If you’re stuck spinning your wheels and feeling like “I have no idea what to do with my life,” know that you’re not alone. In fact, almost 60% of 25 – 33 year-olds have felt unsure what to do next in their life or career at one point or another.
And I was feeling that way at one point myself. But through extensive research, reading, and reflection, I was able to find a process that helped me get unstuck.
And this post is going to walk you through that process.
What I’m going to walk you through is a consolidation of the things that I found most helpful in my own searching, organized into a sequential step by step process.
I hope that it’s helpful for you as it was for me.
- 1 Step #1: Establish a Vision
- 2 Step #2: Translate Your Vision Into Tangible Career Paths
- 3 Step #3: Pursue Your Path
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
- 5 Conclusion
Step #1: Establish a Vision
In order to find the right work to dedicate yourself to, you need to start by establishing a vision for the overall life that you want to build.
And this is a critical, foundational step that many people skip over (myself included at one point).
I think that we often get it backwards by starting with pursuit of a career first and then building our life around that.
In my view, the place to start is by thinking about the life you want to build and then seeking out work that will fit into that.
Here are the steps that I recommend to establish a vision for the life that you want to build:
1. Order Your Values
The act of defining and ordering your values is the starting point for establishing a vision for your life.
It’s the process that sheds light on what is truly important to you and, thus, the things that should be most reflected in your life and work.
As an example, let’s say that you may go through a value sorting exercise and come to find that autonomy is the thing that you value more than anything else.
However, when you step back and look at what you’re actually doing with your life, you may find that you are actively pursuing a career path that would entail working long hours for somebody else…a path that would likely be unfulfilling for you.
Having gone through a value sorting exercise, you may come to realize that you’re unfulfilled because your work is inconsistent with the independence that you crave. Ultimately, that realization may help you to realize that you need to pursue work as an entrepreneur, or at least a career path with more independence.
So, when thinking about what you want to do with your life, start by determining the things that you value the most. That will help to frame the more tangible decisions that you need to make around life and career as you work through this process.
For a complete guide on how to order your values, including different recommended methods and exercises that you can follow, check out our how to determine your values article.
2. Write a Future Biography
Once you’ve framed up what you want to do in life by ordering your values, the next step is to take those guardrails and write out a tangible vision for what you want to do with your life.
I call this step writing a “future biography.” And it’s the step that gives you the most tangible visualization of the life that you’d like to build.
Basically, what you do in this exercise is simply imagine your ideal future and write about what that would look and feel like for 20 – 30 minutes.
It sounds simple, but I find it to be extremely helpful in helping you to picture a tangible vision of what you want to work and build towards in your life.
For a step by step guide on how to write a future biography, check out our article on how to write a future biography here.
3. Write a Personal Mission Statement
After having defined your personal values, and drafted a future biography, I find it helpful to take your learnings from those exercises and translate them into a crisp, big picture statement of what you would like to be about — a personal mission statement.
A personal mission statement is a powerful tool for summarizing how you’d like to live and what you’d like to give.
If you get it right, it’s a wonderful top of mind filter for ensuring that your actions are aligned with the life that you’re trying to build.
Here is a quick video from Benefit Book that summarizes the value of a personal mission statement:
For a detailed process on how to write a personal mission statement, take a look at our article on personal mission statements here.
Summary of How to Establish a Vision
If you completed all of the vision exercises, you should have documented all of the following items:
- Your most important values
- A future biography
- A personal mission statement
Your list of values help to provide the high level guiding principles that frame up what you want to do with your life.
The future biography takes those principles and helps you to translate them into a concrete picture of what you want to pursue in your life.
From there, you consolidate those ideas into a single statement that summarizes who you want to be and what you want to do.
The entire process is summarized in our how to establish a vision for your life article.
With all of those resources in hand, you should have a good high level idea of the life that you want to build for yourself.
The next step is to go find tangible work and career options that fit within that life.
Step #2: Translate Your Vision Into Tangible Career Paths
Now that you’ve established a high-level vision for your life, it’s time to determine how that will be manifested in your day to day work. The best tool that I’ve found for doing that is a Japanese framework called Ikigai.
What is Ikigai?
Ikigai roughly means “a reason for being” and represents the intersection of the following four components:
If you can find the profession that represents the intersection of all of those components, you’ll likely have extremely enjoyable, fulfilling work that is well suited to your strength and skills.
How to Find Your Ikigai
The simplest explanation of how to find your Ikigai is to go through each of the four quadrants and make a list of all of the things that apply to you within each quadrant.
After completing that exercise, review those lists to find areas of overlap. Any items that intersect in some capacity across all four components are great candidates for what to do with your life.
Once you’ve found your areas of overlap, evaluate those against the outputs of your vision for life exercises and look at which work path best fits within the life that you’re looking to build for yourself.
To help you discover your Ikigai, we wrote a full post on the topic, which includes exercises for how you can populate each of the four quadrants.
Step #3: Pursue Your Path
Now that you’ve identified some possible work paths by completing the Ikigai exercises, it’s time to go make it happen.
Here are some tips for how to approach going out and doing what you think you may want to do with your life:
Experiment with Possible Paths
If you find that there are multiple possible paths that you may want to pursue, or that you’re not fully confident that your Ikigai represents what you really want to do with your life, you’ll want to go out and do some experimentation with possible career paths.
Effective experimentation involves gathering information in a low risk way to get feedback on how a particular path resonates with you.
Experimentation could take any of the following forms:
- Starting a side project
- Volunteering in your field
- Conducting informational interviews
- Doing an internship
- Doing contract work
The point is, you’re gathering as much information as you can to validate the hypotheses that formed out of your vision for life and Ikigai exercises.
For a complete process on career experimentation, check out our article on the topic.
As you’re experimenting and pursuing what you believe to be your best path, it’s important to reflect on how it feels as you’re on your journey.
I believe that the best way to do that is by journaling regularly.
Personally, I’ve found the exercise of writing a few times per week about what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling serves an incredibly powerful way to clarify and capture my thoughts. And that’s an important thing to do when venturing out on a new path.
And best of all, once you’ve been journaling with some regularity, you’ll be able to read your journal entries back to see what types of activities made you feel anxious, gave you energy, and what you were doing on your good vs. bad days.
That will then provide tangible feedback that will help to inform your life and path so you can stay focused, or course correct as needed.
We wrote a full article about effective methods for journaling, which includes a unique approach that I’ve used to help me process my thoughts.
My last recommendation as you’re pursuing your path is one that can be helpful if you feel overwhelmed.
Here is the core idea:
- Take an honest assessment of where you are now – that’s A
- Create a high-level vision of where you’d like to be (you already did this by establishing your vision for life) – that’s Z
- Figure out the best next step to get from A to Z – that’s B
- Once you get to B, figure out the next step from there – that’s C, then D, then, E, etc.
Basically, what this the concept is saying is that you need to know where you are now, where you’d like to get to, and then then what your next step is towards where you’d like to go. You don’t have to have everything mapped out now, but you need to generally know where you want to go, and gradually work your way there.
Here is a short video of Shaan reviewing his framework:
Frequently Asked Questions
There are lots of questions that folks have when they’re feeling like “I have no idea what to do with my life” that are often tied to the unique circumstances that you might be facing.
To that end, we’ve written some articles that address some common situations that people may be facing as they try to figure out what to do with their lives:
- I’m 30 years old and have no real career. Is it too late for me?
- I’ve never worked at 30, what should I do?
- I’m 40 years old and have no real career. Is it too late for me?
- I’m stuck in a dead end job with a Bachelor’s Degree. What do I do?
- How do I get out of the customer service field that I’ve been stuck in?
- How do I get out of retail without a degree?
- I can’t work 8 hours a day. What should I do?
- No career interests me. What do I do?
“I have no idea what to do with my life” is a feeling that people struggle with with all the time. In this article, I’ve outlined my approach to helping solve it.
Basically, you begin with the end in mind and establish a vision for what you want your life to be about. You do that by defining your values, writing about your ideal future, and then consolidating that into your personal mission statement.
From there, you work to make that tangible by finding your Ikigai — the intersection of what you’re good at, what you like, what can make you money, and what the world needs.
Then, you go out and make it happen by doing and learning.
Now, go make it happen and live a life that you’re proud of.