“What am I doing with my life?”
As a life coach and business consultant, I hear this question – or some version of it – all the time. Those asking the question are likely facing one of a couple scenarios.
One, you wake up one morning and find yourself in a job you hate, a relationship you don’t want to be in, or a life that has little resemblance to the one you had imagined. You might be feeling low, filled with frustration, shame or regret. This is not where you wanted to be at this time in your life… it’s not the life you wanted to live.
Or maybe you don’t feel unhappy or lost, but you wake up and realize you want something more, new or different. You may have accomplished many of the things you’d imagined for your life and now you’re trying to figure out what to do next.
My job as a coach and consultant is to support my clients to be happier, more successful and fulfilled. To help them get from where they are to where they want to be, uncovering obstacles along the way. This usually involves working through a process and asking powerful questions so they can discover the answers to their biggest questions – including this one.
One of the very first things I share with my clients is this: you don’t have to figure out what you want to do with the entire rest of your life!
You don’t have to work out what you want to be when you “grow up” or discover your entire life’s purpose. You don’t have to commit to a career for the next 20 years. I see so many people paralyzed by thinking they must work everything out for the entire rest of their lives. Of course they feel stressed and overwhelmed!
My advice? Focus on identifying what’s next. At this age, in this stage, facing your current circumstances. I’m not saying this won’t be attached to a bigger vision, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the whole plan right now. I love MLK’s quote,
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just have to take the first step.”
Such is true for figuring out what you’re doing with your life.
How to answer the question – what am I doing with my life?
Back to the question. Let’s look at a couple of my recent clients.
Sabine* was a smart, successful, vibrant woman. She already had several successful jobs during her career, traveled the world, had a family, and was settling back in a new city. While she originally called wanting to take her business to the next level, we soon realized that wasn’t what she really needed or wanted.
She was trying to figure out what she was doing with her life. For her, this meant realizing she had lost her sense of self. While no one would know from the outside, she was feeling overwhelmed, lost and unsure of herself. She was doing all the “right” things for everyone around her, but she wasn’t doing all the right things for her.
Together, we were able to help Sabine:
- Get a clear picture of what she wanted for this next stage in her life.
- Align her life and actions with her value and priorities.
- Remember who she was and feel more like herself than she had in years.
- Regain confidence and take action on things she had been avoiding.
- Gain motivation, self-trust, and security in her decisions.
Then, there’s Max*. Incredibly smart, fun and motivated, Max had successfully climbed up through his career ladder and was happily married with his first child. Life was good. He came to me because he was in the second scenario; Max was trying to figure out what he wanted to do next. Even though he had a great job, he was looking for more – something new, different, challenging and interesting.
In our time together, Max was able to:
- Identify his priorities and what was important in this next stage of life (and what wasn’t)
- Pinpoint several new career options/ideas
- Uncover and work through old, limiting beliefs and thought patterns
- Start exploring potential new careers.
Here’s the process and the questions I walked through with Sabine and Max. Following these will help you make progress towards identifying what you’re doing with your life too:
Step 1: What do you want?
Whenever you’re looking at what you’re doing with your life, it’s important to take a step back, look at the big picture and identify what you want. Frankly, if you don’t know what you want, how do you expect to get it?
This seems simple, yet it’s often quite hard to address. When I ask this question, people often tell me what they don’t want or what’s not working. They’ve gotten into the habit of making decisions based on what’s best for their career, family or others… and forget to think about what they want for themselves.
Sabine originally thought she wanted to “take her business to the next level”, but when she dug deeper, she realized there was so much more. She ultimately found that she wanted to feel like herself again; to feel secure, trust and assert herself, and regain her sense of self.
Max wanted to love what he was doing. He wanted to be in a career (or role) that he was energized and “jazzed” about.
What do you want? Get specific.
Is it a new career in which you feel excited and energized? A relationship where you feel honored and loved? To be confident and happy with yourself? To live in a particular place or to explore the world?
Maybe, like Sabine, when you think you have your answer, ask yourself, “what else?” and see what comes up.
Once you are clear on what you want, you can move to the next question.
Step 2: Who are you?
I have a strong belief and a lot of experience that self-awareness and a little soul searching is critical for success – especially when you’re trying to figure out what you’re doing with your life.
Understanding yourself at a deeper level and making decisions based upon those insights will make sure whatever you choose to do next is something that will make you happier, more successful and more fulfilled. It will make sure that your next step is a step in the right direction, not just another step.
While I take my clients through a series of many questions, here are a few of my favorites:
- What is most important to you right now?
- What are your core values? What are the beliefs, guiding principles or ideas that are deeply important to you? Which ones are you off track with?
- What are your passions? What do you love? What interests you? What gets you engaged, motivated, excited?
- What are your skills and talents? Which would you like to use going forward?
- What is your wish list? What do you want and need in your life/career/relationship? This might include the type of environment you thrive in, people you want to be surrounded by, or something you want in a role.
- What is the impact or difference you want to make? How do you want to serve, contribute or add value?
- What do you NOT want? While you don’t want to spend too much time in this space, it’s as important to be aware of what you don’t want as much as what you do!
In addition, I always have my clients take the Instinctive Drives™ questionnaire. It’ s a profiling tool that helps you understand what you need to be at your best. While it happens to be my personal favorite, I highly recommend any tool or resource that will help you gain personal insight.
In her soul searching, Sabine identified that she needed to find and surround herself with her “people”; uncovered what she needed to feel safe and secure; learned she needed to delegate more; and discovered that her direct approach was getting in her way.
Max realized what was most important to him at this stage of his life, identified the limiting beliefs that were getting in his way, learned to stop comparing himself to others and realized how important it was to infuse humor and joy into his everyday life.
Grab a journal. Ask yourself these questions and allow the time and space to discover the answers.
Write everything down. Then, review what you wrote and highlight or circle what stands out or resonates the most. These are what you want to pay attention to as you move forward and think about what you’re doing next with your life.
Then, with a little soul-searching under your belt, it’s time to move on to step 3.
Step 3: What are your options?
You’re not happy where you are. You know you want something else. But what is that “something”? This question allows you to explore what your potential options.
At this point, it’s not about deciding the one thing or making the right choice, it’s about allowing your creative mind to expand and see all the possibilities.
If you hate your career, what new potential careers are on your mind? If you’re unhappy in your relationship, what can you do? If you’re feeling like you need change or an adventure, what could those possibly be?
Brainstorm ALL your options without worrying about whether they are possible or not (just yet). Make a list and keep asking yourself…. what else? This allows you to dig deeper and see opportunities you might have otherwise not explored.
What are all of your possible options at this point in time? Don’t limit them if you can’t see how it’s possible, just get all your ideas out on paper.
Once you have your list of options, then you can move to the next step.
Step 4: Which options are the best fit right now?
Okay, so you have your list of options and possibilities. Now it’s time to narrow it down and explore those options in a little more depth.
Once Max had a complete list of potential career options (including advancing in his current role), he narrowed the list down to the top most interesting and compelling opportunities. We then worked through each of those in greater depth.
A fantastic way to do this is to envision your life “as if” you were in that new role/situation/relationship/option.
Max imagined himself living the life in his new career options. First, he imagined himself as an REI employee. Yes, he had grown a beard and was drinking from a metal mug.
But the next question was even more important. I asked him how he felt. He said while he was excited to be outdoors more, he realized he wouldn’t be fulfilled in that role. He definitely didn’t feel “jazzed”.
We went through all his options, envisioning what life would be like in each role until he found the one in which he felt the most connected. We could both feel a shift in his energy immediately…he was on to something.
Go back to your options list and circle the 1-3 that you feel most connected to, energized by or engaged with. You’ll want to make sure those options fit what you want (question 1) and who you are (question 2).
Once you have a short list, imagine your life as if you took that as your next step. What would you think, feel, hear and see? Can you picture yourself there? Does it feel good? You can also do some research at this point to learn more about each of your options.
Then, armed with information and idea of the best next option for you, it’s time to move on to the next question.
Step 5: What’s stopping you?
This is a big one. As you explore your options, it’s likely you may come up against some barriers.
Perhaps you have fears or limiting beliefs of what you can or can’t do or what someone said you were capable of. Maybe it’s lack of self-esteem or confidence. When these come up, it doesn’t mean the option is wrong, it just means you need to dig a bit further to find out what’s going on It’s important to explore what’s getting in your way.
With Max, he was being held back by a deep, long time belief that he wasn’t good enough – that he wasn’t capable of taking on a higher level, higher risk role. This was holding him back. We worked together until he could move past this perception and on to his next step.
Think about what’s getting in your way or stopping you from moving forward. Once again, don’t stop at your first answer. Ask yourself, “what else?” until you identify what’s getting in your way.
Then, it’s time to move to the last question..
Step 6: What can you do to move forward?
You’ve narrowed down and explored your options and now it’s time to take action. I know this part is hard.
What if it isn’t right? What if there is something else out there? What if it’s the worst decision I ever make? Arrgghh!
These are all real and good questions, but not if they stop you from moving forward towards a more fulfilling life. If you’re feeling hesitant about taking the next step, let me give you a different way to look at it.
If you’re unhappy where you are now, what is the bigger risk? Staying where you are out of fear of doing the wrong thing OR moving forward and seeing where it leads you? It’s better to rock the boat than to die sinking in it, right?
Once you’ve decided, it’s time to act. What’s your first step? Take it.
Give yourself a deadline, a timeline or a goal to make it happen so you can move from ideas to reality.
Make a decision about which option is best for you to move forward into the life you want. Then, take the first step towards that option. Then the next and the next one after that.
So, what ARE you doing with your life?
Just the sheer fact that you’re asking yourself what you’re doing with your life is a step in the right direction. A mentor of mine always said, 90% of solving a problem is awareness that it exists. You know you need to do something.
Now, if you’re serious about moving forward, it’s time to take the time and put in the effort and answer the questions above. Then, like Sabine and Max, be willing to take action – to step forward into a more fulfilling future – even if you’re not exactly sure how it’s going to play out.
Be brave. You’ve got this. It’s not too late. It’s your life, and, yes, it can be everything you’ve imagined.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
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