How to find your direction

2013 - How find your direction

“I’m almost 50 and I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up”

I was a sophomore or junior in college, and struggling with what direction my academic life was leading.  I was on a path that sounded good to those around me, but I wasn’t happy.  In my heart of hearts, I didn’t have passion for what I was studying, and all of the careers that my degree led to didn’t interest me in the slightest.  So, I spoke to a few “grown-ups” about their lives and careers, and the thing that stuck with me the most was the above quote.  It came from a successful corporate lawyer that I knew through my family. I expected to hear about the plusses and minuses of being a lawyer, getting into law school, and how to be a great lawyer like he was… but I didn’t get any of that. He focused instead on his life’s journey of mistakes, changes in direction, and the right he gave himself to pause and start over.   It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. So how do you go do that?

So there you are… wondering what your life’s purpose is.  A “wanderer” as I’ve heard you called.  Someone who may be “doing well” in external terms, but not fulfilled on the inside.  It doesn’t matter how old you are – wanderers could still be in school, mid career, or later in your career –  you realize that the path you’re on is not going to make you happy.  So, you wander into work.  Stare at the walls. Wander home. Wander with friends. Wish for something else… something more.

Success Re-defined
How about we think about happiness in a new way?

Lets work on finding something that

  1. you enjoy doing
  2. that you have the ability to do relatively better than others, and that
  3. allows you to survive

#3 is different for everyone.  If you’re single, your needs may be relatively miniscule. If you’re the sole bread winner in your household, and you have 2 kids in college, your “survival” needs are dramatically different.  Think about what your needs are before you go further.  Can those change?  Sometimes yes, and sometimes they can’t.

Now, let’s focus on the first two questions – the tough ones:  What do you love doing that most others can’t?  You may love playing video games or reading fashion blogs or building model airplanes, but I doubt anyone will pay you for it. If it was that simple, you’re probably not a wanderer.

The Five Year Plan
We’ve heard of the famous interview question – but lets actually build a five year plan, but with a twist.   Lets create a rough plan of where you would like your life to be in the next few years, but lets allow ourselves to edit it every year or so?  That way, we are keeping our ‘eye on the ball’ longer term, but still allowing life’s changes to adjust our path.  The best part?  We might never get to our 5 year goal.  Why? Because we keep changing it to adjust to our changing lives, and the world at large.  Maybe you think you want a particular job 5 years from now that’s totally different than what you’re doing today.  So, spend a year or two taking classes to enhance your skills, and get to know people in that field you know know today.  Then, in year 3, you wake up and realize that there is something else you want to do with your new found knowledge, so you adjust your 5 year plan for a whole new set of goals.  Get it?

Finding your passion
Grab a piece of paper, and answer the following questions:

  1. When am I at my best? When am I happiest?
  2. What are the skills I have that I don’t get to show off on a day to day basis?
  3. If I could speak to my older self 5 years from now, what are the three things I would want to be doing then that I’m not doing now?

Now, Grab another piece of paper, and write down 10 people who know you really well.  They could be childhood friends, people who know you from school, your first job, a previous manager, a close relative, your spouse/partner… anyone.  The key is that you have to believe they will give you honest feedback – meaning they will take the task seriously, wont “tell you what you want to hear.” We all have friends who just tell you what you want to hear and wont be honest. This is not for them.  Maybe your list has a few more or a few less… that’s ok.  Its your list.

In the most appropriate way (anonymous online survey, email, on the phone, over a coffee… whatever), ask them the following questions without giving the answers to your own self-assessment above:

  1. When you think about me, what are the three words that immediately come to mind?  (if they need help, ask them to think about how you’re different than most other people.  Allow them to be critical.)
  2. If you didn’t know what subject I studied in school or what my job/career was, what would you think my occupation would be?  (Allow them to be vague or specific, or give multiple answers)
  3. When am I at my best? When am I happiest?

Yes, do this 10 times.  Its not easy, but you might learn something about yourself.  Now comes the fun part.  Compare the answers. What’s consistent?  What’s different?  What did you always know about yourself but didn’t think about until now?
Taking Small Steps
Next, take all of this new found knowledge and do something about it.  You don’t have to make  a drastic change until you’re ready… but you should brainstorm a list of things you can go do.

Here are some examples:

  • Look for jobs in that area
  • Interview 5-10 people who currently have that type of job.  What do they like about it? What do they not like?  What was their path to getting that job?
  • Take a class in an area that someone suggested.  Look online.  You don’t have to get a degree tomorrow… just take a class.  Many online classes are free.
  • Join a club that focuses in this area
  • Volunteer in one of those areas – giving your time is one of the best ways to learn a new skill or try something out with very low risk – plus it puts some good Karma out there

What’s stopping you?

That’s the most important question, isn’t it?

*Photo Credit:

About the JOY Coach

Rajat Kapur

Raj was born in India and moved to the U.S. when he was 5 years old. He grew up in Indianapolis, IN, and has actually moved 19 times since high school! He as 10+ years of marketing and sales experience at big companies. Currently he is working in corporate sustainability - but his true passion is social entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter (@rkapur105) to see what he’s up to lately!

Raj lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife, their two sons, and their 10 year old border collie. In his spare time, he enjoys running, volunteering, watching sports (Go Hoosiers, Colts, and Eagles!), playing cards, reading, and watching movies…but those with small children probably realize “spare time” doesn’t really exist!

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