“I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”
If this is something you’ve said or have been saying, you might be wondering what your purpose in life is. That’s okay; we don’t all magically know when we reach a certain age.
While that’s completely alright, you’re here because you want to do something about it. We can help with that.
In this article, we’ll show you 10 reasons why you don’t know what to do with your life and 10 tips for figuring it out.
1) You’re afraid to make mistakes
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
— Albert Einstein
You have no idea what to do with your life because you’re too afraid to make mistakes.
You might be stuck at the starting line, unsure of which track to take because you don’t want to get anything wrong.
With how unpredictable life can get and how uncertain everything is, things are bound to go wrong. That doesn’t always mean you failed.
Cristal Glangchai, Ph.D., says:
“It’s getting things wrong and learning how each stage of a project yields actionable information. Each step of the process can enlighten next steps or, at worst, eliminate a dead-end course of action.”
Making mistakes is part of the process of figuring things out because part of figuring things out is knowing what does and doesn’t work.
For example, you could try your hand at drawing and realize that you aren’t good at it. It doesn’t mean that you failed at finding a hobby; it means that this hobby simply isn’t for you.
As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. Take your mistakes as learnings that’ll ultimately get you where you need to be.
“The greatest mistake a man can ever make is to be afraid of making one.”
— Elbert Hubbard
2) You think it’s just your job
When we’re asked to describe ourselves, aren’t our current job occupations the first thing on our minds?
You are not your job.
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It’s understandable to link your identity with your job because of all the pressure to get started on your career.
Nowadays, it’s also because we’re practically connected to our jobs 24/7 because of the constant easy access that we have to each other even outside of the workplace.
Derek Thompson calls this experience of making work the centerpiece of one’s identity and life purpose “workism”.
While it can be difficult to try to untangle your identity with the work that you do on a daily basis, you must maintain that boundary because there’s danger in tying your purpose to your job.
If you lose your job, you lose your identity; if something goes wrong at work, your identity and purpose in life will crumble because it never stood on its own.
3) You’re staying in your comfort zone
You don’t know what you’re doing with your life because you’ve only ever done what’s comfortable; you’ve never pushed your boundaries.
Oliver Page, MD, introduces the idea of the “growth zone”. This concept has four layers, starting with the comfort zone which is the starting point. This is where you feel safe and in control.
The next zone is the fear zone, which is the stage when you feel anxious after leaving your comfort zone. Once this is overcome, you enter the learning zone, in which you gain new skills that’ll help you in the future.
Lastly, the end is the growth zone, which is where you expand your abilities to “reach greater heights”.
You’ll never get to the growth zone if you stay within your comfort zone.
4) You’re unhealthily comparing your progress to others
Ever seen someone’s inspirational post on Instagram that encouraged you to try mindfulness again, or someone sharing an exercise pic that made you want to go back to the gym?
In psychology, there’s a concept called the Social Comparison Theory.
It states that there are two types of comparison with others: upward comparison (which is comparing ourselves with those we believe are better than us) and downward (which is comparing with those we believe to be worse off than us).
Upward comparison is useful in figuring out our lives, but only to an extent.
Comparing ourselves with people who have come before us can inspire us into doing better, but too much upward comparison can stress us out if we find ourselves lacking.
We all have our own paces, and there isn’t a set timeline that’s standardized for every person on the planet.
5) You’re only focusing on what you want to do, not where you want to be, and vice versa
Imagine using a map without knowing where your destination is. You’d have all the energy to do what you need to do but you don’t even know which direction you should take.
Similarly, imagine using a map with a destination but you have no means to get there. You’d know where you want to be but you didn’t give enough thought to what you need to do to get there.
These two things should be held balanced as much as possible — knowing what you want to do and knowing where you want to be. It can’t be one or the other that you’re focused on; it has to be both, or else you’ll be left holding a map with squiggly lines and no clear pinpoint in sight.
6) Your relationships are holding you back
Are you currently in a toxic relationship with someone or are living with a parent who only has negative things to say to you?
Your relationships could be holding you back. People you surround yourself with are supposed to add value to your life, not make it harder.
This isn’t to say that you should only have “useful” people in your life. It means reevaluating whether they do more harm than good.
Should the people in your life right now still be there? Do they hurt you more than they make you happy? Will they support you and your goals once you know what they are?
7) You’re distracted
Another reason you don’t know what you’re doing with your life right now is that you’re thinking of anything but this.
Mel Schwartz says that people who avoid making decisions (or avoidant people) procrastinate so that they can protect themselves from making mistakes.
Avoidant people would then keep themselves busy, always having that “I’ll think about it later when I’m less busy” excuse to pull out when they need to think about their concrete goals in life.
There’s a lot of chaos and noise that comes with being human. That’s natural since we’re constantly experiencing things (like social interaction or work).
However, there’s a danger in letting this chaos take over, leaving our minds clouded and our headspace preoccupied.
Distraction from asking yourself the real questions only delays the inevitable — having to face them.
8) But also, you might be thinking about it too much
There’s also danger in fixating on finding your life’s purpose too much.
Life can go by quickly if you’re always worrying; in all your worry about the future, you could be missing the things in the present that’ll help you in your journey.
Going out into the world to live and know gives you the experience and wisdom that you wouldn’t get from sitting at home trying to think your way into knowing what to do with your life.
9) You don’t think you’ll have what it takes
Let’s say you do realize what you want to be doing with your life. Let’s say you want big things for yourself and can’t wait to get started.
There’s only one problem — you don’t know if you can do it.
It’s intimidating to get started, especially for the first few steps. This is normal, especially if it’s about something as important to you as getting started on your life’s purpose.
As Susan Jeffers puts it, feel the fear and do it anyway.
10) You’re stuck under society’s expectations
Ever since you were a kid, you’ve been told how life is supposed to go. Go to school, graduate, get a job, get married, start a family, and eventually retire.
These are the expectations that can cripple you if you even think about leaving your comfort zone. Why go against the current when you’re perfectly fine on the pre-set track of your life?
It can be difficult to break away from society’s expectations because of the number of people telling you not to, but you can’t figure out what to do with your life if you’re living it bound to strict rules.
Now you understand why you’re in this position. What can you do about it?
Tips for when you have no idea what to do with your life
1) Get started
What do you have to lose?
Even if it’s messy, even if you make mistakes, take the first steps.
As we said, it’s scary to get started because you don’t want to make the “wrong” choices and derail your life. But mistakes are part of it; they’re how you learn and grow.
Especially at the start, you’re bound to make them, but do it anyway. It’s inevitable, so give yourself permission to fail.
You might feel bad about starting again, especially if you’ve tried before, and feel like you’ve failed to figure out what your life means to you.
Don’t dwell on your past; reflect on it and use what you learned to propel yourself forward, ready to take on the world.
We’ll tell you what exactly you should do if you have no idea what to do with your life, but you have to intentionally decide and commit to that choice to begin, or else you’ll end up stuck where you are.
2) Identify the chaos
What’s holding you back?
To figure out what needs to be done, first, you have to clear your mind of the clutter.
Find the chaos and noise that distract you and learn to either release them or control them. There’s an imbalance in you somewhere that’s keeping you from knowing what to do with your life; you need to find it and come up with a solution for keeping it from taking you over.
Be the master of your life, not a person being mastered by their own life.
3) Try new things
What haven’t you done before?
Remember what we said about going out and experiencing life to know what to do with yours?
Get out of your comfort zone and do all kinds of things, even (and especially) if they’re things that you haven’t tried before.
Just make sure that you do things you actually want and need. Pushing your boundaries is healthy, but skydiving for the sake of it when you don’t actually wanna do it isn’t.
4) Ask yourself what you concretely want to do
What do you love doing?
You may have matched up to your interests with your job but it’s also possible that your job has nothing to do with what you love doing.
Make a list of things you like to do. Do you like arranging flowers? Do you enjoy writing?
Don’t allow yourself to be limited by traditional, “stable” job descriptions. Just write them all down, no matter how out-of-this-world or mundane they sound.
You need to know what you like doing or what you’re willing to learn to do if you’re going to find your path. It’s one thing to know where you want to go; it’s another thing to actually get there, which means doing what you need to be doing on a daily basis.
If you want to be a doctor but can’t stand research or seeing blood, you could either try to get used to it or end up somewhere you don’t enjoy doing what you do.
5) Focus on your values
What’s important to you?
There are values that you would never compromise on. It could be honesty, originality, care for others, and so on. Identify what they are and let them guide you away from places you would hate to be stuck in — places that don’t uphold the values you hold closest to you.
For example, you can decide to apply to a cosmetics company because that’s where you found your passion — then you find out they test on animals.
If this is something important to you, is it really worth staying there if it means compromising on that value?
Don’t worry about running out of places to go just because you’re choosy about what’s important to you. There will always be opportunities to be somewhere you want to be.
6) Look into advocacy
Are there any injustices that bother you?
Do you have a passion for animal rescue? Maybe mental health or anti-sexual violence?
Find causes that are meaningful to you. It could give you insight on a possible career path or, at the very least, give you something to volunteer some time at.
7) Ask others
What has worked for other people?
There’s wisdom that comes with time and/or experiences that you can’t have on your own, no matter how much you know about something.
Seek the wisdom of others. There’s someone out there willing to talk to you about their experience; it could be anyone from a close friend to a senior at work.
If you’re scared of looking naïve or inexperienced, remember that you need these stories.
People can tell you the mistakes they made which you can learn from at an earlier stage of your purpose-finding process or they can introduce you to others who can help you out. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know everything because you can’t.
8) Focus on the end goal
What are you ultimately trying to achieve?
If you were to have your life amount to one thing, anything, big or small, what would it be?
Maybe you want to make a difference in the world of mental health. Maybe you want to be the best florist in your city or country.
With all you’ve gathered so far, at what point do you think you’ll be content?
9) Make a plan
What are your next steps?
Now comes the harder part: translating your dreams into action.
Bring out that sheet of paper for your lists again and think of milestones that you can mark for yourself. By year XXXX, what should you have achieved? By month XXX, what progress should you have made?
Write down the big steps, and then continue to the more immediately manageable ones. For this month, what baby steps can you take towards your goals?
You can start small — just as long as you start.
10) Don’t forget your happiness
Throughout it all, don’t forget to factor in your own happiness. Achievement and success are nothing if you’re constantly suffering for it.
Reach for the stars but don’t forget to enjoy the journey there.
“The only thing permanent is change.”
Everything is uncertain in life and it’s perfectly normal to not know what to do with yours.
There are hundreds of paths to go on but what’s important isn’t that you get it right the first time; what’s important is choosing to begin.