“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
– Steve Jobs (1955-2011), American entrepeneur and co-founder of Apple Inc.
We’re grown ups.
What should we do with our lives?!
Travel? Work? Become lifelong students?
Live in a South American commune and raise goats?
Cry on our parents’ couch until we figure it out?
It’s hard to answer this question without sounding dramatic and whiney.
My brother knows the struggle:
I’ve been there too.
All I’ve ever wanted to do in life was sing and play piano.
I took 8 years of classical piano lessons, a handful of voice lessons, and even played the alto sax.
I was in two choirs in high school and was President of Music Council (what?!) in my graduating year.
I took any opportunity I could to sing: school talent shows, West Edmonton Mall fashion shows (it’s a thing), family events, debuts, weddings, and even in my parent’s choir, The Philippine Choral (also a thing).
Then I got a smidge more serious about my dream and auditioned for the University of Alberta Bachelor of Music Program.
The adjudicators could tell I wouldn’t last a heartbeat in the competitive world of classical music.
They looked at my resume, transcript, and application package and said I had a multitude of passions, my grades were very high, and I seemed to have talent in several other subjects.
Being a world-class professional classical musician meant I would have to dedicate my entire life to music.
They thought I should pursue something else instead.
On some level, I already knew this. I just needed to hear someone say it.
So I took their advice and moved to complete a Bachelor of Commerce, Specialist in Finance and Economics degree at the University of Toronto.
I remember the conversation with my mom in our living room.
BTW, my mom is super scary and serious:
I told her that I was going to take Finance.
She looked at me stunned. For so many years, all I had talked about was becoming a musician.
My response was: “It’s time to grow up and be practical”.
Fast forward to my third year of university – I realized finance was not for me.
After gaining work experience, loads of researching, and speaking with a ton of people, I discovered that marketing was more my speed.
It’s a blissful harmony between my heart and brain.
My main point is this:
There is no one clear path to get where you want to be.
Attempting to tackle this question is difficult and messy and will make you want to chase shots of Jameson with more Jameson.
The important thing is to start.
Below is a list of simple things you can do to figure it all out. I’ve organized it into what you can do immediately to what you can do later – when you’re feeling bold.
THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW, FROM YOUR COUCH:
1. Talk to as many people as you can.
Email three close friends. Ask if you can talk to their parents about their career paths.
(No, it’s not weird.)
What do they do on a daily basis? Do they like what they do?
How did they get to where they are now?
Even if they don’t have a career in the field or industry you’re interested in, you can gain some key advice and insight from someone with years of experience.
2. Write everything down.
Open a new notebook and list anything you’ve ever been remotely interested in.
Include: Lists of favourite activities and hobbies. Favourite books. Quotes. Song lyrics. Articles. Pictures.
Keep adding to your list for a couple of days.
Keep an eye out for recurring themes and patterns. As Steve Jobs has said – try to connect the dots.
Watch the full “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” speech here:
3. Think back to when you were a kid.
What made you cry with joy?
While I understand that jumping in puddles and crafting spaceships out of duct tape may not be lucrative career choices, they will bring to light all the activities and experiences you genuinely enjoy.
This will take you one step closer to figuring out your life purpose.
As a kid, I loved pitching ideas to my parents.
(Whatever guys, friends are overrated.)
At nine years old, I was desperate for a puppy. I constructed a presentation on poster board with all the key information they needed to make a decision including cost of supplies, where the dog would sleep, a daily schedule, and one of those fundraising meter things to show how much money I had saved so far.
It makes sense now that my natural skills and interest lie in marketing and advertising.
4. Have a heart to heart with a close friend.
Text Pete and ask him to grab a drink tonight.
(Pete’s always up for a good brew.)
Keep it informal and light. Chat about what you guys want to do with your lives.
Try this even if you feel uncomfortable and awkward opening up.
That’s what the booze is for, silly.
5. Read about people who have been there.
It’s not just you and me.
A lot of successful people struggled with what they should do with their lives:
Funders and Founders/Anna Vital/Via fundersandfounders.com
Here are some of my favourites to get you started:
Author and self-proclaimed travel hacker, Chris Guillebeau gives some incredible advice about pursuing what you were born to do. Take his quiz to get more insight into your working style.
What Should I Do With My Life? is a book by Po Bronson. It is an intensely honest account of people’s chosen life paths. The complexity behind their decision processes and the surprising life lessons that arise from each unique story are truly compelling.
This article is useful, providing 3 practical tools to help answer this burning question.
6. Start journaling.
No, your friends won’t call you a pansy for keeping a diary.
In fact, there are several benefits to journaling including improved mental and emotional health as well as learning to process and communicate ideas better.
Sign up for Penzu. It’s free!
Here’s what it looks like:
Try to write your thoughts every day – even if it’s just for five minutes.
Penzu is password protected so the deepest accounts of your soul-searching endeavors won’t be leaked out for billions of people in the world to see.
7. Write a letter to your future self.
Date it exactly five years from today.
Divide it into four categories: career, relationships, health, and personal goals.
Be as specific and detailed as possible down to how much money you’re making, what you have accomplished in your career, and what personal goals you have achieved.
I did this and it helped clarify what I really wanted for myself. It influenced the decisions I made in the present.
Plus, it’s cool to read it every year to see if you’re on track or to make revisions if your goals have changed (which is totally okay).
Here’s an excerpt from the letter I wrote in 2012 to the 2022 me:
The interweb has truly thought of everything.
8. Do the Google exercise.
If someone googled your name, what would you want them to see?
Hopefully not pictures of you drunk at your friend’s bachelorette in Miami.
Hey, it happens.
This exercise also helps clarify what you want to accomplish in work and in life.
Open a Word doc. and limit the “search results” to one page. This helps you zero-in on the goals that are most important to you.
Life moves so fast.
We’re hustling to get to work, hustling at work, and hustling at home.
If you’re new to meditation, start here. And of course, there’s an app for that.
As someone who can’t sit still long enough to watch a gif, I was skeptical at first. But the clarity and relaxation you feel afterwards makes it all worth it.
Ignore the noise in your head and decipher what truly matters to you.
10. Sign-up for a class or course you’ve always wanted to take.
Experience is the greatest teacher.
I’m sure someone smart already said that, but I’m saying it again.
Online courses have exploded in popularity over the past 10 years, making it super easy to learn new skills and pursue new (and old) passions.
Want to convince your girlfriend’s dad that you’re not totally useless? Learn to cook.
If you’re in Toronto, learn to code and cook in the flesh!
Spadina Ave. on a busy Toronto day:
THINGS YOU CAN DO LATER, WHEN YOU’RE FIRED UP:
11. Don’t just follow your passion.
There are other factors to consider.
Open a new Word doc. and make a table with three columns: Skills, Passions, Values.
Write down the answers to the following questions under the respective columns.
What are your greatest strengths?
What are you naturally good at?
What skills you have developed through school, work, or volunteering?
What do you love to do?
What can you do for hours in a day without even looking at the clock?
What are you willing to sacrifice your time, energy, money, and social life for?
What are your personal core values?
If you need help defining these, best-selling author and marketer Kevin Daum has an exercise that will help you establish them.
Review your table. Note any overlaps or if anything jumps out at you.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have an aha moment right away. Sometimes it takes a little digging and experience IRL to figure it out.
Another important question to ask is:
What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead?
Be as specific as possible:
How much money do you want to make?
How important is a work/life balance to you?
Forshay is a talent recruitment firm – they summarize it all neatly in this Venn diagram:
Forshay/Susan Thornton/Via forshay.com
Don’t cry – you were 99 years old and you lived a full and happy life.
Pick three people at your funeral: An immediate family member, a close friend, and an employee.
Write each of their eulogies for you.
What would each of them say about you?
About how you treated people?
About their relationship with you?
What do you want to be remembered for?
It helps put things into perspective and makes it easier for you to prioritize values.
13. Do something that makes you uncomfortable.
Even if it’s just trying a fun, new fitness class that you know will make you look like an awkward jackass.
The point is to step outside your comfort bubble.
At the very least, you’ll gain a confidence boost and you’ll be more inclined to try more new things in the future.
How will you know what to do with your life if you’re too afraid to try something new?
14. Stop thinking about yourself.
Volunteer. Helping others is another way to discover your own skills and interests.
Throughout university, I ran fundraising events through a humanitarian organization called War Child.
I loved it.
Not only did I become more aware of global issues, but it also served as a crash course in event and people management.
My close friend and me at a university fundraising pub night:
15. Ask to do more work at work.
Volunteering doesn’t necessarily have to be philanthropic.
Ask your boss to be placed on projects that interest you.
Your first job is not likely to be your dream job. Doing work outside your regular job duties might lead you down a new path.
Just remember to set expectations with your boss about the time commitment and deliverables required from you with this new project and don’t let your day-to-day responsibilities slip.
16. Finally start that side hustle or passion project.
Okay, so maybe you hate your job.
You hate it with a fiery passion only reserved for Donald Trump and turtle-neck crop tops.
But that doesn’t mean you should settle!
No time? How about after work and on weekends?
You really have nothing to lose. You’ll learn so much from simply starting.
17. Travel if you have some time and money.
Even if you don’t, why not drive to a new park in the city?
It’s amazing the amount of clarity that comes from exploring new and different places.
Plus, you can use the time away to stop thinking about this question for a moment and just enjoy the present.
BONUS: KEEP DOING THE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY.
Remember this is a journey. Be kind to yourself and never give up.
If you start getting frustrated, hang in there! It will all be worth it in the end.
What are some tips you have for finding your life purpose?
Share your thoughts in the comment section below.