Life is what you make of it, right? But, what if you have absolutely no idea what to make? Or what to do?! Or who to do it with?! We’ve all had moments in our lives, or decades even, where we feel like nothing but a jumbled mess of existential questions sitting next to a pile of useless degrees, a mountain of student debt, as we waste away at a desk in our underpaid job. Luckily, there’s hope that things don’t have to stay that way. In fact, a life of purpose and direction isn’t really as elusive and far off as you might think.
The Socratic Method
Many of us run into existential or career problems because we avoid asking ourselves tough questions – questions that would help lead us toward any kind of truth about ourselves. Perhaps we’re scared of what we’ll find if we jump down that rabbit hole?
The great ancient Greek philosopher Socrates developed a process of doing this that bears his name – the Socratic Method. He would address difficult, ethical and philosophical dilemmas by asking his colleagues questions, rather than spoon-feeding them answers. It was, and still is, a means of exposing ignorance in order to arrive at a clear path of understanding and knowledge.
Take the necessary time you need to stop and reflect. Ask yourself some difficult, but necessary questions that would expose areas of your life – pressures, insecurities, and fears that have lead you to this place of confusion, dissatisfaction, or dismay.
There is more than one right answer
Ultimately, in journeying to expose yourself, most people always end up at one simple question: What do you love to do? The problem is that most people think that there has to be only one answer to that question, and they become overwhelmed with the pressure to find that one answer that will determine the course of the rest of their lives. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth! How many people do you know that only love one thing and only ever do that one thing in their life? Probably some psychopath, but no one in their right mind, I’m sure. We humans are dynamic, fluid, multi-faceted, multi-talented people. Even if we stay within one particular industry, most people have probably worked varying positions within that industry. Stop trying to pigeon-hole yourself into one purpose, one calling, or one career track!
What are you interested in?
Several years ago I was trying to nail down whether or not I wanted to commit to writing this blog. I knew I liked writing, but I struggled with whether anyone would care about what I had to say. Better yet, I wasn’t even sure myself of what I wanted to say. So, in an effort to try and figure it out, I walked over to my bookshelf, and came up with an idea.
I took all the books off my shelf, and started stacking them atop one another in separate piles based on subject matter and category – a bar graph made of books depicting my main areas of interest. The tallest pile were self-improvement and business leadership books. The one after that were non-fiction books about relationships, and the third tallest stack were books on Christian faith. Voila! Using those stacks, I was able to seen in a very graphical, visual way where my interests naturally gravitated towards.
Start asking some questions
- What subject matter do you naturally gravitate towards? Take a look at your bookshelf, your podcast subscriptions, your Netflix ‘Saved’ lists, and the pages and influencers you follow on social media. Are you interested in home decor? Fashion? Cars? Outdoors activities? Travel? You might think the media you consume is inconsequential, but it can be very telling of what you love and are interested in.
- What are your friends always asking you for help about? Next time your friend asks for your help, or for your opinion on something, don’t just write it off. Stop and think about why they’d ask YOU for help in this area? Are people always asking you for relationship advice? Are you the go-to guy when it comes to graphic design? More often than not, people see value and potential in us that we’d never see in ourselves.
- What do people think you’d be good at? Go to a few people you trust, but that have nothing to gain from your career choices (eg. parents may pressure you to become a lawyer due to family pride). Ask them what they have observed as being some of your strengths, what they think would be a good potential fit for your life. Again, more often than not, others are able to see value in us that we don’t see ourselves.
The journey to discovering what you’re good at, interested in, and can make a living doing is definitely not an easy, or quick thing. That’s why it’s called a journey. It takes a lifetime of learning, trying, discovering, growing, and hopefully mastering. But, taking the early steps of asking yourself and others questions, and seeking out answers to those questions doesn’t have to take forever. Be honest and raw with yourself and others. Expose the areas of your life where perhaps you’ve given in to pressure from society, your family, or even yourself. Don’t be afraid of this process – it’s necessary, it’s healthy, and it’s worth it.
Here’s to never settling…