“What Should I Do With My Life?” 12 Ways To Answer

By Maddie Lloyd - Oct. 10, 2021

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If you’re currently in college, recently graduated, or in the midst of a midlife crisis, chances are at some point you’ve probably asked yourself “what should I do with my life?”

We’ve all been there.

Everyone has a moment of uncertainty about their career path, finding their passion, or what they’re meant to spend their life’s work doing.

Unlike a lot of other questions you may have concerning your career, you can’t just Google this one and get a straightforward answer.

The answer to this question requires some introspection into what you really want and how hard you’re willing to work for it.

“What should I do with my life?” is a question that can send even the most confident person into a tailspin of panic and insecurity. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a few steps you can take to ease your mind and help you figure out what exactly you want to spend your life doing.

So sit back, relax, and get ready to figure out how to decide what to do with your life.

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Talk to Successful People

Contact people who have careers that interest you and talk to them about their experiences.

By talking to people who have careers that could be your dream job, you can gain insight into their motivations, ambitions, and how they got to where they are today.

This will help you decide if this is a path you could see yourself on too.

You can also reach out for an informational interview for a role, company, or industry that interests you. Even if you don’t find your exact career path, you might discover a valuable mentor who can help point you in the right direction.

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Explore Your Interests

Laziness is the enemy of success, so start exploring your interests in tangible ways. Get your portfolio going, start a zine or newsletter, or learn a new technology.

Even if you don’t know what you want to do, trying different things will help you rule out what you like and what you don’t.

It’s never too late to learn a new hobby or have a breakthrough in your field. Harrison Ford didn’t cast as Han Solo until he was 30 — so don’t worry, you have time to perfect your craft.

Look for activities you already take part in where time flies. It could be part of your professional or personal life; if there’s something that you enjoy doing so much that you lose track of time, that’s a good indication that your passion lies there.

Additionally, consider what industries, from a high level, are interesting to you. You might not know the specific job you want, but knowing your work values and the impact you want to have on the world will help narrow down your search.

Use the Methods of People Who Inspire You

Nobody’s born knowing exactly what they want to do.

Research people you admire and read up on how they discovered what their passions were and how they achieved their goals. If you want to be successful, it’s not a bad idea to follow in the footsteps and use the methods of someone who’s already gotten where you want to be.

Read books, watch videos, or listen to podcasts that you’re genuinely interested in. As you learn more about a subject or a person who excelled in a certain field, you’ll notice yourself gravitating towards certain elements of the narrative.

The people who inspire you might also have stories that resonate with you, which should help provide more clarity on what you should do next.

Be Patient and the Answers Will Come

Unfortunately, figuring out exactly what you want to do with your life isn’t going to happen overnight.

It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to have one euphoric moment of extreme clarity and then have your entire life planned out — if this does happen, you’re probably in a deep state of denial. Snap out of it and embrace the thrill of your existential crisis.

Our lives and interests change constantly, and you’ll have to reconsider your path as you go along. Expect to make new decisions and be excited for them.

Instead of dreading the anxiety that comes with new experiences, embrace change and take things one day at a time. The road to knowing what you want to do is filled with detours down paths you learn aren’t for you.

Don’t get down on yourself when something doesn’t work out; embrace it and be excited you narrowed down your search that much more.

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Consider your Strengths, Education, and Experience

Ask yourself “What skills do I have to offer?” “What do I do best?” and go in the direction of your strengths.

Be honest with yourself about what you have to offer and at what level you can start in the fields that interest you. Maybe you’re interested in learning a new skill, and will at some point require additional education or training.

Be on the lookout for certification classes, online courses, or graduate schools that could help you get a leg up in your field of interest and put you above the competition, or even introduce you to a new area of interest.

It’s important to be open to new experiences.

At the same time, think back on what you’ve been complimented on and excelled in. Look for patterns of behaviors or skills you’ve employed to achieve your greatest accomplishments. Not only will this help you craft resumes and cover letters, but also determine where you should focus your job search.

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Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

The best way to find out what you love is to try new things. If there’s something you’ve always been interested in but you’ve never gotten around to, this is the perfect time to try it out and see if it suits your interests and skills.

It’s easy to feel like you have no other options than what you’re currently doing, but by taking a step out of your comfort zone and trying new things, you could open yourself to a whole new world of opportunities and career paths.

You’re not doing yourself any favors spending your entire life building the same old lego models you’ve grown to hate. Try new hobbies and take internships or jobs in fields that could be interesting to you.

It might be uncomfortable, and you’ll face some failures, but you’ll be a more well-rounded individual with more options once you leave your comfort zone. Plus, it gets easier to do the more you practice it, like anything else.

class="fancy">Think About What You Don’t Want to Do

Even bad experiences are life lessons. Look back on jobs you’ve had, classes you’ve taken, friendships you’ve made and broken, and figure out which things failed to make you happy.

Now take a look at your life now. If you can make a list of things you’d like to change or cut out completely, you’ll narrow it down into the positive affirmations of what you do want. We’re a career website, but we’re not just talking about jobs here.

Consider bad habits, negative patterns in interpersonal relationships, and your attitude toward life. And hey, a lot of these things get intermingled with your job and career success as well, so we’re still on-brand here.

You can also think about work schedules, environments, types of personalities, and types of work that you don’t want to get involved with.

Overall, this approach can help open your eyes to things that really need to change or walls that are standing in the way of getting what you want — or even getting in the right headspace to figure it out.

class="fancy">Consider the People in Your Life

Ask yourself what type of people are your favorites; who are the ones you can work alongside; what type of person drives you nuts? Very few careers take place in complete solitude, and the relationships we build with our coworkers are important for our overall happiness.

We often think of building a network through a shared field or industry, but it’s just as much about a shared passion or way of looking at the world. Consider what type of people you’re drawn to — specifically the “good” traits that you find most attractive in a person.

You might be able to reverse engineer a career decision based on what your peers are doing. We’re not suggesting just copying whatever your best buddy does, but if you have similar personalities/skillsets and they seem to enjoy their career, it’s an option worth exploring.

class="fancy">Identify Your Priorities In Life

Some careers are better suited to specific personality types. Make a list of what job elements and tasks you like and which ones you hate. Consider how much you care about salary, status, lifestyle, and what you contribute to society.

If you really care about making a lot of money, you’re better off not working for the Peace Corps. If you enjoy sitting at a desk all day, then you probably wouldn’t like a job working as a park ranger.

Additionally, consider non-negotiables, both in terms of values and work-life balance. If you value having a strong work-life balance where you get to spend a lot of time with your family, taking a fast-paced, deadline-driven, competitive job probably won’t make you happy.

Other non-negotiables might be things like hours worked, flexible schedules, certain benefits, commute times, and corporate structure.

These things are important to consider when figuring out what you want to do with your life.

class="fancy">Think About Your Ideal Work Environment

What kind of work environments excite you or make you feel the most productive? When you were in college did you enjoy large lectures or small classes? Do you prefer to work on your own or with a team? Are you okay with being inside all day, or is it important for you to work outside?

Asking yourself these questions can help you figure out what kind of career or type of company would fit you best.

If you like small classes, maybe you could work for a start-up. If you like being outside, you could pursue a career in forestry or renewable energy.

Don’t let yourself end up in a work environment that drives you crazy.

class="fancy">Embrace Failure as a Path to Success

Realize that it’s okay to fail sometimes and that not everything you try will work out in your favor. If you rule out everything that sounds hard because you’re afraid of failing, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities to discover things you love and might want to spend your life doing.

Learn to accept failure and realize that it’s an opportunity to keep learning, experimenting, and growing your skillset. Becoming frustrated at every road bump on the path to your dream job or ideal lifestyle will only slow you down — keep focused and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Don’t just use failure as an opportunity to give up and abandon all of your dreams to sit in the same cubicle you hate for the rest of your life.

Then you’d be failing at failing, and that’s just embarrassing.

class="fancy">Appreciate the Uncertainty

Sometimes figuring out what you want to do with your life requires you to appreciate the fact that you’re still figuring it out. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to create the perfect future.

When you focus on taking your life one step at a time, you might get your answer when you’re least expecting it. While you may not always walk a straight path to your destination, learn to enjoy the journey.

Be mindful of where you find joy in life and look for ways to incorporate more of that into your life. Even if you take a few steps back sometimes, holding onto your values, priorities, and passions will eventually help you answer what you should do with your life.

class="fancy">Final Thoughts

Figuring out what you want to do with your life takes a lot of reflection into your interests, your strengths, and what you hope to gain from what you do.

You have to be willing to work hard to get to where you want to be. Generally speaking, you can expect to get out of your life how much effort you’re willing to put toward it.

Remember that it’s okay to not have it all figured out yet.

And even when you do figure it out, you might change your mind a few times before you finally get all settled into your ideal job — and that’s okay. The road to your dream career isn’t always a straight one.

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Author

Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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