“What do you want to do with your life?” 3 ways to answer the world’s worst question
It’s the nightmare inquiry made of every soon-to-graduate liberal arts major in America.
The niggling worry of every newly committed entrepreneur.
The unscratchable itch burning every person who hits upper tiers in Maslow’s hierarchy.
“What do you want to do with your life?”
The question sounds harmless when posed by the inevitable guidance counselor, business coach, or friend. But the subtle implication seems to be:
You went to college. You got a job. You’ve got all the tools you need to pursue your dreams, and I know you won’t to waste them. So…what’ll it be?
This is one of those unanswerable questions, much like “What kind of person are you?” or “Do blue M&Ms taste different from yellow ones?”
We’re human. We change. Our monkey minds bounce constantly from one desire to another, especially if we happen to be a multi-passionate self-starter who values personal growth.
I don’t know even know what I’ll want to eat for dinner tomorrow, let alone what I “want” to be doing 30 years from now.
When I was 22 and hearing this question all the time (at least inside my own head), the thought of choosing the wrong answer froze the blood in my sorority girl veins.
On some level, I worried that I might doom myself to a lifetime of misery if I decided to pursue a job as a magazine editor.
I quickly learned that I couldn’t make the wrong decision—mostly because nobody has that kind of control. (For months after graduation, I tried to get a job on the NY magazine scene. It just never clicked.)
Now that I run my own business, the question is a little bit different. “What do you want to do with your business? What are your long-term goals?”
Even though everybody seems to think this ask is perfectly reasonable, my former 22-year-old self freaks out when she hears them.
Because even though I’ve grabbed the reigns of my career pretty aggressively, I still don’t know where the road will take me. I simply don’t know what connections or fortuitous meetings await me.
Despite the temptation, we can’t put off choices forever.
We need SOME way to see through the dust cloud of the future.
So if you’re desperate to pinpoint your focus (but long-term goal setting fills your brain with wet Pop Rocks), I’ve got a solution.
Two words: Future storytelling.
The less popular cousin of memoir, essay, and other schoolyard forms of reminiscing, future storytelling allows you to explore what lies ahead from the comfort of your present.
Here are 3 future storytelling exercises for you to chose from.
- Write your obituary.
Sounds morbid, I know, but this is really an exercise in defining your legacy.
- What do you want people to remember about you?
- What adjectives do you hope they will say?
- What (and who) did you prioritize, and how did you change the world?
Once you’re finished, take a few deep breaths. And maybe call your mom to tell her you love her.
- Write your newspaper profile.
I did this exercise this morning, and it was remarkably fun and easy.
So here’s what you do: Whip out your journal, pick a date many years into the future, and pretend you’re a newspaper reporter writing an article profiling your future self.
Write about your noteworthy professional accomplishments and how you spend your days. You can even throw in a quote or two if the mood strikes.
Start off by writing: [Your name] was honored today…
Then relax and see where your creative mind takes you.
- Write your happy ending.
I swiped this one from Seth Godin, who writes:
With disappointment, I note that our culture doesn’t have an easily found word for the opposite. For experiencing success in advance. For visualizing the best possible outcomes before they happen.
Will your book get a great testimonial? Write it out. Will your talk move someone in the audience to change and to let you know about it? What did they say? Will this new product gain shelf space at the local market? Take a picture.
Writing yourself fan mail in advance and picturing the change you’ve announced you’re trying to make is an effective way to push yourself to build something that actually generates that action.
So think of one task you promised to accomplish this week. Maybe it was offering a suite of clarity calls, or clicking ‘send’ on your latest newsletter, or just making dinner for friends on Thursday. Whatever it is, write out a piece of fan mail. Make sure that Facebook stranger, subscriber, or friend sings your praises…and you allow yourself to believe them. 🙂
As with all creative writing exercises, please remember there are no wrong answers.
The worst you’ll suffer if you actually sit down and write one is a burst of inspiration and refueled sense of purpose.