
Any time we have a dream of how we’d like our life to be, we simultaneously create a fear that we might not be able to have that life. That for whatever reason, that we’re dumb, a loser, worthless, short or bald, we just might not be able to do it.
And for that reason, we don’t try. Not because we know we cant, but because we fear what failure would confirm about us.
Now that’s pretty depressing, but it also works on the flip side. The things we fantasize about but procrastinate over, are often the direction we need to head in the most. They’re the challenge that’ll see us the most growth, and in turn, through meeting that challenge, provide our lives with the most meaning.
Now, this isn’t to say if you fantasize about becoming a director, a bodybuilder, a politician and an adulterer, that you should go ahead and pursue all of those things. No, I’m not here to say “follow your vision!”
What I am saying is pay attention to the fantasies you have, and ask yourself which one would break your heart if you didn’t achieve?
In my case, I’ve wanted to be many things. Chiefly, I’ve wanted to make money writing, and travel the world. But it wouldn’t break my heart if I didn’t achieve those.
It’d break my heart if I’d never tried to.
9) WHAT FLAWS DO YOU HAVE THAT YOU’D RATHER DIE THAN KEEP HAVING?
I have a weird theory. And it goes like this:
The areas of your life that you are most insecure about are usually the areas you need to overcome the most in order to achieve what it is you want the most.
What this means is that when we move in the direction of our insecurity and fear, what we’re also doing is that we’re moving in the direction of the kind of life we actually want to live. In other words, “our passion.”
I don’t know why, but it just seems to be the case that the more you want something, the more you’re afraid of it.
Don’t believe me?
Think of the most attractive person you’ve ever seen in real life. Remember how you wanted to jump their bones right that instant?
Now, remember how you wanted to shit your pants in fear as well?
When we want something really bad, it’s usually because we’ve invested some idea of ourselves in it – maybe it’s our self-worth from whether they like us, or whether we’re good enough to be successful – and because of this we rationalize and experience fears surrounding whatever it is we want.
And it stops us from doing anything.
But if you want to figure out your life purpose, those are the exact kind of actions you need to take.
10) WHAT ARE THE UNIQUE PROBLEMS YOU’VE HAD TO SOLVE?
I’ve always felt that I’m 90 degrees socially to everyone else (sometimes I am). I also used to be woeful with girls (sometimes still am). I’ve also struggled with enormous insecurity, lack of bravery, immaturity, addiction and in some instances, depression (still do to this day).
In other words, all of these problems created all of the articles on this site.
Now, I’m not about to call you special. But, your problems are somewhat special. And the solutions you’ve had to come up with definitely are. Because of the old truism that nobody can help you but yourself, this also means that the way in which you’ve solved the problems you’ve encountered in your life is of great value to other people.
You might have chronic health issues that have made you understand diet really well. You might’ve lost family members and that’s made you understand grief. Or, like me, you must just have self-esteem issues that took you years to get a handle on.
We all experience similar problems but rarely do we come up with identical solutions.
This is precisely why the classics section of your library is filled with literary fiction, it’s precisely why honesty works so well on dates – on some level, it adds value to other people. You’re saying “hey, I’ve been there too – here’s what I did.”
It’s all I ever do on this site. I don’t write about things that I don’t suck at / have sucked at.
But it’s all well and good to realize our problems, but where this becomes a direction is when we start looking at how our own experience can add value to others, and then we start taking action off the back of that. Write a blog, cannibalize your own life into a book, teach weightlifting – it can be anything.
Find the problems you’ve had to solve, then share your solutions.
11) ASIDE FROM YOUR BASIC ANIMAL NEEDS WHAT DO YOU WANT?
Let’s just try a quick thought experiment:
If I put you in a machine that jerked you off, shoved pizza down your throat, gave you a first place prize, and told it you were loved 24/7 – what else would you want? What would you want to achieve? Beyond the praise of others, attention from the opposite sex, proving you’re better than everyone and worthy of love; what is it that you would need?
In many cases, you’d find this to mean your need to express yourself. But for others it could be problems to solve, challenges to overcome, adventures to undertake. Anything.
In simple terms: What do you need that isn’t naked chicks or being the prettiest girl at prom?
This might sound basic, but on a simple level, the easiest way to understand our passion is to understand our needs. Everyone has a basic level of needs, but as individuals, there are certain needs, beyond the simple and the shallow, that are important to us, and greatly affect our happiness.
As I said earlier, a huge one for me is independence. If I get told when to wake up too often, I get depressed. Sounds stupid, but it’s true. Another one is expression. If I don’t have an outlet for my thoughts and ideas, I start blurting them at people like I’ve been trapped on a desert island for 12 years.
This is a fundamental rule of personal development in general. Understanding your needs is one of the quickest ways to figuring out not just yourself, but your own happiness.
And in this instance, the purpose of your life.
So, what is it?
Now, if all this fails and you come up with nothing; go do some volunteering. Add some value to those with none. After all, the science says it makes you better in just about every way.