One of my dearest friends just broke up with her long-term boyfriend mere months before their planned, year-long travel adventure. One of my colleagues lost both of her parents unexpectedly in the past 8 months. And yet another friend lost a job she thought she’d retire from years down the road. What do these women have in common…besides wanting to listen to some sappy music and eat some good chocolate? They now have the OPPORTUNITY to truly figure out what they want to do with their lives on their own terms. That’s great except where-oh-where do they begin? How do they know where to focus their energy and their valuable resources (AKA time, energy, and money)?
Your gal pal Becky trots around the globe with her passport stuffed with colorful stamps. Or there’s your neighbor Jeff who has climbed the corporate ladder faster than an Olympic sprinter. And then there’s Jen who could easily win Mother of the Year for the 4th straight year. So how do you know what path to choose? Where do you focus your time? What is important to you?
It starts with this…STOP looking around at what everybody else is doing. Because they are not going to have the answers for what is right for YOU. Even your bestest bestie or your soulmate partner can’t really know what you truly want to do with your life. Remove the habit of looking to external sources to find out what you want. Instead of looking outside, look within. Sit down. Be quiet. And Listen.
STEP 1. Ask the Universe or God or nature or your stuffed elephant Ellen or whatever you believe in to help show you the way, to help show you the next steps. And then sit and listen--meditate-- for 5 minutes a day. Every day. Tuning in to what you desire on a regular basis is the fuel for lighting your fire.
STEP 2. Start paying attention to what gets you excited. After being in a difficult relationship or spending all of your free time caring for parents or children, or dedicating all of our free time to working at that “safe” job, you may not know what gets you excited. That’s okay. It happens. There’s no shame or blame or guilt there. Just decide to do things differently now. Ask yourself these questions to get in touch with what you enjoy in life:
- What would I like to do if I had one day to do whatever I wanted?
- What activities did I enjoy as a child/teenager/young adult?
- What am I doing when I lose track of time because I’m so in the flow?
STEP 3. Drop the “shoulds.” Our programming from our parents, teachers, coaches, and others in a position of authority has led us to believe that we need to act in a certain way or believe a certain thing in order to be good, to be loved, to be valued. Drop that like it’s a hot potato. Reprogramming your beliefs to remove the "shoulds" can open all kinds of doors for you. To get started, write down a list of the things that you feel you “should” do in your life. For example, “I should stay in one safe job until I retire,” or “I should stay with my partner even if we both are miserable for the good of the children,“ or “As a good parent, I should attend all of my son’s soccer practices, games, bring team snacks to all of the aforementioned practices and games, lead the weekly soccer team bake sale complete with dozens of homemade organic homemade coconut oatmeal raisin bars, etc.” Once you’ve identified those should beliefs, examine where they came from. Then challenge the validity of them in your current life. If you need some help with that last step, call on a friend or therapist to help you take an objective view.
STEP 4. Match your resources to your values. Don’t buy the Coach purse if you don’t value fancy bags and it doesn't bring you joy. The heart of finding what you want to do or what you are meant to do with your life is aligning your values with how you spend your time, money, and energy. I love love love helping others, so I enjoy writing these blog posts (And yes, I’m assuming that they are, indeed, helping someone out there!), being a sounding board for friends, and meeting with clients. One of my friends loves to travel, so she aligns her resources (time spent planning, money spent on airfare and lodging, energy on preparing for and being present during her trips) with that value of travel. Another friend values eating healthy, organic food, so she spends her money at Whole Foods buying amazing, fresh food and uses her time to prepare fresh, delicious meals. If my travel friend decided she “should” spend time on organic food purchasing and preparation even though that wasn’t a value for her, she wouldn’t be happy…it just wouldn’t work for her. And you have a limited amount of resources (time in the day, energy, etc.), so focusing those resource on the most valuable pursuits is critical to your sanity and to your overall happiness.
In conclusion, we have to look inside to understand what we truly want to do with our professional and personal lives. If we don’t look inside, the external choices are endless, and we’ll spend time bouncing from one thing to the next without feeling satisfied no matter how much our friends like doing those things or how much we “should” enjoy those things. Once you find out what we want to do, figure out how to arrange your life so that you can spend your precious resources on those things. You will feel lightness, joy, flow, and ease. Stop telling yourself that you’ll never figure out what you want to do, and tune in. The answers are there if you listen.
Have you found what you want to do with your life? If so, how? Are you beginning the process of figuring out what brings you personal and professional joy? If so, what are you doing? Please tell me about it in the comments below, and if you know someone struggling to figure out what they want to do when they grow up, please pass this along to them.