“What do I want to do with my life?” – Becoming What You Want to Be Without Knowing What You Want to Do
May 17, 2018
I had a few whiskeys last Saturday with a bunch of friends, and as the tongues began to loosen up a little, one particular friend asked me the question: “What do I want to do with my life? I don’t like what I do, I want to do something else, but I’ve no idea what.”
We chewed on it for an hour or so until the rest of the group called us boring and “work” talk was disallowed. Little did they realise that it was actually a life talk we were having.
A few years ago, I would’ve also categorised a conversation like this as “work” talk, but as I’ve changed and developed I’ve realised that for people like you and I, there’s no real distinction between the two when it comes to the day to day.
Sure, we aim for a work / life harmony, but the point I’m trying to make is that when you realise that you want more than to just turn up to a job, sell your time to someone who doesn’t interest you and reap a pretty steady salary for the rest of your life, you actually begin to see that to earn a good living you don’t have to “work”, in the traditional sense.
Of course you have to work hard, you have to create or provide something that people want – but when I was chatting to my buddy this weekend, it made me realise and actually be really impressed by the fact that he, along with more and more people I talk to, realised that fulfilment doesn’t come in the form of cash.
Yet fulfilment is the thing that the friend of mine wanted, and the really curious thing is that he’d dressed up fulfilment as “happiness”.
“I just want to be happy in what I’m doing.”
Happiness at “work” is simple: we each must feel as if we matter; as if we count for something; as if we are making a difference.
It doesn’t matter what we’re making a difference in, that’s the beauty of the diversity of life and it’s unique to each of us. But whatever we choose to focus on for any given period of time must make us feel like we’re changing something in the world, for someone – no matter how small.
Heck, THAT is why I write these articles and tutorials. It’s why I podcast and it’s why I turn out to speak to early stage entrepreneurs and founders.
“What do I want to do with my life?” is rarely a cash decision..
Its fine to chase the cash, as long as cash isn’t the motivator…
After a while of debating, my friend and I got around to the subject of money, to which my buddy instantly let me know:
“I’m not money motivated. I’m happy with what I earn and my girlfriend earns a good salary too, I don’t want any more so how can I be money motivated?”
My response was:
“You have a mortgage, right? Being money motivated isn’t always about wanting more of it. In fact, it’s as much about needing to keep a steady stream of it coming in so that you can feed your fiscal obligations as it is the desire to have more of it.”
We are all money motivated in some way. We either work to create business or we turn up to a job, either way we do that because we want to earn a decent living to provide for the people in our lives.
Don’t shy away from that, in fact embrace it and understand what REALLY motivates you on top of that.
In my friend’s case, money needs to come in and it needs to continue to come in otherwise nothing will change.
Because the fear of what will happen with even a slight deviation from the financial routine that he has become used to will either consciously or sub-consciously hold him back.
It would me, too.
Facing that potential fear is something that every single person who sets off on a path to a happy working life has to do at some point and my friend is already in an impressively good state of mind.
Because he has already realised that he ONLY needs to earn what he earns now to be financially really happy.
Right now, whilst he’s on a decent salary, he’s not happy. And by virtue of not being happy he’s wasting himself and missing out on the vital part of the work / life equation – that word again: fulfilment.
That’s great, Mark, but it doesn't answer “What do I want to do with my life?”
“Mum, when I grow up I want to be a Podcaster.”
Didn’t happen. In fact, my Mum still wonders what I do a lot of the time- “He works with computers.”
Here’s a secret: I STILL don’t know what I want to do either. In fact, I may never ever know what I want to do. Every few months I ask myself the same question: “What do I want to do with my life?!”
I know what I like to do though, and I know what my life goals are. That means that I can make decisions and create objectives in my working life that allows me to fulfil those life goals, without knowing what I want to do.
When I left school, I wanted to play bass for a living in a rock band. I did that for a while and made less than zero money doing it, but MAN it was fun!
As I look back, this was a clear manifestation of what I actually wanted from life: to be free from binding authority imposed on me by strangers.
What does that mean in real terms?
- Earn my own money so no one can tell me what I can and can’t do.
- Work for myself so that when I have kids, no one can tell me I can’t drop them off or pick them up from school.
- Have fun – try things – think “f*ck it, what happens if I do this?”.
- See as much of the world as I can.
- Meet as many amazing people as I can.
THAT is my version of fulfilment.
But I still don’t know what I want to DO.
No, I know what I want to BE.
After all, why do we need to be one thing?
The word “entrepreneur” implies multiple things generating income and providing a life. Whilst we shouldn’t split our focus too much, we should always focus on creating sustainable success before moving on to a diversification, but we should always keep an open mind.
An open mind attracts opportunity. AKA: making your own luck.
At this point I should say that I’m very sorry: this piece goes on about me and my situation way more than I’d like – but it’s the first piece that I’ve written in a while that is aimed at my younger self as much as it is you, my friend or “Scott”, my Excellence Expected avatar.
Knowing what you want to DO is, in my opinion, a super lucky thing for anyone.
And sure, some people are so dialled in to that from a young age that they follow that course and spend all of their life loving it.
But for each of that type of person, there are people like myself and my friend: people who want to work hard, people who want to earn a decent income but who also want to do it on their terms.
We all simply want to do what we enjoy. And what we enjoy changes with time.
How do guys like us start on that path?
We do it by creating stepping stones.
Stepping stones: becoming what you want to be without knowing what you want to do.
Let’s use my buddy as the example here, and let’s be really clear on the situation:
- He earns a good salary, as does his partner.
- He owns a mortgaged house.
- He’s driven, motivated, hard working and talented in a number of areas – areas that can be monetised.
- He’s bored and unfulfilled with the working part of his life.
- He consistently asks himself “What do I want to do with my life?”
To put this into context, let’s assume he spends 8 hours per day working, that’s:
- 40 hours per week
- 160 hours every 4 weeks
- 1,920 hours per year (assuming he works 48 weeks of the year)
- 80 total days per year
- 3,200 total days during a 40 year working career
All doing something that he’s unfulfilled by.
But, being realistic, he has obligations, as do we all.
And when these obligations are set against the backdrop of “What do I want to do with my life?”, it paralyses us.
I’ve seen it countless times and recognise it each and every one, because I used to be the same.
“Why start anything now? There’s someone doing it better than me already, I’m not good enough or I know that it’s not what I want to do long-term.”
Maybe that is all true.
But none of it ultimately matters.
For each person doing it better than you, there are 100 people to whom you’re THE expert.
But no one does it like YOU. Because no one has your personality, experience, life or attitude. The ONLY USP any of us has in this life is ourselves.
Not being good enough is simply a subjective perspective and I actually believe, a manifestation of imposter syndrome – aka, I have NO RIGHT to make money from this because I’m still learning or I’m just not good enough – I’m going to get found out.
Well, sure it’d be great to learn guitar from Joe Satriani, but I’ll take lessons from the guy who blazed a path at my local club last week, too.
He ain’t Satriani, but he can show me a thing or two hundred.
And because I’ve got some disposable income to spend on comics and such, I’d probably pay him a monthly recurring fee to create me video personal video tutorials that went on a private channel somewhere in a membership site.
If it isn’t what you want to do long-term, so what?
It’s what you want to do right now, so get started on it – and get started on it by writing down:
- One clear, simple objective: “Give myself the space in my life to try things.”
- The small, attainable stepping stones needed to hit that goal.
In my bud’s case, he works full time – so what does the small, attainable stepping stone look like to allow him to either have more time on an evening to create something that he enjoys or to reduce his working hours so that he can spend as little more time trying things out?
What are the maths of that with regards financial obligations?
And then, what is the next stepping stone needed to start getting eyes on what he’s doing?
To continue the guitar example from earlier, perhaps it is creating the ideal avatar of someone with disposable income, who wants to learn or improve his guitar skills but wants personal tuition that works on his or her schedule via video.
And then what does this avatar keep asking him for?
Then, what stepping stone does he need to create to develop his first small piece of recurring income that
- Fulfils what people ask him for and
- Covers even more of his time so that the financial burdens are taken care of?
Long-term, how can a lot of this be batched or automated so that it replaces his full time salary with perhaps only one-day per week of his time being invested so that he can then figure what he wants to develop into next?
It sounds simple, and it sounds like it’s “for the guys who have made it”; for the people who CAN answer “What do I want to do with my life?”.
Well, it IS simple, BUT it’s also for anyone.
You don’t need an answer to “What do I want to do with my life?“, none of us do.
We need to know what we want to be, and then we need to put scaffolding around the things that we need to protect in order to strip away the pieces that are holding us back.
And then, we all just need to start doing something.
Asking yourself continually, “What do I want to do with my life?” is actually damaging in my opinion. It implies that we can't develop, grow or change and that we must have a finite and definitive answer to that question.
You don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have to stop generating the income you’re generating now, but every single day that passes is another opportunity missed to try something new.
Starting anything is transitional – it is VERY rarely a hard stop on one thing and a hard start on another. Life just doesn’t work like that, and opportunities come from the most unexpected places.
It is all about having the space to seize them.
By creating stepping stones that walk you through to a place where you have space, you can put yourself in a position, just like I hope my friend does, where you’re able to focus on what you enjoy and open your mind to the unexpected opportunities that will come your way.
More importantly, you'll finally be able to answer, “What do I want to do with my life?” with a resounding: “Who knows, and THAT is the opportunity!”.
Don’t forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel.