How to Answer "What Should I Do With My Life?"
There are questions, and then there are big questions.
And this one is one of the biggest.
I get asked this question all the time on Twitter and in response to my mental health newsletter issues.
And while it's humbling that others think I might have an answer to this important question, I don't.
And I can't.
Because there's something critically important to know when trying to find your path in life.
And it probably isn't what you're expecting to find.
How I Learned What to Do With My Life
If you look at my life right now, it might look like I have it all figured out.
I have a job that I enjoy. I spend my free time doing what I love, writing, reading, and hiking in Montana.
And I'm married to a woman who I adore.
But looks can be deceiving.
What eventually amounted to a pretty good life was forged in the fire of mistakes, regret, and heaps of emotional pain.
If you asked me years ago what I was going to do with life, I still wouldn't know.
Because I hadn't been through enough pain yet. I hadn't experienced enough of what I absolutely did not want to do. Major depression. Anxiety and OCD so bad that you pick at your skin and sit around doing nothing for hours on end. Self-doubt and self-hatred. I experienced it all.
But that was only the proving ground. It was the place where I learned about the pain I no longer wanted to have. But it was also something else.
In pain, there is truth. There is a starting point.
At the very heart of pain--and it's hard to believe this unless you've been through it--are the very roots of a meaningful life.
Pain connects us. Suffering unites us. It's one of the most human experiences there is. Without pain, we would be nothing. We would be floating leaves and rudderless ships.
Because you can't know the air you breathe until you come crashing down. You can't get a sense of how important water is until you slam against the shore.
What Should You Do With Your Life?
I shared a little about my life to illustrate an important point: life is not what it seems for others, and the ones who have it "figured out" are ones who have embraced a pain a bit more than others.
I know what I enjoy doing now. More importantly, I know what I don't want to do and the pain that I don't want to experience. To get there, I had to commit to walking the path.
And I encourage you to follow a similar road.
Questions to Guide You and Help Answer the "What I Should I Do With My Life?" Dilemma
Where were you at your worst moments?
What did those moments teach you?
Where are you now?
Are you repeating those worst moments, or are you taking what you learned from them to create a more meaningful life?
What is the pain that you can't acknowledge?
Here's the kicker.
And it always ends up this way...
Only you can create a life of meaning. No one else can tell you what is meaningful for you and what isn't.
And if you want to find your path in life, you most likely won't find it by numbing yourself along the path of least resistance. That's what most people do, and most people I come across are not very happy.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
Take a few moments to consider that quote.
Are you going to know what you want to do in life by collecting all the advice from your family, your friends, and from strangers on the street--or are you going to find your path by creating it, forging yourself in the fire with each, burning passing step?
You and I both know that the answer in buried deep in the second half of that question.
Twain said it best. Being on the side of the majority, doing what's common and expected in life, should give you major pause.
I'm not saying that doing what's common is automatically bad. That's not what this is about at all.
What I'm saying is that we spend most of our lives exploring the default options. We consume what we're told to consume and enjoy what we're marketed to enjoy.
But I have a feeling that if you're reading a mental health newsletter article you are probably looking for more than surface-level happiness: you're looking for a life of meaning.
So what should you do with your life?
Unfortunately, I can't tell you that. And I think you knew that coming in.
But going out, after leaving this article, I hope you came away with something else--the fact that the biggest answers to your life's questions are not presented to you on a platter, but are hidden in the shade of the struggle itself, in the pain, in the heartache, and in the roots that sprouted long ago, giving you still-growing trees that are yours alone to climb.