What to do (when you have no idea what to do)
As Chris Traeger once said, “I am 100% certain that I am 0% sure of what I’m going to do”. If you don’t know who that is, then I’m very sorry for you, and would recommend you go directly to Netflix and binge Parks and Rec for the rest of the week.
That quote is exactly how I felt for years.
At times I’ve felt like social media has made it seem like everyone’s got their whole lives figured out. Every ten year old is starting a fortune 500 company, and all the 12 year olds are traveing the world and getting masters degrees, and there I was with no clue what to do. I would read and listen to countless blog posts, books, and podcasts about how to achieve your dreams(!) It felt like I had all the steps memorized, perfectly ready and willing to do the work, but have absolutely no idea what work I was supposed to do.
“Do what you’re passionate about!” the world seems to scream these days, but what do you do when you have no idea what you’re passionate about? It’s taken me years to figure out what I’m passionate about, and figuring that out was a way different process than I thought it would be. I used to think you just knew, and something was wrong with me for not knowing. Maybe that’s how it is for some very lucky individuals, but I think for the majority of us it just doesn’t come that easy.
Get to know yourself
I know I’m maxing out my Parks and Rec references here, but just like Anne, you need to date yourself. When I think back to those times I felt completely lost and generally freaked out by not knowing where exactly I was going, I realize how little I knew myself. I was overcome by fear and insecurities that slowly over time I’ve had to chisel away at to get to the real me so I could even find out what things I like, much less what I am passionate about.
So… how do you get to know yourself? I fully encourage you to follow your whims. One thing I knew I always enjoyed but I never seemed to actually make the time for was reading. Over the last few years I’ve made it more of a priority, something part of my every day, if even for just a few minutes. I also indulged in anything that had sparked my interest - I took horse back riding lessons, taught myself calligraphy and lettering, learned to run, and traveled more. None of these things have anything to do with what I’d call “my passion” but by indulging in them I learned more about myself and what I love, and sometimes, what I don’t love.
Take care of yourself
I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life. Even during better times when I didn’t find it impossible to get out of bed, I still felt like I was living with a brain fog and a general apathy for life. Those my friend, are not a good combo when you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life. If you are struggling with any number of mental or physical problems you need to stop and take care of those first. You’re not going to be able to find your passion if you can barely even find joy in regular life.
This past year I discovered how much exercise helps me fight off depression, but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hit me at times (especially when I have extra stress), so I also took another step and finally found a therapist I can talk to. I don’t have regular appointments with her, but if I hit a wall I can make an appointment anytime and I already have that relationship. No matter what your struggle is, set up systems to help you overcome and keep you on the right track. You can’t chase your dreams (or even figure out what those are) if you are’t taking care of your health first.
Give yourself time
At one point I remember feeling frantic to figure out what was next. I felt like I was loosing time and needed to decide what direction to go in ASAP. After talking with my therapist she told me I needed to give myself a break, stop raking my brain and just enjoy life for a while. So I did. Well, kind of. As best as I could. I decided to just stop thinking about it, stop worrying so much. Which is easier said than done. I experimented with things and tried new things without any specific hope that they would be the answer I was searching for.
If you’re struggling with where to go next, take a step back. If you’re getting ready for the craziness of college and aren’t even sure what to study then I love the idea of gap years. Don’t just sit around in your parents basement for a year and waste the time away - travel, volunteer, try new things constantly. Give yourself some time and space to experiment and have a little fun.
If you don’t know where you’re going - I feel ya. To the very depths of my soul I do. Don’t be tough on yourself, everyone has either been there or will be there at some point in their life. Care for yourself, know yourself, and give yourself some space and eventually you’ll get there. More than anything, just learn to enjoy life.