April 29

How to figure out what you want in life


Before you start reading this article, hold on. I want to manage your expectations. If you think you are going to come off this article with an immediate sense of enlightenment, let’s be clear.

You won’t.

I’m sorry. But I’m not going to promise you that. All I hope to do through this article is to give you a clearer idea of what’s worked for the people whom I’ve worked with.

But setting your expectations straight in this article will help you to also set your expectations for what you want from life.

Let’s be honest, shall we?

You’re expecting too much from life. Answering this question,

What do I want from life?

May not bring you to a greater sense of fulfilment, joy and happiness.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pessimist. Nor am I a cynic, who thinks that there’s nothing beautiful about life.

But working with hundreds of clients over the past 4 years, I’ve realised that the most common reason why people don’t find out what they want from life is because:

You assume there’s more than this.

Let me guess. You’re trying to answer this question because you think that if you only figured out what you wanted, you would be happy.

Nope. Modernity has fed us this myth that if you knew what you wanted to do with life, if you knew your passion, you would be happy. Maybe. For a time. But after a while, because of our minds’ tendency to step onto the hedonic treadmill, what we have found to be previously satisfying is no longer fulfilling anymore.

I would argue that you can be happy right here, right now. If you choose to.

how to figure out what you want in life
Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance.

Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance. You don’t suddenly start skipping with joy because you’ve discovered what you want from life. You choose to be happy, despite the circumstances you’re in. I will share with you my personal experience. When I left my previous job, I thought that I would fall into depression. After all, there was no certainty of income. Nor was I sure about what I wanted, now that I left my job. Furthermore, just two years ago, my previous job-hunt had left me stuffing myself with food because of the desire to distract myself from the anxiety within me.

I only knew that I didn’t want to do that job. But despite having to scrimp and save, not eating out, I became more happy. Why?

Because I realised I suddenly had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, rather than what was needed. In a job, I was told what to do. Some things which I thought were stupid still had to be done.

But with the sudden freedom to explore, discover and decide, I realised that I felt powerful again.

What holds us back

There are two things that advertisers prey on to get you to buy something.

Fear. And greed.

That’s also the two reasons that hold you back from finding what you want to do with life.

Fear holds you back

Fear. You’re fearful that if you truly went for what you wanted, you would have no money. You fear for your physical needs. You may want to be an artist. But somehow society tells us that you won’t make money from it.

That’s BS. If you really went for art, and wanted to make a living, you would make it work. Let me put this to you. You may be doing something you don’t want, right now. But have you ever taken a step back to think,

How have I made this work?

If you can make something you hate work out, can you imagine what it would be like if it was something you wanted to do?

Maybe it’s not that you don’t know what to do, but it’s that you’re scared of embracing it.

how to figure out what you want in life
Fear may keep you stuck.

But let’s go onto the next question.

If you really, really, didn’t know what you wanted to do in life, what then would you do?

Let’s pause there for a moment though and examine why you don’t know what you want to do.

Greed holds you back

Greed may hold you back. You may say,

What?! How can I be greedy? I’m trying to figure out what I want to do in life!

Precisely. You’re figuring out, and I will hazard a guess that you are doing that by thinking. Not by doing.

There’s a limit to how much you would be able to analyse your way into something you want to do. And it’s the greed to have the ‘right’ way that may keep you on the sidelines between thinking and doing, never deciding. That’s why you’re searching for more information through articles like this to figure out what you want to do with life.

You may get it that way, but it’s much easier to discover what you want to do by creating output, rather than getting more input in the form of articles, videos, and advice.

how to figure out what you want in life
Focus on creating something rather than listening to all the advice out there.

Here’s what you can do.

Figure out what you don’t want

You’ve probably had some bad experiences in life which you can confidently say,

I don’t want that.

I hate that. I want to quit that.

Write all of that down. But identify too the elements in those things you’ve done that have made you detest it.

Is it because of the people? Or the boredom of the work? Or the fact that the work was not intellectually stimulating? Figure out what it is.

Figure out what you need

There are three basic needs of humans. Food, water and oxygen.

The rest are secondary. When you figure out what you need, you realise that you don’t need that much. Over the past few months, I stopped eating out after realising that I couldn’t afford it. Eating out wasn’t something I needed. It was something I wanted.

how to figure out what you want in life
Do you really need that fancy meal?

When you figure out what you need, you lower the fear of exiting your job, or what’s currently keeping you comfortable, but not in a place where you’re doing what you want.

What’s the worst that could happen? For me, I’ve figured out that the worst that could happen for me is beans on toast. I could survive on beans on toast, beans with rice, beans from cans, for months on end to fund what I want to do.

There’s an incredible liberation in that because you start to realise that what you want to do doesn’t have to cost you that much.

Know your baselines

When I exited my job without any other job lined up, I was scared. Naturally. I didn’t know whether I would earn enough to feed myself.

But deep down, I told myself that I would make this work out, whatever the cost.

This baseline has served me well. The idea of baselines is built from Virginia Satir’s counselling concepts. She argues that baselines help us to determine the absolute non-negotiables that we will not give up on. For me, the non-negotiable was that no matter what happened, I wouldn’t give up on my business. I wouldn’t let it die. I wouldn’t let it be bankrupt.

That’s served me well.

Knowing what you want starts with embracing

In Scott M Peck’s classic ‘The Road Less Travelled’, the first line of his book is

Life is difficult.

Somehow when we accept that life is difficult, we embrace the fact that what we want to do may not come to us easily. And even when it does come, it does not mean that life would thereafter be a bed of roses.

But it does mean that you commit to doing, rather than just thinking. It means that you try, rather than think. It means that you stop at nothing to realise what you want, even when it’s difficult.


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