by Matthew Biggins
The unfortunate truth is that figuring out what you really want to do with your life is hard.
And frankly, it’s always changing. What you want to do with your life at 22 will be different to what you want to do at 35 or 43.
Heck, even day to day, what we want might change!
But there is good news!
It is okay if you don’t know what you want to do. In fact it is normal and healthy. If you have followed a traditional education path, up until the end of college, everything has had a road map.
We’ve been trained to view life as a series of concrete steps. It makes sense that we find it hard to find purpose after school.
Society has conditioned us that the “purpose” of life every year until we’re 21 is to get good grades so that we can get into better classes, colleges, internships, and jobs.
So, it’s not your fault you haven’t been able to figure out what you want to do.
You have literally never been rewarded for thinking about it.
These 5 tips will help you find purpose in life:
1. Work really, really hard
It’s a common misconception that if only you could find your passion, then you would be able to work hard. However, in reality passion rarely works like that. More often we start doing something, work hard at it, and then learn to love it.
And even if we don’t love everything we try, developing a good work ethic can only help us once we find that thing we love.
Take the random example of surfing. Starting out, surfing is no fun at all. It sucks. The water is freezing. The board is awkward to maneuver. You’re dead tired from paddling. Waves constantly throw you around and you haven’t even been able to stand up on the board!
And yet, so many people love surfing. We’re they passionate about all the bad stuff, no. But they put in the work up front and developed a passion for it, even learning to relish the hard parts.
A lot of things in life are like surfing.
2. Try everything at least once
At the end of the day, you won’t know if you like something if you never tried it. The sweaty palms theory is a good rule of thumb here. The idea is that you should do something every week that makes your palms sweat. Put simply, do something every week that scares you. This is the only way to keep growing.
If we continually push our own personal boundaries, we are more likely to find what we enjoy doing.
And failure is to be expected. That is normal. Embrace fear. Embrace failure. Embrace new experiences.
3. Set actionable goals
Working hard without a goal is like running on a hamster wheel. Sure, you are doing something and feel like you’re getting somewhere. But it’ll never really get you anywhere.
Goals don’t have to be perfect. The point is developing an outcome-oriented mindset. Beginning with the end in mind has many benefits. It offers us direction. We are less likely to spend time on frivolous things, because we know they won’t help us get anywhere. We are more likely to finish what we started.
A clear picture of the final product helps us push forward, even when obstacles arise.
4. Surround yourself with great people
People and relationships are the most important thing in life. A terrible relationship can drag us down, while an incredible one can lift us up. If we want to develop purpose in life, then we need to surround ourselves with people who have purpose and conviction. These people will inspire us.
5. Be okay with not knowing
Take a deep breath. It’s okay not knowing what you want to do. Embrace it. Own it. Growing up I used to think that the 8th graders seemed so mature. They had life figured out. Then I got there and was clueless.
I used to think juniors in high school had it figured out. I mean they could drive! Once you can drive, the world is so much easier. Nope, I was wrong again.
Seniors in college, surely they know what they want. They have job offers. And yet, once I got there I realized I was still very unsure. I went into consulting because it wouldn’t close any doors, not because I thought it was my passion.
Now, two years out of college I have come to the realization that I don’t think anyone ever fully figures it out. From the outside, many people or companies look put together. But pull back the layers, and you’ll see all the flaws.
Imperfections never go away. Learning to embrace and leverage our idiosyncrasies goes a long way.
Finding purpose is a continual process. Some will never find it. Some will find it early on. But for the majority, our purpose is a moving target that is always changing.
Change is a guarantee. Instead of fighting that, all we can do is do the best with what we know at any given moment. It may be wrong, but we will only learn that looking back.
Even in failing, we learn about our purpose more fully.
Matthew Biggins is writer, runner and aspiring vagabond️