Why Having No Idea What to Do With Your Life Is a Powerful Place to Be.
I’ve worked at a pharmacy, a summer camp, a long-term care home, a greenhouse, a sign company, and in a field killing the tomato worms that ate the plants.
This is not your typical career trajectory.
And yet it is my greatest asset.
I’ve struggled with the ailment of not really knowing what job I want to do. I knew, from a young age, that I loved writing and working with people. It has taken a lot of trial and error to figure out how those two broad interests fit together in terms of a career. I still haven’t figured it out entirely but the journey has brought me to some interesting places.
Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe your job history looks like you did a connect-the-dots with your eyes closed. Instead of the picture getting clearer, it looks scribbly and complex. You might envy your peers who look like they have it all figured out.
At least, I envy the illusion of clarity that I think those people have.
When I think about it realistically, though, I actually love that I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life. I have these little clues here and there, but I’m still piecing it all together.
If you are feeling the same way, please don’t get discouraged. You are in a very powerful position.
Here is why:
1. You have the freedom to explore
There is a hidden opportunity in not knowing what to do. It is the opportunity to embark on inward examination and outward exploration.
You are in a position to try things and see what happens. You can run down a long path of self-inquiry and unearth some true gems of wisdom. You might be surprised at what snags your interest, what opportunities get presented to you, who you meet. There is so much possibility in front of you.
The unknown is offering you the opportunity to understand yourself better. This only comes from poking around, figuring out what you don’t want, and trying enough jobs and skills and relationships to get a better grasp on what you do want.
If you approach the unknown with a learner’s heart, you will glean armfuls of information and insight.
If you only stick to the “clear” path, you will miss out on the opportunity to explore the rest of the forest.
2. Diversity in job experience can be an asset
Years ago, when everyone in my journalism class was volunteering to broadcast an awards show for job experience, I flew to Romania by myself to write for an obscure magazine.
That experience ended up separating me from the pack. It gave me more unique skills than I ever could have gotten from broadcasting an awards show.
I learned how to take photos at a marathon in the Bucegi mountains. A Romanian photographer showed me how to find the perfect light and the best angles. I also interviewed Romanian artists who made shingles and taught embroidery. No one else in my journalism class did that.
My pharmacy job taught me customer service. Watching the pharmacists work taught me how to interact effectively with patients and clients.
Killing tomato worms taught me about work ethic and persevering through monotonous tasks.
The summer camp job taught me teamwork, leadership, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
None of these jobs ended up being my forever job or my future career path, but they all gave me valuable skills and connections that have carried me forward.
No one will ever take your experiences away from you. They are building blocks that you can stack up to bolster yourself into new places.
3. Nobody knows entirely what they are doing with their life.
If someone claims that they have their whole life figured out, they might be too scared to admit that the “figured out” life is killing them.
Admitting that you have no idea what to do next means you are honest with yourself. That is good. You’re ahead of the game in that sense.
Everyone hits stale patches of their life where the future seems foggy. If you learn early how to navigate that space of the unknown, then you will gain the wisdom that comes from flowing through the “gas pedal” and “brake pedal” seasons of life.
4. It is better to take a few extra years on the front end to figure it out than regretting playing it safe forever.
Part of the anxiety of not knowing what to do next is the sense that time is running out.
Stop. It’s okay.
Don’t look around at other people your age as a measuring stick for what you “should” be doing at this stage.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you exist just to make it to the next milestone.
Invest the time now into exploring yourself, your options, your interests and slowly build toward doing something that makes you feel purposeful.
It might feel slow and tangled up right now but it is better than staying in a place simply because you feel like you should.
Adjust your vision.
If you are lucky, you will be discovering new things about yourself for your entire life.
If you are lucky, you will realize early that you can’t strong-arm your way to clarity. You can’t force yourself into the next phase of life. What you can do is adjust your vision.
Start looking for the small things that catch your attention now. Notice what you do well. Invest in relationships that bring you life. Try new things for fun. Follow the joy.
The picture of what to do next will usually come together slowly. Little signs will converge over time to point you in the next direction. It won’t be a banner in the sky telling you what to do next. It will be a dozen quiet prods saying try this way.
They might take you somewhere surprising.