How To Figure Out What You Want To Do With Your Life
One of the most daunting self-discovery phases you’ll go through is figuring out what you want to do with your life.
Try going through an evening at a party without having someone break the ice with the typical “what do you do?”
There was a period in my life where I would fumble trying to answer that question.
“Well, right now I’m working at [blank] as a [blank], but I’m not sure if I’ll stay there for long…”
Not quite the confident answer my asian parents (who live vicariously through me) would’ve liked me to give.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all answer that question proudly with our heads held high? Knowing with full confidence that we were living a fulfilled life, loving what we were doing and knowing we were exceptional at what we do?
Well, in today’s blog, we’ll give you a timeless principle that, if applied, will help you calibrate your life compass in the right direction.
Side note: I do recognize that most millennials have chosen a career path already given that they have passed their early twenties. So I wanted to cater this blog piece to younger millennials and young adults that still struggle with their life path. I will be doing a followup on career advancement soon that will be more relevant to millennials as a whole.
Table Of Contents
Live In The Sweet Spot: Love, Strength Zone, Return And Values
Have you ever met a career-hopper?
I once had a friend who switched faculties 6 times during his post-secondary career. He “tried out” each department like he was sampling food at a buffet - a very expensive buffet while we’re at it, given tuition costs.
Unfortunately, this is becoming a common occurrence.
Nowadays, many people take the shotgun approach to their careers. These people “take a shot” with various career paths hoping that they’ll stumble upon the right one.
To find the right career path, you need a sniper approach. You need to carefully aim your shot before firing.
Properly setting up the scope on your sniper rifle means setting some parameters BEFORE choosing from the plethora of vocations out there.
The good news is there’s a sweet spot of characteristics or parameters to consider for your career that help signal whether you’re on the right track.
Those 4 characteristics are:
You love what you do
You are good at what you do
You can generate a return on what you do
What you do aligns with your values
1. You Love What You Do
Loving what you do results in you spending a disproportionate amount of time on your craft which will give you the edge over others.
The process looks like this:
You love your craft > You enjoy practicing your craft > You get better > You love it more because you are getting better…
Rinse and Repeat.
This beautiful work cycle is crucial to your life success.
Some people know exactly what they love. Without hesitation, they can name their favourite activities and hobbies. Others have a hard time pinpointing what they love.
For those of you trying to find out what your “true love” is, ask yourself these questions:
What can you do for a long period of time that most people would get sick of?
What do you love doing that gives you energy when it would deplete energy for most people?
What can you talk endlessly about that would drive most people to boredom?
These questions will guide you to find that ever elusive “love” for your craft.
There’s no denying the importance of a love for your vocation, but should loving what I do be the only prerequisite for choosing my life path? No.
This may come as a shock to you, but if you’re a millennial, you’ve likely distorted the truth of the statement: “Love what you do”
Let me illustrate with a personal story:
Growing up in my teens, I had a hobby I loved. It wasn’t partying or getting girls like some of my cooler peers. It was playing Super Smash Bros (an iconic video game).
In my high school years, Super Smash Bros was my form of escapism, and apparently, I wasn’t the only one. There was and still is, an underground “Smash Bros” community that hosts tournaments across North America where some top players have cashed in well over $100,000 in their careers (yeah... for playing a video game).
Now, there’s no doubt that I would’ve loved it if my coworkers were Donkey Kong and Bowser in my 9 to 5.
But there would’ve been something missing if I went down that path.
Sitting on my lazy ass and playing my favourite childhood video game may seem like a hoot, but would I make enough to support a family? Would I feel like I’m contributing to society?
These questions lead us to consider the three other parameters.
2. You Are Good At What You Do
Ever watch an audition episode of American Idol?
Some singers blow you away with their talent, while others… make you wish you were born without ears :o
Do the bad singers love what they do?
Three “No’s” later, you’ll see them in the post-audition interview with a face full of tears, claiming that they have a dying passion for singing. On national television, they’ll shout to the world that Simon Cowell was way out of line in his criticism.
Let’s be honest, as much as we respect their persistence, their passion alone won’t carry them to be the next Kelly Clarkson.
People are naturally drawn to the exceptional and they overlook the mediocre. If you’re living in your strength zone, you have the potential to be exceptional.
Let’s say that we define exceptional to mean that you are an 8 out of 10 and above and that it is the level you’re striving to reach.
If you’re working outside of your strength zone, your max potential could only be a 4 or a 5.
Personally, singing is far outside my strength zone. I would rate myself a 3/10 when it comes to singing. If I spent years working with a vocal coach, there’s no doubt that I would see improvement, but it would be minuscule and incremental. I may only ever reach a 4 or 5 out of 10. I could dedicate my life to singing and never reach the level of Kelly Clarkson.
On the other end of the spectrum, I know some people with naturally angelic voices. I have a friend that has little to no formal music training but could sing and play instruments remarkably well. I would rate her natural talent at a 7. With hard work and dedication, her investment would push her over the edge to exceptional, yielding her 10x more traction than my investment in singing would.
Luckily, I have other strengths! And you have strengths that could put you in the notorious ‘Exceptional’ club also.
As you might have noticed from the American Idol example, it’s not always easy finding your sphere of talent. Maybe you lack the self-awareness to know whether you’re in your strength zone. Maybe you haven’t yet discovered your talent. Maybe you feel like you’re circling around your potential strengths but haven’t been able to pinpoint it.
To see if you have potential in your chosen craft, ask yourself the following questions:
Have I tried doing a strength finders test?
What do my close friends and family say that I am good at?
Do other successful people in this field see potential in me?
Is my intuition in this field stronger than most?
Is it an easier learning curve for me than for most?
Am I seeing improvement after a reasonable amount of dedication to my craft?
Finding and clarifying your strength zone is going to be a process, so please be patient. Take time to reflect and evaluate your circumstance. Eventually, you’ll have a crystal clear understanding of what exactly it is you’re good at. This could very well be one of the best investments you ever make in your life.
You might be thinking, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team so doesn’t that mean anyone can achieve anything if they put their mind to it? Even if they aren’t any good…?
Keep in mind that while he was cut from his high school team, Michael Jordan eventually grew to be 6’6, an ideal height for the NBA. In addition, at the right points of his career, he demonstrated huge growth and talent potential.
He might not have been an all-star in high school but the key was he demonstrated potential and it was clear that basketball was within his strength zone.
There’s no debating that every vocation takes an immense amount of hard work and dedication to get good; but talent, strength zone, and potential play a huge role in your success too.
3. You Can Generate A Return On What You Do
You might love collecting seashells. In fact, you might be the best seashell collector in the entire universe.
But are you able to make a comfortable living collecting seashells?
Now, this is clearly an absurd example, but many people have a combination of love and skill at their craft, but will never see the return they want.
Thus, it’s crucial for you to clearly define what you want to achieve out of your life and then assess whether your career can get you there.
If having a family of three kids is a non-negotiable for you, you might want to break down the costs associated with that family vision to determine your financial objectives.
We know raising the average child costs $260,000 from ages 0 -18 which will likely require you and your spouse to make a million dollars in your lifetime, depending on your desired family scenario. To support your vision, you need to choose a career that meets those financial parameters.
Keep in mind that when we say "return” we don’t only mean it monetarily. A return can represent any form of resource you acquire in your life, such as time.
Say, for example, you decide to become a doctor. If you find yourself making enough money to send your family on vacations, but not enough time to go yourself; ask yourself if this is truly the lifestyle you desire.
In fact, a great practice is to look to the people that are 5 to 10 years ahead of you in your industry. How does their return look relative to what you want to earn in life?
Your return is the sum of the resources you earn in life including your money, time, energy/ health, relationships and more.
I suggest you write down a specific vision for those resources mentioned above. Here’s an example of a few clearly defined goals you may have for your resources:
Money: In 5 years time, I was to make a residual income of $100,000 per year so that my spouse can have the option of stepping away from their work
Time: I want to have the option of working remotely so I am always near my family
Energy: I want to get through most days without having to feel the urge to nap to recover my energy
Relationships: I want to expand my network and get to know 5 new people ahead of me in my line of work
By doing this exercise, you’ll get a clearer picture of the return you need to see from your vocation.
You might be wondering how you can tell if your career can generate your desired return.
In the internet age, it’s possible to play video games, commentate on your gameplay, and earn a net worth of over $12 million (Pewdiepie).
If Pewdiepie can become a millionaire commenting on video games, wouldn’t there be room for you to earn a healthy return doing almost anything?
To answer that, you first have to understand what generates a return in the first place.
The law of return states that your return is in direct proportion to the value you provide.
The simple formula is as follows:
Return = How many people you add value to + How well you add value to them
“How many people you add value to” represents the width of impact
“How well you add value to them” represents the depth of impact.
The balance of the two will determine how much of a return you can generate on your craft.
An example of a high portion of width is the professional athlete entertaining the sports fans every Sunday
An example of a high portion of depth is your high school teacher making an impact on a group of students
Growing up, I often wondered why high school teachers weren’t compensated as well as professional athletes; especially notable teachers that deeply transform student’s lives. I would watch TSN and hear about top athletes signing contracts for millions of dollars while my profound English teacher was struggling to get by.
When I understood the principle of width and depth, I realized that there was a science behind compensation. I realized that if I wanted to achieve the desired return, all I would have to do is pull on the two levers mentioned above. I could either distribute more value to a larger base of people or deliver elevated value to my current base of people.
Simple as that.
4. What You Do Aligns With Your Values.
You’ll live a happy life if you check off the first three components, but if you want to live a happy AND fulfilled life, I strongly urge you to consider checking off the last component.
The story of Cory Monteith is a sad one.
He was an actor who played Finn Hudson in the hit TV series Glee. On the outset, he seemed like he had it all. He had fame, fortune, and good looks. He was a good singer and actor and one could suspect that he loved his work.
On the grim night of July 13th, 2013, Cory Monteith’s body was found in the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver, Canada. The cause of death was a lethal combination of heroin and alcohol; an overdose.
Only God knows why he felt the need to turn to hard drugs.
But we have to wonder if this could have panned out differently.
I once heard a talk given by a social entrepreneur who shared Cory Monteith’s story. The social entrepreneur talked about how if he was to appear in an alternate dimension where he had one shot to save Cory Monteith’s life, his one act would be to help him establish and live in alignment with solid core values.
We’ll never know what would have happened; however, I believe, wholeheartedly, that the advice is sound.
Establishing and living in alignment with solid core values is vital to living a fulfilled life.
Forming your core values is not a simple or fast process. It’s going to take time and experiences for you to forge your core beliefs and ground yourself in them.
Although there is no fast track to building your values, I find that taking time to reflect and think about your values is a powerful practice that moves you in the right direction. Finding isolated time in your day isn’t always easy in our fast-paced world, but I highly recommend you prioritize that time.
Here are a few questions to help you think deeper and reflect on your value system:
What words would I like people to use to describe me when out of the room?
How would I want someone to feel about me when people mention my name?
What are the traits that other people have that I respect and want to embody?
Who are my role models in life and what characteristics make them who they are?
What sort of impact would you want to leave in this world if you were to die tomorrow and what does that say about your values?
Imagine working in a vocation where you wake up everyday knowing that you are impacting lives; that you can fully support your family; and that you have peace of mind in your decisions.
That’s the vision that I hope all millennials strive for.
Most people spend more time planning their annual vacation than their life vocation. I believe part of the reason why is because most people just don’t know where to start. Finding your “match made in heaven” career path can seem like an elusive and esoteric concept that few ever achieve. I hope from this article you can see that there is a framework you can use to move your life in the right trajectory.
Live in the sweet spot of those four characteristics and you’ll be beaming the next time somebody asks you the classic question: “What do you do?”