There must be a thousand clichés about finding direction. If you do a Google search, you’ll find everything from the classic “follow your bliss,” to the iconic but less helpful “wherever you go, there you are.” “Follow your bliss” is excellent advice if you happen to know what your bliss is. No wonder so many of us are confused about where we’re headed.
It’s hard to get what you want if you don’t know what you want
The first step in considering direction — whether it’s for your life as a whole, or your career — is to know what you want. Who do you want to be? How would you like to be remembered? What do you value? These are big questions but there are many tools available to help you work through them.
The best way to go into a decision-making process is to arm yourself with information. There probably isn’t a book titled Dear [insert your name] Here’s What You Should Do With Your Life but there are a few places you can start looking. Consider a book like Lifekeys: Discover Who You Really Are or an assessment tool like the Myers-Briggs personality sorter as a place to start.
It’s a rare person indeed who can sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper and plot out his or her life. Tools like these give you exercises designed to help you think things through. Self-discovery is a process. It takes time but the result is valuable information that you can’t find anywhere else.
Start with what is right in front of you
If trying to decide what you want feels like an enormous task, start by thinking about what you don’t want and get those thoughts down on paper. You may find that the information you’re looking for is right there. Think about someone you know whose life you don’t want to emulate. What was it about their situation that turned you off? Is the opposite of that something that you do want to cultivate?
There’s a temptation to want to sample everything before choosing but that’s a time-consuming approach. The world is full of options but there are likely a few that you can cross off the list right away. For me, I know I don’t want to be a professional skydiver or pursue any course of action that would result in a lot of public speaking. (No political dreams for me.)
Give yourself permission to dream.
Take an hour or an afternoon, go somewhere where you can hear yourself think and just dream. Imagine a world where you could meet all of your obligations, personal and financial, doing anything you wanted. What would your day look like?
What really matters to you?
Choosing a direction in life needs to be less about success and more about fulfilment. What makes you smile? What are the things that are so easy for you to do they feel like play? Which topics do you get so excited talking about that people ask you to slow down? Are you including these in your daily life? Not everyone will be able to make a full time living out of what they enjoy best; however, each of us can live life more fully by finding a way to include these activities in our lives.
- Is there somewhere you could volunteer using these skills?
- Are there recreational activities that you could participate in?
- Is it time to consider a career change?
- Is it time to consider a job change within the same company?
The risk of choosing less than the best
I think that often we stay where we are because we’re “happy enough.” It’s nice enough, the money is good enough, the work is interesting enough. We settle because it is familiar. We think that there’s no risk in staying where we are. The truth however, is that staying in the wrong place may be the riskiest thing of all.
Think of what is at stake if you stay in the wrong place. Each of us has a limited number of days to live. Days lived in the wrong situation are irredeemable. Change can be scary but it’s not as scary as looking back on years and realizing that things could have been different. The risks of re-evaluating your situation may be less than you think.
The thing with direction is this: yes, you have to choose one, but you can almost always change your mind.
When we were growing up, my mom often reminded us that “very few things are fatal.” Her point was to be aware of our decisions but to remember that most of them can be reversed. There will be consequences, delays perhaps, or costs, but there are very few decisions that result in an irreversible outcome. Most of the decisions we make are not life or death choices. So arm yourself with knowledge, choose for the right reasons, and take a step in a new direction. You just might find the life you’ve been looking for.
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This article was written by: Claire ColvinPhoto Credit: Oscar Nilsson