How to Figure Out What You Want to Do with Your Life - Woman in black long sleeve in front of laptop thinking

How to Figure Out What You Want to Do with Your Life

Liadan Gunter
May 24, 2023
May 12, 2023

This blog post was written by Liadan Gunter, Life Coach at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.

You’re standing at the foot of a cliff overlooking the horizon. It’s the beginning of your life. In front of you, you see endless possibilities. To the left you see one route you can take, straight ahead another, and to the right a completely different set of options. It’s both an exciting time when everything and anything is possible, and a nerve-wracking one. “How do I make these choices?” you may be wondering. 

We all make choices throughout the course of our lives, and we can always start over and begin anew, no matter our age. However, it’s when you’re at the beginning of your adult life where you’re tasked with a whole lot: creating community, learning about the world, yourself, others, and making many choices that define and construct the life you’ll live for years to come. It can feel like a tremendous burden, even if it’s exciting all at the same time. 

So how can you make appropriate choices? How can you figure out what you want to do with your life? Where does one begin? If you're a college student or young professional, this article is for you! If you're pretty deep into your career, skip to the final section for more information for you.

Analyze the Lifestyle You’d Like to Have

As you embark on trying to decipher what you’d like to do, I recommend first analyzing the lifestyle you’d like to live. It’s much easier to choose an appropriate career or job or area of study if you have an idea of how you’d like to live at the lifestyle level. 

For example, if you’d like to have a good work/life balance where you’re able to work but that work doesn’t consume your whole life, that's already something quite profound. This is because if you already know that you want that work/life balance but if you’re toying with the idea of becoming a doctor, you may question whether a medical profession would make you happy at the lifestyle level, because the amount of work and the hours involved with that profession are very high. 

Let’s take another example. Perhaps you would like the freedom to work remotely so that you dictate your own schedule and be mobile at your own whim. That’s going to narrow down the type of jobs or career paths, too. 

Choosing what to do with your life is much easier when you have some idea of what your end goal looks like. This is why I suggest starting at the lifestyle level first, because then you can choose from subject areas and positions that support the lifestyle you ultimately want to live. It already narrows down the scope. 

Determine What You Are Interested in and Passionate About

Next, think about the subject matter that you’re interested in and passionate about. Of course, we don’t always have to study the same things that we end up working in later, but it’s certainly helpful and may make things easier if you do. Still, I definitely want to say that we can always pivot, and that it’s often through trial and error that we gain enough information to make a different choice. There’s nothing wrong with that. 

You may consider making a list of the things that interest you. Deep down we tend to gravitate towards certain things over others. Pay attention to the things you’re naturally drawn to, or even curious about—even if you’ve never really had experience with them. It’s still very valuable information. 

For example, I’ve always been interested in photography. There’s just something about it that inspires me and gives me a rush of energy. This isn't a coincidence. Write down a list of the things that you naturally are curious about. 

Notice Patterns and Determine Possible Career Options

As you create this list, do you notice any patterns? Do any overlap? For example, you may have arts and crafts on the list in various forms like jewelry making and ceramics. At the same time, you may have opening of a store or entrepreneurship on the list. From there you can come up with some potential ideas. For example, maybe one option is to open your own hand-made jewelry store or create an online ceramic boutique. 

Try to notice patterns and determine possible career options from the list. Notice how you feel about them. 

Another example could be that you’re interested in science and photography. Perhaps you could consider types of careers that incorporate both, such as a scientific journalist or a conservation content creator. There are many combinations. Spend some time coming up with different combinations of careers that can fit with your interests and also the lifestyle you would like to live. Let’s say you like the idea of being a travel photographer, but you like stability, and traveling isn’t something you enjoy. That’s probably not the right path to take then. It’s important to combine your interests with positions that match your personality and the lifestyle you are hoping to live. 

Trial and Error

Now that you have some ideas, you can try them out. Nothing is better than trial and error for learning. It’s really the best way to learn how you actually feel about the subject in a practical sense. Maybe you think you’re interested in astrophysics, and perhaps you really are, but as you get into it, you may realize that you don’t enjoy the methodology behind it. Maybe it’s more of a hobby for you, and not something that you want to spend your days theorizing about. It’s through trial and error that you can learn the reality of your interests, and whether they make sense. 

Take Classes

If you’re at the start of your college career, this the perfect time to try out classes in your different areas of interest. Take them for a test drive, in other words. This is going to be one of the most useful pieces of information you can have when determining what to do with your life. Take stock of what works about a subject, and what doesn’t feel right to you. Maybe you're in your career and out of college. If so, there are still many adult classes and one-on-one lessons, etc., that are available for you to try. Don't limit yourself!

Meet Mentors and Apply for Internships

You may also consider reaching out to people who are working in the career that you’re considering. Talking to them about the realities of it can provide you enormous insights into whether or not it could be the right fit for you. You may also consider doing some internships in your areas of interest, to see what it’s really like in the real world. 

Ultimately, it’s through trying things out that we can gain a deeper understanding of whether or not something is right for us. That’s what this phase is all about. Give yourself the time and space to explore your interests from a place of curiosity. It’s through this exploration that you’re going to land on something that is a good fit. You don’t have to have it fully figured out. I know it’s frustrating, especially when you just want to know the answer, but rest assured that it’s through trying these things that you’re actually getting much closer to the answer. 

Reflect on Your Skills

Next, I recommend, as you’re trying things out, observing what skills you have and what tasks you enjoy performing. We can be very skilled at things that we don’t particularly enjoy - the universe is funny that way, isn’t it? 

The key here is to really consider what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing. Try to align this aspect also with your interests and type of careers. For example, if you really hate methodical processes, perhaps a career in bench science isn’t for you, even if you’re very good at those types of procedures and you’re interested in science. On the other hand, you may determine that you like enough of the other aspects of that career that you can deal with performing experiments once in a while, even though you don’t enjoy that specific aspect. This is also an important distinction because, in any career, there’s always going to be an element that isn’t perfect. It’s about finding which of those elements we can tolerate and which we cannot. And there’s no shame in admitting that a particular aspect of a job isn’t for you. 

It’s important to be aware that some things don’t have to be a career but can be a hobby instead. Not everything has to collide. Try putting your different interests together in various ratios. I like playing music for example, but a career as a musician isn’t for me. This is an activity and interest of mine that remains more on the hobby side, and that’s totally okay. A job and career can certainly be for you, even if it doesn’t encompass all of your interests and skills. The most important thing is that it fulfills you enough and inspires you enough. 

Ultimately, as you are trying things out, you can slowly but surely narrow down the list of possibilities regarding what you’d like to do with your life. It’s a process, but a beautiful one, and give yourself the time to explore this. Exploration alone is making progress and finding some answers. It's not that you’re stuck - you’re in the process of evolving and discovering. 

It’s Okay to Pivot!

For anyone out there who feels worried about making the right choice, I want to offer a peaceful reminder: Sure it’s great if we can figure out these things early (and these tips can certainly help with that), but we can always pivot. 

Perhaps as you age, your view changes. What we want at 20 may not be the same things we want at 25 or 30 or 50. As humans, we evolve, and what we want may change too as we grow into the different phases of our lives. This is normal and natural. 

For some, even though they change throughout life, their career may stay the same and they’re perfectly content with that. For others, maybe they change in a way that the initial path they chose is no longer in alignment with them anymore. That’s okay too. It’s never too late. We can always adjust our plans and make different choices. 

For example, I studied neuroscience as an undergrad, and then worked in basic research for several years. As I was doing so, I realized that the things that I wanted had changed compared to where I was years before, and so I made a shift to starting my own business and coaching others, using science-backed principles. I kept a little of the old but brought in the new. The point of this is that we can always shift. 

If you’ve been working in a career for a few years and you’re realizing it’s not all that you hoped or thought it would be, it’s okay to go back to the drawing board. Follow some of the steps outlined above, and they can help you figure out how to move forward. No time has been lost; you’ve just gained a deeper understanding of what you’re truly looking for. 

In the end, remember that you’re doing great, and life is all about creating ourselves. Sometimes we get it wrong, or we get it right, but then we change. All of these things are natural, so go easy on yourself and check in with yourself from time to time. Our gut knows more than what our mind allows us to imagine sometimes. Listen to yourself and follow your instincts - that’s how you’ll figure it all out. And if you need some guidance, try some of these tips or book a coaching session to bounce ideas off someone else. You don’t have to go it alone. 

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Liadan Gunter
Liadan Gunter
Liadan Maire Gunter is a Coach, Behavioral Scientist, and Founder of The Rewiring Lens. She is trained in neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology, before creating her own path in the field of self-development. At Nivati, she works as a life coach and content writer where she bridges the gap between science and self-development. She also runs a company, The Rewiring Lens, aimed at bringing science-backed tools designed to rewire people’s brains so that they can create their best selves. There she co-hosts a podcast on the same subject.