What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do


We’ve all been there – you know you’re fed up, know you’d be happier somewhere else, but you just don’t really know what that “something else” looks like, where to start or how to get off the hamster wheel of your current commitments.

I was always strangely jealous of people who knew from a young age that they wanted to be something specific. A doctor, architect, vet, police officer, accountant. It isn’t easy or quick to become those things, but it somehow seems straightforward – there is clear path to follow, exams to pass and career hurdles to overcome. Fewer options and a more defined goal.

What if you’re in the majority, though, and don’t really know what to do?

Personally, I think there are two main ways to tackle this - based on my own experiences as well as working with lots of people in this exact quandary. One a change of mindset, the other a change of action. Let’s use the thread of a Paul Weller song to illustrate the point:

“I’m the changing man

Built on shifting sands”

Firstly, a fundamental realisation that everyone is making it up as they go along in life. Some more obviously than others, but I challenge you to find anyone who set a life/career plan at 18 and never found they had to alter their course, react to unexpected events, think on their feet and constantly evolve – whether they realised it or not. Things change. They always will – you might not control that, but you can control how you react to changes.

“And the more I see, the more I know

The more I know, the less I understand”

Everything you do has a value and becomes experience you can harness – it might simply be deciding never to do it again, but you’ve still closed a chapter and gained an insight.

“What I can't be today, I can be tomorrow”

Which leads onto the practical action. Yes, the amount of career options and flexibility of working patterns now available can be overwhelming, but it also means that you don’t have to resign yourself to being stuck or unhappy.

Flip your search for a job/role/industry on its head. Forget looking blankly at the big jobsites online waiting for an advert that pretty much names you to pop up – it won’t. All that’ll happen here is feeling frustrated and demoralised. Instead, work backwards from how you want your life to look, with your work as merely one component.

What are the 3 things that are non-negotiable in your life? Could be having weekends free with your family or to play cricket. Could be no more commuting on Southern Rail. Being your own boss. Travelling overseas (or not). Write them down. Now, what are the things that you’d like to have but could be negotiated? Write a few of these down.

Gradually, you start to build a picture of what a week/month/year in your life looks like, and a lot of jobs won’t fit into this picture. Which is good, because the fewer targets you now have, the more energy you can dedicate to hunting them down. The more you’ll feel motivated that there is a role for you. The better you’ll perform in any selection process or interview. The more chance you’ll have of finding something that you actually want to do...

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