“I don’t know what to do with my life.”
Are you sure about that?
I’m pretty sure you at least kind of sort of know what you want to do with your life. Maybe it isn’t crystal clear to you, but the foundation is there. DNA is strange in that it just gives you your own unique set of characteristics. When you’re a kid, you’re just drawn to certain activities for no apparent reason. You develop tastes, inclinations, and desires.
During your upbringing though, you also develop fears. You’re taught fears. If left to your own devices, without learning about concepts like ‘being realistic’ or worrying about ‘risk’ you’d probably be more or less living the type of life you want to live. I don’t blame you for going through the societal ringer and coming out the other side with a life you don’t want. That’s the default outcome.
I make no guarantees you’ll get out of it either. One of the hardest things to do in this life, in this society, is to be who you truly are and do what you truly want to do.
There are just so many incentives pointing in the opposite direction. If you want to stand a chance of making it out, you have to learn how to rediscover the real you and remember that you already know what you want.
Looking back at my past, I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. I’ve been obsessed with words from a young age. I always had a great vocabulary without trying to have one. I’d write poems when I was in middle school.
I’d offhandedly mention wanting to write a book more times than I can count. I knew. Business always fascinated me. The idea of being free fascinated me. I was always curious about life and what it took to be successful. All the tools were there and I just had to pull the trigger.
The same goes for you.
I remember this conversation I had with an Uber driver in Los Angeles on my way to the airport. She asked what I did for a living and I told her I was a self-improvement writer. Of course, she began to tell me her life story and started asking me for advice. She was driving Uber because she was trying to earn extra money to solve this dispute over a debt or property taxes, something like that. She was frazzled and went on and on about how she didn’t know how to find a way out.
We talked about her past job experience, her potential dreams, options to get out of her bind. We kept going back and forth but never quite got to the root of the issue or a viable solution. She was hiding. This went on for an hour (L.A. has a lot of traffic). As we reach the airport she mentions that she has this long track record of consulting experience and that she’d been offered deals to work with companies in the past. She says “You know, maybe I should start a business doing that.” In my mind, I thought “Yeah, lady, maybe you should.”
It’s a weird human quirk. We dodge the answers right in front of us. Why? Because it can’t be that simple, right?
If it is that simple, then you feel like an idiot for not doing anything about it. So you make up these complicated excuses for why you’re not doing the things you want because that explanation is easier to deal with than facing the truth upfront.
I have so many stories like this. Often I ask questions on my personal social media “What kind of business would you start if you were certain it would work out?” I remember once a friend of mine described her potential business to a tee — had the name and everything. I hope she starts it one day.
Hope you start your thing one day. Hope you don’t put it off forever — your bakery, your e-commerce business, your comedy career, your daycare, your jewelry shop in a tourist trap, whatever the heck it is, doesn’t matter, as long as you think it’s cool.
How do you overcome this fear that causes you to put things off? The process I use for all aspects of self-improvement is the same – diagnose the problem and try your best to come up with a solution.
Let’s take a look at some of the root causes of your inaction.
Good or bad, your parents leave an imprint on you. They project parts of themselves onto you. While well-meaning, their aspirations for you might not have anything to do with you. Humans underestimate their propensity to use other people as vehicles to deal with their own problems.
Parents do this often. From the failed-athlete father who forces his kid to practice relentlessly – in lieu of having a life — so he can make it to the NFL to the helicopter mom who lets her fears dictate her kid’s behavior to the self-made entrepreneur who wants their kid to take the reigns of the company, parents can inject themselves into you.
It’s up to you not to let them.
I get it. Your parents are usually the most authoritative figures in your life because they took care of you. It’s strange to think the people who care about you most might not be the best people to look to for your own decision making. You have to become okay with understanding your parents could be, and probably are, wrong.
Wanting the approval of your parents doesn’t stop as you age. Even if you’re 60, you’re still a kid to your parents no matter what. The unintended consequences of the way you’re parented can have deep roots – “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” You can still love and honor your parents while simultaneously wholly rejecting their plans for your life. That’s what I did.
My mom was disappointed when I quit my job to become a writer, even though I was making more money. To this day, my dad tells me to go back to school and get my MBA, and every time I respond “No, I’m not doing that.” I have boundaries with my parents and you need boundaries with yours if you ever want to get out from underneath the weight of their opinions.
In one of my favorite books, The Way of the Superior Man, the first chapter tells you to “live like your father is dead.” Until you let go of your parents’ expectations for you, it’s difficult to follow your dreams and do what you want to do.
There’s a huge difference between physically and psychologically leaving the nest. Once you accomplish both, you’re free to do what you want.
I get it. You feel like you’re insane. Why would you, out of all people, be the one to follow your dreams? It even sounds corny and ridiculous “follow your dreams.” You have bills to pay and capitalist oligarchs to serve, who are you to think you even have time for dreams?
Usually, around age 25 or so, you’re fully sucked into the Matrix. I was lucky enough to come to my senses right at that age. After that, it does become more difficult. That entry-level job turns to a 10-year career. You have kids now, a mortgage, two car notes, student loans. My goodness.
There’s no evidence saying your life is going to be anything other than what it already is. You feel duped, but you’re also too prideful to admit you feel duped so you dig your heels into delusion even more. You dig your heels out of fear and hopelessness.
If a genie were to remove all barriers to success and guarantee you that whatever you wanted to pursue in life would work out, I bet you’d suddenly know what to do with your life.
Fear is no easy mess to untangle. It’s almost insane how much our minds control us as if they were separate entities. The moment you think about doing ‘that thing,’ the inner critic whispers right into your amygdala.
“What will people think of you?”
“What if you fail?”
“You’re going to embarrass yourself.”
How do you overcome these feelings and thoughts?
Unlike other self-help writers, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s hard. After writing three books, having millions of readers, and getting my work read by people all over the world, I still feel like a fraud.
The fear does lessen, though. When I feel afraid I remind myself of the work I’ve put in and I keep working. The only antidote to fear is work. And it won’t be easy. You won’t always feel good.
Maybe you shouldn’t even aspire to feel good at all.
Avoiding the things you really want to do with your life can make you feel good about yourself.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who talked about all the things they could’ve done? It’s almost like they give themselves credit for aspiring to do something.
In fact, that’s exactly what we all do. The idea of potential is seductive because you never have to leave that fantasy. You’d think taking action and pursuing your life’s goals would be the ultimate feeling, but the pursuit of goals has one huge caveat — it might not work.
When you live in Potentialville you can bask in the glory of your aspirations. This works for a while until you get stuck there.
Then, you realize you’ve wasted time. Those aspirations turn to regrets. You look back on your life and think, “This is it? This is all I’ve done?”
Maybe you’re not supposed to feel great about yourself all the time. You might have to give up your short term emotions to have positive long-term outcomes.
Maybe you could try harder, do better, take more risk, stand taller, be bigger and bolder, and go from potential to kinetic. Maybe self-acceptance isn’t what you need to focus on right now.
Understanding that I didn’t always have to feel amazing and content was an epiphany for me. I started to understand the meaning, and even pleasure, in feeling uncomfortable. You can learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable.
When your default state is chaotic, you’re always hyper-aware. I have to pay attention because I don’t have a salary. The illusion of safety and security actually lulls you to sleep and makes you susceptible to unforeseen events.
Do you really want to feel amazing all the time? Do you want your life to be the equivalent of sipping Mai Tais on the beach or do you want to struggle a little bit to build a life you actually care about?
You already know the answer.
Every single day of my life, I experience it as if I were the center of everything.
Not a moment goes by where I don’t think about how circumstances and situations affect me.
When I publish a new post, I subconsciously tell myself the entire universe and every inhabitant in it is going to stop dead in their tracks to judge my words and pounce on me when I say something stupid or embarrassing.
It’s a weird paradox — our ego causes us to constantly worry about ourselves yet also causes us not to do the things we really want.
As much as I can, I try to take myself out of the center of the universe. This is just a blog post. I’m just one of 7 billion people. Nobody really cares about ‘my life path’ except for me.
Chill out, do the work, and stop fussing so much over the results or the imaginary ‘fraud police’ who are coming to call you out as soon as you make a mistake.
You’re worried about what people will think of you — from your parents to peers to society to a random person in the comments section — but people are so preoccupied with themselves that you can pretty much do what you want in a state of anonymity.
Think about it. You’re not following your dreams because of your ego. Because you don’t want to feel butthurt. I love using that word because it trivializes your feelings of fear and doubt. Quit being afraid of being butthurt. Start.
I’ve written about finding your purpose more times than I can count.
The thing is…until you address all the other stuff, I can point a neon sign to your life’s passion and it won’t matter.
You already know what ‘the thing’ is. You knew it when you were seven years old. There’s more than one thing, too, so you have options. And you know the options.
Unraveling the layers of fear, insecurity, past judgment & experiences, rationalizations, and everything else aside from the thing itself is the key.
You know that.
Self-help is nothing more than a reminder of everything you already know. It’s repetitive because sometimes you won’t put your foot down until the 124th reminder.
That’s okay. I’ll be around. As long as you’re alive, you’ll be around to make another attempt at finding the courage to live how you want to live.
Just remember, you have everything you need already.