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Do you ever feel like you’ve reached a crossroads?
Certain times of year tend to make us re-evaluate — the New Year, fall with our deep-rooted association with back-to-school, spring cleaning and fresh starts. But the crossroads feeling can come any time.
Maybe you have no idea where you are heading in life or what direction to take in your career. Maybe you worry that you've taken the wrong path.
Do you find yourself asking the question, “What should I do with my life?” Or maybe someone on your team, or someone close to you, is struggling with that question.
Many of us experience this feeling of uncertainty about our future. It’s only natural for us to experience an existential crisis at least once in our lives. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with what you should do with your life, know that you are not alone.
We’re here to help you overcome these anxious thoughts and take productive action around that daunting question — what should I do with the rest of my life? And if you're coaching a team member through this crisis, this article will help you help them.
Let’s walk through some steps you can take.
Evaluate where you currently are in life
Oprah Winfrey once said that if you ask the right questions, the answers will reveal themselves to you.
However, knowing which questions to ask can be what's holding you back. Just the process of finding the right questions can feel overwhelming.
Here are some thought-provoking questions you can ask yourself to kick-start the process of finding your true north.
1. What led me to where I am today?
What have you excelled at? What have you struggled with? What jobs have you enjoyed? Which activities caused you stress? Which major life events have shaped who you are today?
All of these factors will give you valuable clues as to how you should progress in the next phase of your life.
2. When was I able to use my talents, skills, and gifts?
Your skills, talents, and natural abilities will usually point out the nature of your life purpose. So can the type of life activities that you most enjoy, be they professional or otherwise.
Thousands of people have studied law, economics, or medicine in college. They then discover later that they prefer working in line with their artistic, creative, or communication skills.
It’s estimated that 29% of people have completely changed fields since starting their first job after college.
Think back to times in which you used your talents and knowledge to your advantage. Consider how you can use this combination of skill and experience to your advantage in the future.
3. How have I grown?
Life satisfaction is important, but so is growth.
Growth is generally prompted by obstacles and getting outside your comfort zone, along with a willingness to learn from these challenges.
Which situations facilitated the most personal and professional growth for you? Did you enjoy the challenges they posed? Or were they excessively stressful and unpleasant for you? Which factors prevented this growth?
Finding environments in which you are positively challenged to grow is important. This is especially true if you value personal and career advancement. However, you must ensure you do not endure excessive stress or frustration in the process.
4. What impact am I making?
Not everyone has a desire to make a life-changing impact with their work. However, if you want to make a difference, it’s crucial to ask yourself what positive impact your current actions are having. And how you can amplify those positive effects.
If you are not making an impact, it might be time to consider moving toward a situation where you can make a difference. Look at the areas you resonate with the most. This could be social justice, environmentalism, education, or economic growth.
5. What do I feel I should have done by this time in my life?
In many ways, your short and long-term goals relate to what you expect to achieve at key points in your life.
When answering the question, “What should I do with my life?” consider the milestones you feel you should’ve reached by this point, or wanted to reach. Plus, look at the ones that you aim to reach in the near future.
It is important to have a personal vision statement to aim toward, but don't be afraid to change it.
Get in touch with your values
The starting point for changing your entire life for the better is knowing what you truly value. Your values are your deepest desires about how you want to live your life. Values show you who you are or want to be and provide a framework for how you act.
To identify your values, consider what you truly want from life. It’s okay to be general, but it’s important to provide context.
For instance, if you value security, specify whether you’re speaking of:
- Financial security
- Social security
- Job security
Then, detail what that type of security means to you.
If we live by our values, we look to them as guideposts when making decisions.
Develop your passions
There are many differences between passion and purpose. But you need to bring these two concepts together to build a fulfilling life.
Purpose is based on conviction. Passion is driven by energy, emotions, and interest. Passion can fade. Purpose lasts a lifetime.
Passions can define us as individuals. They help us make our lives satisfying and meaningful. But passion doesn’t always define our work.
Based on Deloitte’s extensive research into worker passion, up to 87% of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential because they don’t have a passion for their work. Unfortunately, very few people are lucky enough to be in a profession that aligns with their passions.
You can work toward discovering your passions by asking yourself questions like:
- What things do I do that bring me joy?
- Which subjects interest me to learn and motivate me to learn more?
- What jobs/work would I volunteer to do for a long time without financial compensation?
- What would I use my time for if I could do what I love and still get paid?
- What makes me feel like I’m in a flow state? What do I do very skillfully, quickly, and eagerly?
Most people discover what they are passionate about through experiences. Your passions in life will stem from your personality, morals, values, and views.
Identify your life goals
Next, think about your goals for the future.
Consider every aspect of your ideal future and which new career paths would best allow you to build this future.
For example, think about where you’d like to live and what time you’d like to wake up every morning. Consider the type of hours you’d like to work and what sort of working environment would best suit your needs and preferences.
Ask yourself how much money you would like to make. Note whether or not you may have dependents or family members relying on your income alongside you.
These questions are just some examples that will help structure your life goals and rule out certain paths that don't align with your values and desires.
Then, work on making your goals more specific and fine-tuning the details. For example, if you’ve said that you would like to work a job with a flexible schedule, does this entail working from home? Or does it mean coming into an office at flexible times?
Ultimately, the more you can describe your life goals, the better you will be able to take the necessary steps to turn them into reality.
Talk to others for inspiration
There are plenty of people in the world who have found themselves wondering, “What should I do with the rest of my life?” just as you are now. Reaching out to other people who have already identified their passions and purposes can give valuable insight.
One of the best ways to get this kind of insider information is with an informational interview. During this interview, ask someone with your dream job about the type of work they do and the responsibilities that come with their roles.
Consider joining a mentorship program for guidance and advice. Building a mentor-mentee relationship gives you the space to speak to someone with experience and knowledge. They can help you realize your potential by providing career development and constructive feedback.
Ask your mentor about how they achieved their success. Ask how they determined their life goals and how they overcame their greatest challenges along the way.
They may provide you with actionable advice that you can use on your own journey, especially if you intend to follow a similar path.
See the big picture and assess your opportunities
You can assess your opportunities and see the big picture by reflecting on the following questions:
1. What are your hard and soft skills?
Hard skills are teachable abilities and skill sets that are fairly easy to quantify. In contrast, soft skills are interpersonal skills or people skills.
Identifying your hard and soft skills will allow you to gauge which opportunities are available to you. And which you are likely to succeed at.
For example, if you are proficient in multiple languages, you could pursue a career as a translator or a multinational content writer. Likewise, if you are excellent at collaborative teamwork but have poor time management skills, you may want to seek a collaborative working environment with flexible work schedules.
Suppose you have more hard skills than people skills. In that case, you may be better suited to a working environment that provides you with a high degree of professional autonomy and personal accountability.
2. What kind of work-life balance are you aiming for?
Some people are happy to work 9, 10, or even 12 hours a day for the sake of advancing their careers. Others need more time to spend with their families and friends, on their studies, or on other ventures.
Consider the type of work-life balance that suits your needs and preferences. Then, take opportunities that can provide the balance you are looking for.
3. What industries interest you?
If you’re passionate about photography or graphic design, a career path in business, economics, or accounting isn't likely to interest you. Likewise, if you love working with vast sums of data and statistics, the creative fields may not gel with your analytical mind.
Once you have a list of industries that pique your interest, start seeking out opportunities within those sectors. Ensure that they align with your preferred work-life balance and skill set as well.
That being said, industries are increasingly blurring. Every year, job titles are emerging that didn't even exist a decade ago. In fact, by 2025, 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms.
So don't get too hung up on a specific title or industry. Instead, think about the kind of impact you want to have and how you want to work.
4. What is your current educational level?
In some cases, you may need to return to college or sign up for online courses to gain the right qualifications for your dream career. With microlearning, there are plenty of educational and engaging ways to learn new skills and information.
Returning to school could be key to boosting your marketable skills and credentials. In turn, this makes you more competitive in the overall job market. It could also broaden your horizons and introduce you to new career opportunities you hadn’t considered before.
Create a plan
When you're creating a life plan, you need to work around your values. What's important to you, what satisfies you, and what do you hope to maintain and build in your life?
To ensure that you are spending your time and resources wisely, assess what you value the most in life. Then, create a plan that structures how you will progress to achieve your goals and live in line with these values and priorities.
Working with a coach is a fantastic way to develop an actionable and achievable long-term plan for your life and career. The right coach will know about both SMART and HARD goal-setting formats. They will provide guidance on how to set goals that are challenging, authentic, and realistically achievable.
BetterUp’s coaches specialize in helping individuals develop five-year plans for personal and professional goals. These plans include small, concrete goals that will help you achieve your larger long-term objectives.
Five-year plans can be used to structure any goals you may have, whether they are related to your health, relationships, or career growth. These plans will help you stay focused and align your actions with your ambitions, reminding you of what you are working toward.
Keep in mind that a five-year plan is more of a directional guide. It isn’t rigid. If you deviate from your plan, be aware of why this happened, but don't despair.
A coach can help you recognize when your behaviors and actions aren't consistent with the values or goals that you identified.
Return to your plan often
The process of "finding yourself" is never done. You aren't set in stone. And there is no right way to go about it, either.
This is more often a journey than a fixed destination. You will find that your life goals, passions, desires, and purpose may change and shift over time.
This means that the answers to the question, “What should I do with my life?” will also change frequently as you gain new skills, experience, and insight into your life and the world as a whole.
This is why it’s so important to return to your plan as often as you need to revise your goals and update your interests, skills, and abilities. Sometimes, you need to refocus your efforts to ensure that your plan still guides you to wherever you want to be.
Life, opportunities, and your needs will change and aren't always predictable. The key is to be guided by your values, no matter what.
A coach can help you regularly update your plan to ensure that it is always relevant to your values and long-term goals.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the question, “what should I do with my life?”
If you regularly ask yourself, “What should I do with my life?” or, “What should I do for a living?” you may need to do some self-evaluation. But don’t be overwhelmed by these daunting questions.
Bear in mind that these big questions won’t have one definitive answer.
If you’re feeling uncertain or at a loss for what to do, the most important thing is to start doing something. You learn about yourself and the world through doing. Not by worrying on the sidelines about making the wrong choice.
Each of us has several possible good alternatives. They will have different outcomes, but there is no single correct choice. As a friend's mother used to say, "There's more than one lid for every pot." Sometimes you get it wrong and have to start over — that’s okay.
BetterUp can help. With personalized support, you can gain perspective on yourself and develop the tools and skills to dig into your values, make confident choices, learn and grow faster, and make the changes that will move you toward your goals.
Contact us today to learn if individual coaching or personalized development for your whole team is right for you. It's never too late to develop a long-term plan that will help you change your life and improve your well-being — one concrete step at a time.