How to Decide What to Do With Your Life: A Personal Story
Before you read on, there is no all-telling-magical-answer that is going to solve your problems. If you're looking for a definitive do-this, do-that and you'll be happy list, I'm afraid to say that this kind of path only exists in our fantasies. There's no one right or wrong way to go about choosing a career and there's not one single way that is going to work for everyone.
I'll be honest and upfront and say that I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. If anyone was to ask me what I want to do in life, or what my end goal is, it's simply to be happy. I'm diverting from this statement for a little while to give you a little background on myself and how I used to think growing up.
For most of my life, I stayed at home and studied. I got good grades and when I graduated high school with honors, I went to college to pursue a degree in 3D animation because of the following reasons:
- I had no idea what to do after graduating high school
- I knew I wanted to do something creative
- My parents thought it was a good idea
- 3D animation sounded like a cool career
Were those the best reasons? Probably not. But it gave me something to do and I met some incredibly important people to me while attending school. I will carry those friendships for the rest of my life, so despite regretting the paralyzing amount of student debt, I consider my decision to attend school a win for me.
Is my degree going to open up doors for me? Possibly. Is it going to get me where I'm going to eventually end up? Maybe. Have I achieved anything with it yet? Nope. Minus making lifelong friends I can turn to for advice, it has not done a thing for me. (although I've only had my degree for not even two years, so we shall see.)
Too Many Choices and Options
For me (and I'm sure for a lot of people), there's simply too much to choose from. There's many different options that I would pursue and being a creative individual this opens so many doors for me (Photography, Sound Design, Video Editing, Motion Graphics, Animation, Writing, etc, etc)
The thought of choosing a single one and sticking to it, is terrifying. I don't want to just choose one thing to do the rest of my life. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.
Once I finish my work for the day, I often find myself agonizing over what I should be working on to get to the next step in my life. Is this wasting my time, should I be learning this software or creating this piece for my portfolio....
So Why is Picking a Career Scary?
Because our entire lives are based upon this decision. After my mom passed away earlier this year, I confronted the startling realization that everyone bases who you are by what you do. Meaning that on the death certificate my mom would always be remembered as "homemaker". Anyone who knew her would base her life on this one field "occupation."
This got me thinking that the first thing that anyone asks is "What do you do?" Are you a doctor, lawyer, painter, pharmacist, sailor, cashier? Does that really define you? How do you validate certain feelings if you simply reply "I don't know."
I know there's a lot of people who are stuck in jobs that aren't what they want to be doing, and there's a lot of people that don't have jobs. The general feelings someone gets when they reply that they don't have a job is usually a mix between pity/anger. Go get a job you slacker. How dare you take time out to think about what you want to be doing, or how dare you be in-between career choices. Or they are merely dismissed and the conversation moves on.
Movies and television shows are such suckers for twisting our reality. I grew up thinking that if I stayed in school, went to college and magically picked a career that everything would be shiny and easy. Everything would be handed to me on a silver platter, and to be honest, I still think that by the time I turn 30, I'm going to have my life together, possibly living in my own house (ha!). Of course that time frame still gives me plenty of time to get my act together, but I know a lot of people older than 30 and they still don't live up to everyone's expectations of where they should be in there life. Where's the house, epic career and babies?
John Green's What to Do With Your Life
How then do You Choose a Career?
One thing that I still stand by is that when I eventually wind up where I want to be going, I'm not going to be one of those people who hates their job. Sure I've had done my time working in retail, but I was okay with it, because it was my part-time job and it helped me get through college.
As long as the job that I take helps me get to where I'm going, then I'm alright with it.
I would say go for what interests you and work toward something. There's nothing worse than feeling like you're stuck or at a standstill. What are you interests? What do you enjoy doing? If you don't know, try different things. Find something that's enjoyable to you and do it with people you find (mostly) enjoyable to be around.
That's one thing that people forget to look for. Being around people that you want to work around is also something that should be taken into consideration when choosing a career. They're the ones that make the day better when work is a slow one, or there's nothing much to do. If given the choice between working for less money and with the people I want to work with, I would take that over having a bigger check.
And if you're stuck working a crappy job, just make sure to keep the end goal in mind. Whatever that is for you.
Moving Forward in Life & Finding Happiness
Right now, I still hold onto the belief that no matter where you are in your life, you should be happy or possess something that you're happy about. There should be some form of happiness that gives you joy in the day. It may be your girlfriend/boyfriend, your pet, or your current hobbies and personal adventures.
Granted, there are darker times when you can't see any of this happiness, such as a breakup, a family member's death, a loss of a job, or a betrayal from a close friend. Even in those times, there should still be something that you can turn to. For me, books have always been there, as well as writing and photography.
I have experienced a lot of difficult times, but it was really when I hit my low point that I began to see what life was and what it was meant to be. I'll admit that this point was brought about my a broken heart. I had based my entire life of this one thing in my life and after it was gone, I had to rebuild my life and confront who I was (I wrote about some of this here: Things I learned from a Broken Heart).
So even though your career choice and "what you want to do with your life" is undecided, there should still be some form of happiness and meaning in your life. Whenever I find myself worrying about wasting my life or other such things, I always stop and think about what I have right now, and where I want to go with the people I have now and my interests.
Every opportunity has a direction that it might lead me, and there's no one telling you that you can hop around jobs and see what's out there before you actually find yourself choosing a path to follow.