Start where you areA friend once told me: I don't know what I want to do in life. I really need a near-death experience to find out.
A friend once told me: “I don’t know what I want to do in life. I really need a near-death experience to find out."
I mean, I guess that could work.
You also might have heard about people almost dying and having a eureka moment about what they want to do with their life.
This idea of instant insight is seductive because it feels effortless.
“I didn’t know, and then I knew! It’s a miracle."
I mean, sure, people might experience this, and it must feel great. I don’t doubt the realness of it.
But what happens after they stop being passionate about whatever they’ve realized that day?
That happens. We change, and what we want changes with us.
That’s probably not a good long-term strategy for maintaining a sense of purpose in your life.
The Life Design methods we will be learning are the long-term solution to keep finding purpose in your life. They will help you reinvent yourself anytime you want, without the need to almost die.
The truth behind finding purpose and passion is that you have to work for it. But working hard for something is not a very seductive idea.
Nearly killing yourself while jumping out of an airplane and realizing you want to save dolphins from choking on plastic trash. That’s fascinating. Tell me that story.
However, the actual finding of purpose and passion involves lots of trying different things, failing and quitting most of them, until the 17th attempt, when you find something you don’t mind being bad at.
You find something you enjoy for the process and care enough for the outcome.
That’s the meaningful work you will enjoy doing. That’s what we will learn to find here.
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It’s okay to be lost
I get lost every Tuesday morning, and I find myself again around Wednesday afternoon. That’s life.
Being unsure about what you do is normal.
I cherish the occasional day or two when I know exactly why, what, and how I should do things. But they are rare.
I found that when I’m in a long stretch of feeling lost, the important thing is to do something.
I keep getting un-lost by doing something, anything.
- I draft the next article and renew my passion for writing.
- I outline a new course and renew my passion for teaching.
- I read a smart book and renew my passion for learning new things.
Don’t wait for passion, do something
Passion, or however you want to call the burning emotion behind being attracted to something, is a dangerous concept.
It’s dangerous because finding your passion is both:
A) Absolutely crucial for your journey to doing meaningful work you enjoy
B) Often hidden until you do something long enough to care about it
I know this might be confusing. So let’s deconstruct it a little more.
What I’m saying is this:
You need to pursue your passion, but you cannot wait for it to show itself before you start doing something.
Passion isn’t found. It’s developed.
At least, this seems to be the case for most people. Research suggests that most of us develop a passion for what we do after getting good at it. (1, 2, 3)
So it’s likely that you are the same as me, and you also never had one single irresistible passion you could follow in life. You often felt lost, guessing what school or job you might want to do.
For us, passion comes with practice – as a result of trying many different things until we find something we care about enough to become great at it.
So don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to do. That’s normal.
We will learn how to move forward despite not knowing what we want. We will figure things out as we go.
That’s enough theory. Let’s get practical.
Find the right problems to solve
The first thing we’re going to get better at is problem finding.
Problem solving is important, but you can’t solve a problem you don’t see.
It’s the feeling that something is wrong, but you’re not sure what: “Why don’t I enjoy the work-life I have?"
- Is it the people I work with?
- Is it the work itself? Should I try something else?
- Do I need to make more money to afford the life I want? Is that what bothers me?
It might be one of them. It might be all of them. It might be something completely different.
We need to examine our lives more closely to find what’s not working before we can start making it better.
Break your life into areas
This is the first exercise you can do to start designing your life the way you want it (even if you aren’t sure what you want yet – that’s absolutely okay, allowed, and expected).
I do this exercise every month as part of my monthly review. Its purpose is to look at your life from a higher perspective to notice problems that might be hiding from you in the rush of everyday happenings.
Let’s do it right now. I’ll do it too.
This is how to it step by step:
1. Write down the areas of your life that deserve your attention.
I use Work, Relationships, Health, Fun, and Money. (In the book, Bill and Dave use Work, Play, Love, and Health.)
Feel free to use whatever fits you better. Add or change anything you want.
For example, I split Money from Work because even though they overlap (work is the primary way to make money), I prefer to examine them separately.
Or you could chop Relationships into Friends and Relationship to isolate your social life from your romantic life.
Do it the way that feels right to you for this moment. You can always change it later.
2. Rate each area on a scale from -2 to 2.
You could use a 1-5 or 1-10 scale if it helps you express yourself better. It doesn’t work for me. So I use this spectrum:
- -2 → “It’s awful. I have to do something about it right now.”
- -1 → “Should be better, but I can live with this for a while if I have to.”
- 0 → “Meh. It’s okay, but it could be much better.”
- 1 → “It’s fine.”
- 2 → “This is amazing. Please let this be like this for the rest of my life.”
(You can also do it visually, as I did in the picture below.)
3. Look at every area and think about WHY you rated it the way you did. Write it down.
4. Look at every area and think about WHAT you could DO to make it better. Write it down.
This is mine. I kept it short. You can write much more if you want.
Do this exercise to create a snapshot of where you are right now.
It’s never perfect. But it’s something you can work with. It gives you a good starting point for everything else we will do in this Life Design series.