If you’ve ever agonized over the question “what am I going to be when I grow up?”, then this post is for you.
Going forward, we’re going to refer to this as ‘The Question’.
The Question has a tendency to creep up on us each time we near the end of an academic program. High school, undergrad, graduate school… the final year is often spent worrying over what our purpose in life is, how we will make a living, and what on earth we will do next.
The Question also arises when we are not in school. It nags at us throughout our employed lives, often in one of its other forms, like “am I really going to do this forever?” or “is this really what I’m meant to be doing?”
We are often assaulted with some variation of The Question at family gatherings or in social settings.
Basically, The Question is everywhere.
To those who have answered The Question and have committed to one specific career path, good for you. I don’t mean to put you down or criticize your life choices here.
(You should know though, that you will likely be faced with this question again… what do the stats say? Most college graduates change jobs like 8 times before sticking with something long-term?!)
In any case, for many of us, The Question remains unanswered. More than that, it is a repeated source of stress. There is something inherently off-putting about The Question too. Something about it makes us feel uneasy.
First of all, how on earth are we to choose one thing to dedicate our lives to at the age of 18, 23 or 26 (or any other age for that matter).
Second, the reason it feels wrong is that it may actually be unhealthy. Wrapping your entire identity up in one thing and excluding all other possibilities can severely limit your ability to grow in new and unanticipated ways. On some level we sense this so we resist making such a seemingly-permanent commitment.
Finally, what if you answer wrong?! What if twenty years from now, you wake up and realize that you hate your job and had some other dreams or passions all along, but were too afraid to pursue those things back in your early twenties?
All of these concerns make answering The Question a really daunting and uncomfortable process for many of us. But thankfully, I’ve got some good news for you…
The Good News – The Question is a Lie
You actually don’t need to answer The Question at all! At least not with one definite answer. What you need to do is reformulate the question.
Instead of asking “what is my one true calling in life?”, ask “what are the many things I would like to experience before I die?”
By changing the question from one career choice or life purpose to many long term goals, you get to relax and suddenly the pressure involved in making a lifelong commitment is gone. Furthermore, you can add and subtract things as you wish. I usually revise my list of goals/things to do before I die once or twice a year.
Once you adopt this kind of thinking, you literally never have to ask yourself The Question again and that is incredibly freeing.
Making Your List of Goals
If time and money were not an issue, what would you do with your time? Imagine your ideal day from start to finish. Make a list of things you want to try before you die. Make your goals specific and root them in emotion rather than reason. For example, don’t imagine a million dollars in your bank account, instead imagine what you would do with that money. Would you travel the world? Start a business? Write a novel? Whatever it is, write it down in vivid detail.
This is all you have to do for now. Once you know what things (plural) you actually want to do while you’re alive, then you can start thinking about how to finance those things. You might find that the financial part is not as hard as you initially thought.
There are many sources of revenue streams beyond a traditional job. There’s freelancing, part-time work that allows for freedom to pursue your goals, self-employment, and even strategically negotiated full-time employment. Many many combinations and options are available. There are ordinary people like you and me, who have no special resources, skills or inheritance to speak of, who are doing just this.
I will say though, that this requires an open mind. You have to be willing to think about money/work in new ways and at least be open to considering some alternatives to what we’ve been told repeatedly growing up: that you go to school, get training, get a good job, save for retirement, and then at age 65 you are free start living your dreams. Throughout the course of this blog I’m going to bring you resources and interviews with people who have radically different views on this and who are living examples that it is possible to turn the model on its head and have the freedom to pursue your dreams now.
We’ll get to the money part in upcoming posts and podcast interviews. But start with your goals. What do you long to do? What are you passionate about? What are some things you might like to try one day? Also don’t just think about yourself, think about how you’d like to change the world and help others. What are some problems that you’d like to help solve?
Think big. Write down your ideal vision, not some “practical” version of your dreams. Imagine yourself on your deathbed, looking back over your life. What is your legacy? Don’t be left with regrets. Write it all down now.
The hardest thing about taking this approach and striving for many goals as opposed to one definite identity, is that it may make you unpopular at family dinners or parties. It is almost inevitable that people will not understand your choice and will try to pressure you into rethinking The Question. Dealing with nay-sayers is one of the hardest things about following your own path through life. But in my opinion, it is a price well worth paying.
What do you guys think? And what are some of the things you would love to do one day?