A couple weeks ago I wrote about reflecting on life a year ago and reflecting on how life has changed since graduating college. Today I want to continue with that theme and talk about not knowing what you want.
The fact of the matter is that most young people have no idea what they want out of life. Sure, there are some exceptions. Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder knew at a young age that he wanted to play in the NBA. He worked on his game constantly from a young age. The same could be said of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and other top athletes. There are also kids who know that they want to be doctors when they grow up. They decide early on and work through school to get into the right schools, get top grades, and do what it takes to graduate med school.
These kids are the exceptions. For most of us, we aren’t exactly sure what we want. We may have ideas that we want to travel, help people, or make money, but aren’t exactly sure how.
I have talked to kids about to graduate or parents of kids graduating from college in a few weeks, and when I ask them what they want to do after, the answer is usually “I don’t know.” While this answer usually is a cause of anxiety, it’s also completely normal.
It’s a very confusing situation, especially post college. As I wrote earlier, as a student you pretty much had life planned out. You went from elementary school to middle school to high school, where you worked to get into the right college. The main focus of your life is being a student. After graduation, not so clear.
It’s something I have struggled with the last few months. It’s been weird not having a set path or goal I’m working toward. While I am working in banking, I’m not sure if it’s going to be a lifelong profession. I want a lot out of life; just take a look at my Unlimited List. I want to experience as much of life as possible.
But there is no clear path. My life could go any number of directions, and I don’t know how things will turn out. I am conflicted between a number of different pursuits and passions. People tell you that when you are young and just starting out the possibilities are endless. It’s true. You do have your entire life in front of you. You can set off on whatever path you want. But while the possibilities are endless, problems arise. With so many possibilities, which one(s) do you pick?
There’s not an easy answer.
It is easy to become paralyzed by the choices. There are so many opportunities that you endlessly debate the pros and cons of each. As a result, you remain in the same place, unwilling to commit to one path because the alternatives sounds amazing as well.
The important thing is to not let life or others make decisions for you. This is precisely what happens when you become paralyzed by the opportunities. At this point, you have two options: to either control your future or let outside forces control it for you. You can either make a conscious decision for yourself or continue to go with the flow and let life take you where it may.
Now, the question in your head probably is along the lines of “how can I control my future if I don’t know what I want?”
The answer? Pick something and go with it.
This is where that list of ideas and possibilities we mentioned earlier comes in. There are all these awesome ideas, possibly too many, and they all sound good. You could pursue directing movies, sail around the world, work for a non profit overseas, go into firefighting, start your own company, or become a coach. These ideas all sound compelling, but there isn’t “The One.” These all rank about equally and you can’t decide. Again, you have two options: make a decision or let life make it for you.
Pick one and go with it. You may pick wrong. The beauty is that if you hate it, change course. Try as much as possible. If coaching doesn’t work, go work overseas for a year. You hate that? Start a company with a friend. Continue to keep trying new things and find what you are passionate about.
I saw this first hand with my dad. He passionately pursued coaching for over 20 years. He coached all over the place, taking positions at Idaho State, Cal Poly SLO, Westmont, and finally head coach at Concordia in Irvine. He loved his job for a long time, but ended up deciding that he wanted to break into the business world. So in 2001, right around 9/11 (a bad time for the economy) with a wife and three kids, a house and two cars, he switched careers. Oh yeah, he also didn’t have any previous business experience or training. Risky to say the least. But it has worked out phenomenally. It wasn’t easy starting out, but if you ask my dad now he will definitely say it was worth it.
Your opportunities are significantly greater if, like me, you are young and have little to no commitments. I have freedom to pursue whatever I want so long as I pay my student loan each month and have food on the table and a place to sleep. I don’t have a house to make payments on or a family to support.
Picking from your list is better than the alternative: remaining in limbo, probably working at a job you don’t enjoy, contemplating what you should pursue while simultaneously doing nothing. Action is better than sitting. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”