Ever since I started my self-development journey, I've been trying to "figure out what I want to do in my life."
Two years into this (yes, it started during the pandemic), I still haven't figured out what I want to do with my life. But I'm also starting to realize that maybe there's no answer. Maybe, we're all just here to experience as much as possible, and there's no honest answer to our most pressing existential questions.
So if you're one of the many millennials confused about your life, I hope you find some comfort in how I've managed to cope with this fact.
Here are three reasons why figuring out what you want in life is useless and what you can do instead.
Your mind doesn't really know what you can do
Figuring out what you want in life is really hard, not because there's something wrong with you.
But sometimes, it's tough to imagine what you're actually capable of. Most of the things you decide you want are based on things you know or you have experienced in the past.
When I decided to become a nurse, it was because I wanted a career that helped people.
At the same time, I was completing my science courses while also watching Grey's anatomy (yes, I based my degree on what I was watching). So I decided to apply to nursing school and got accepted. I didn't know about the other hundreds of ways you could help people, like coaching, consulting, or starting a business.
And now that I somewhat want out of the nursing profession, it's hard to imagine what I want because all I've known up to this point are the experiences I've had so far.
An alternative: be open to what you don't know
In the past year, I've been experimenting with coaching, freelancing, and doing things completely different from my nursing degree.
Even though it was hard to imagine that I'd get paid for a job that's not related to my degree, I made it possible. Now, I have hard evidence that I can make money that's not related to nursing. So rather than holding on to the past, learn how to be open to the possible opportunities.
You might be skeptical initially, but you never know where it'll lead you.
Your brain will lie to you until you have the experience
The problem with figuring out what you want in life is that it assumes you can know what you want in the future.
In reality, you will only know once you have the experience. For instance, I became a freelance writer believing I'd love it. After all, many people are raving about the freelance life online—more money and more freedom. But I tried, and it didn't suit me to do it full-time.
Yes, I experienced more money, traveling while working, and not having to answer to anyone.
But it came with 24/7 stress.
I experienced anxiety from the money fluctuations that I couldn't fully enjoy my travels. I also had multiple clients that I answered to, so technically, I had more bosses. I thought that freelancing was going to be the thing I was going to build, but after a while, I realized it wasn't.
An alternative: experiment and have your back when you quit
Physicist Richard Feynman once said, "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool."
I never understood this quote until I kept convincing myself that freelancing was for me. I thought it was what I wanted — an online business that paid more than my nursing job and let me travel whenever I want.
But the truth was, it wasn't. I can't pinpoint exactly why it's not for me, but I just know it isn't.
I decided to stop freelancing and do nursing again.
And that was a hard pill to swallow.
But if you have your own back, whether you stay or quit your current endeavours, life will be much more enjoyable to live, no matter how many setbacks you have.
Your wants will change depending on this thing
Before I quit my emergency nursing job, all I wanted was to work online.
When I quit and became a freelance writer, I wanted to do travel nursing and become a YouTuber. Now that I'm doing YouTube and travel nursing, I want to find high-paying and meaningful work that lets me have full-creative freedom.
As you can see, it'll be impossible to figure out what you want to do in life when your wants and needs are constantly changing.
Your wants will depend on where you are at in your life.
Yes, it's confusing on the inside or outside, but humans are always supposed to evolve and grow. Who you were a year ago doesn't have to define who you are today.
And who you are today shouldn't dictate who you should be in the next year.
An alternative: accept that you'll never know
I'll probably never figure out what I'm supposed to be doing for the rest of my life.
With that in mind, it's much better to learn the skill of acceptance. It will be uncomfortable and sometimes painful to have feelings of uncertainty, but the only thing we can control is accept that fact.
After all, it's engrained with us to be fearful when we don't know. It's a protective mechanism from when our ancestors lived as cavemen. These days, it's not so useful to have that fear.
Instead, we can learn to mindfully sit with that discomfort.
Trying to figure out what you want in life is exhausting.
It's even more tiring when there's no perfect answer. And once you realize that, you can start to treat your life as a playground and be like a child who's curious and always following their interests.
Or a blank canvas where you are the main artist.