What Am I Doing With My Life?
I wrote a blog post (on a previous website) a few years back. It’s interesting to see how some things change and how some things don’t.
Hope you get as much of a kick out of this “early days” post as I did. For those of you who read until the end, there’s a little nugget you might recognize.
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What am I doing with my life?
How many times have you reached out to teachers, career advisors, parents, and mentors – unsteady about taking the next step?
What do I want? What do I like? Who am I? Who do I want to be? What jobs are available? Where the hell do I find them? Will I have money? How long will I have to live with my parents before I can get the hell out of there?
Step 1, take a deep breath. Most of us have been here before. (If you haven’t, you’re probably lying to yourself, someone else is controlling your life, or you’re impressively boring.)
No seriously, take a deep breath, it actually impacts your physiology.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the massive amount of information on the internet. It’s an incredibly powerful tool, but it’s also insanely incapacitating.
A more verbose way of thinking about this relates our limited time and attention to this cumbersome amount of information:
“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the abundance of information sources that might consume it.”
– Herbert Simon
So the answers are out there, but how do we find them? We take the responses that we get from those teachers, career advisors, parents, and mentors, and we form an opinion of what we want. Sometimes we go for it, sometimes we go for what’s easy.
This post discusses a few realizations that helped me organize my thoughts and plan an attack on building an awesome, happy life for myself. So far it’s been leading me in the right direction.
You don’t need a Ph.D. to change the world.
If you ask any kid in the world what they want to do when they grow up, they’ll say one of two things:
- I want to help people.
- I want to be a princess.
Once they realize the probabilistic unlikelihood of suddenly becoming an heir(ess) to a fortune, they often align with the first response.
So what happens between childhood and adulthood that makes us choose money or more often, the easy route?
We’re fed ‘realities,’ ‘complications,’ and many times; misinformation about what it takes to be happy in life. What’s worse, is that we’re fed by adults for the same amount of time it takes to grow up. That means that for our entire lives, we’re getting input from adults who are often not happy, jaded, and (in what is now becoming a very popular trend) scared.
How many adults have you met who are happy with their life decisions?
Here’s the kicker: how can you tell the difference between someone who is happy, and someone who isn’t? The best example of the opacity of our emotional lives is Facebook. Facebook is great for connecting people, sharing stories and memories, and building our own story, but we all know how skewed our realities are when we surf our friends’ photos.
To prove that you’re not alone, let’s put this in perspective. I’ve paired a few of the common arguments that ‘grown-ups’ use when beating down our childhood dreams with fitting rebuttals. Instead of arguing back with dissenters, make them argue with like, Ghandi. This technique is super helpful in spotting bullshit, and staying confident in following your dreams.
- “Is there any money in that?”
- “And how are you going to make a living doing that?”
- “How could you possibly change the world?”
- or the profoundly feared: “So what are you going to do with that Liberal Arts degree?”
- To these questions, I offer these rebuttals:
- “Don’t ask what the world needs. As what makes you come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
- “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of dedicated people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade
- “There is more to life than increasing it’s speed.” – Mohandas Gandhi
- “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” – Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
No job in the world is going to make you happy if you’re not already happy.
Setting yourself up to be happy is the first play in a life long series of life-chess moves. This means that considering your mental health as a keystone that will support your happiness with your career is critical. Remember that you’re either living your dream, or you’re living someone else’s. Build your career and professional life around that.
“That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, you had to have an interest in it, even a passion for it.” – Charles Bukowski
This part of the conversation get’s deep and philosophical. Expect future posts about decision making, emotions, and how to develop conscientiousness to get insights into yourself.
You never get your early twenties back.
To be clear: this is not the same as YOLO.
Just remember that the choices you make today will impact your later self.
I chose to be a smoker at age 17. I found out, 10 years later, that I would have a lot less of a choice about quitting.
I also found out that I would have to exercise regularly for the next 10 years for my risk of heart disease to go down to normal. That’s scary. I’m living with the consequences of the decisions that my 17 year-old self made. I’m also living with the consequences of the the decisions that I made only a few years ago.
Don’t let a younger, dumber, version of yourself decide how you will spend your future. The future doesn’t exist, and the present is constantly being converted into the past. The only thing that actually matters is what you’re doing this very second.
“A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb
What story do you want to tell at the end of your life?
So often, people wake up and they are suddenly old and realize that they haven’t lived their dreams.
Reverse engineer your life. Design the lifestyle you want for yourself and then find a way to build it.
Tim Ferriss calls this “Lifestyle Design,” in his book The Four Hour Work Week. List all the things you want in your life right now. Start with the tangibles, like an electric car or an apartment in San Francisco. Then move to things like “I want to play Legos on the floor with my kids.”
Once you have a picture of this life, you will start to see what else you need to make it complete. If I want to play on the floor with my kids, I know I’m going to need my time back as an adult and I can’t be traveling or away from home for excessive amounts of time. This means that if I want to travel, I’ll have to do it sooner, or wait until the kids grow older. I also know that I’ll have to be physically capable of getting down on the floor and crawling on my hands and knees – so I’d better start hitting the gym now, before I end up with back or knee problems.
Starting to make sense?
Once you’ve got your list, convert the items into monthly dollar values. If it’s a car, figure out what your car payment would be. If it’s an intangible like playing on the floor with your kids, figure out how much it costs to feed a family of 3 in San Francisco, how much it costs to buy a new lego set once a month, and how much time out of the day you want to dedicate to family time (or how much time you WON’T be working) so you can ball-park the hourly rate or salary you’ll need.
From there, you can find out EXACTLY how much it’s going to cost you for your ideal lifestyle.
Use this number to guide your choices for what jobs to take, when to take them, and when to bail on specific behaviours or habits.
At the end of our lives, we’ll all have accumulated a narrative of our behaviours. We’ll have accumulated a lifestyle of happiness and fulfillment with a few regrets, or we’ll have more empty regrets than inspiring stories.
Check out my list of Life Rules to get more info on how to structure yourself and lifestyle for happiness.
It wasn’t until I quit my job and started focusing on living my dream that I started to feel like myself as I remember myself being a kid.
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The “Life Rules” I mentioned here was the first version of the blog post that probably made you sign up for this email. Remember?
After I wrote my first list of Life Rules, I wrote it again and again over the next couple of years. Eventually, I posted it to Medium, and here we are.
I don’t believe in one-hit wonders, overnight successes, or fast breaks.
It’s more fruitful to believe in daily, incremental, consistent, relentless action.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Be relentless and become unstoppable.