You were born with everything you need to do great work and live a meaningful life. It’s all there, inside you, waiting to be discovered and expressed in your life and career. The first big challenge is to clearly see what you are made of. Then you can know what you are made to do.
You have innate strengths, passions, and a unique personality that design you for a specific type of work.
- Your strengths have built you to do certain activities well, with ease.
- Your passions have programmed you to love some things with endless fascination and staying power.
- Your personality has shaped you to thrive in certain environments.
Your true path aligns your strengths, passions, and personality, allowing you to do what you are.
You don’t have to try to be anyone or anything but yourself. You are perfectly made, just the way that you are, for a path that your life is trying to reveal to you – that we will soon discover. Your path is simply an expression of who you are. To find your path, you first need to reconnect to who you are.
Five Key Steps to Discovering What to do With Your Life
Step 1 – Let Go Of What You’re Supposed To Do
In order to discover who you really are and find your true path, you need to let go of everyone else’s expectations of what you should do. Other people’s ideas about what you should do pull you away from who you are toward their idea of who you are supposed to be. Listening to what you “should” be doing with your life gets in the way of you listing to your inner voice telling you what you are meant to do. When you try to meet other people’s expectations, you end up living their life not yours.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
– Steve Jobs
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We all get bombarded by messages about what we “should” be doing from our parents, partner, family and friends, and the culture we live in. We unconsciously internalize these messages that then begin to influence our decisions, pushing us away from what we intrinsically want for ourselves and onto a path that isn’t of our own choosing. The first step in finding a path that fits you is to identify and peel away the layers of external influence to give yourself access to your own wisdom.
Imagine this… What would happen if you tried to grow a Redwood tree in a clay pot? Could it ever reach its full potential? No way. It would be strangled by the small clay pot. The ideas you have about what you “should” do with your life are constraining like a clay pot would constrain a Redwood tree. Just like the Redwood tree, you are never going to grow into your full beauty until you are free of the constraint from trying to live out other people’s expectations.
What are all the things you’ve been told you should be doing with your life? Make a list. For added impact, write down all the influential people in your life and what you think each person thinks you should be doing. For example:
Dad: “You should make financially wise decisions. You should be the best at what you do. You should be a good man. You should take your career seriously and not stray from the path you choose. You should work hard. You shouldn’t get sidetracked by following your passions.”
Other family members:
Step 2 – Discover who you are
Your first real job in life is to discover what you’re made of. Then you can discover what you’re made to do.
Discovering your innate strengths, passions, and personality give you an invaluable understanding of what you’re good at, what you love, and what you need in order to thrive.
Your innate strengths are your superpower. They are your innate brilliance – the things that you already know how to do, that you can use to contribute real value and have a meaningful impact. It opens the door for you to be wildly successful and deeply fulfilled.
Your passions are what make you feel alive and energized. Doing something you are passionate about brings inherent fulfillment and endless motivation to engage in whatever it is you are passionate about so that you can develop mastery.
You don’t have to be wildly in love with something in order to consider it a passion. When I say “passions” I mean the things that excite you, interest you, inspire you, energize you, or even just pique your curiosity.
I know you might be thinking, “I don’t have any passions!” Not to worry… All you need to find your path is an interest or curiosity and a willingness to explore because that interest can develop into a passion over time.
If you don’t know what your strengths and passions are, read this article that includes guided activities about how to discover your strengths and passions.
Discovering your personality type gives you valuable insight about what you need to thrive and what types of tasks and environments best suit your authentic way of being.
Step 3 – Be courageously yourself
Your best life comes from living your truth. So… Be yourself. Follow your passions. Do the things that you genuinely want to do. Dream big and go for what you want — even if you don’t make it all the way there, you’ll lead a rich and rewarding life, and you’ll be happier and more successful than if you had limited yourself to what you thought you could easily achieve.
This all takes courage. It’s scary to go break out of the mundane comfortable routines and go for our dreams. It takes work and a willingness to be uncomfortable. The hardest part is getting started. To overcome the inertia of motivating yourself to get started and stick with something for long enough to develop some flow, it can help to enroll in a class or work with a coach or expert. For example, if you are passionate about design, take a class or enroll in a UX Design bootcamp. If you are passionate about nutrition, hire a nutritionist or health coach.
You aren’t going to live your best life by internally knowing who you are and sitting on your couch. You have to get out into the world and be who you are and engage with your passions in order to realize your potential. Action is required. Do anything to engage your passions and gifts is better than waiting to figure out the perfect action to take. There is no one perfect action that will catapult you into your dream job or dream life. Do anything and everything you can to be true to who you are. You’ll be rewarded with the fulfillment that comes from doing things you love and by the relationships you’ll inevitably build with people who have shared passions.
Step 4 – Find your calling
The centerpiece of figuring out what to do with your life is finding your calling. Not just a job but a true calling that will bring meaning, purpose, and financial freedom to your life.
Your gifts, passions, and personality are the inner compass that you can use to find your calling. Here’s the formula:
Gifts + Passions + Personality = True Calling
Your career (hopefully a “calling” not just a “career”) is meant to be an expression of your gifts, passions, and personality. The right career weaves all of these core parts together, enabling you to do what you’re good at, and what you love, in your own authentic way.
You’re probably wondering how to generate career ideas based on your gifts, passions, and personality? You probably already have a few ideas based on your own knowledge of career ideas. Challenge yourself to dream bigger and imagine any and all possible career ideas even if they sound improbable. Sometimes those wild ideas contain the seed of something more practical that can lead you to your true calling.
…you could ask ChatGPT, “What careers are a good fit for a strategic thinker who is passionate about the environment?” Then research the careers that are most interesting and start doing informational interviews with people doing inspiring work. Informational interviews are the most effective way to discover what a career is really like and how to break into that field.
Keep in mind that the most successful people in any field are experts in a specific niche. They don’t blindly follow their passions, they figure out where their gifts and passions meet a genuine need in the world.
Step 5 – Keep growing
Creating a passionate life and meaningful career isn’t easy. Like any big challenge, there are setbacks and stuck places and years of work required.
Success takes sustained effort. It doesn’t happen overnight. How do you get there?
Build grit and a growth mindset — two qualities that will help you succeed in anything you choose to do.
Grit is a term coined by Angela Duckworth that she defines as a combination of passion and persistence toward long-term goals. It’s what helps you stick with something long enough to get good at it and feel confident in your ability to do it well.
Angela’s research shows that grit is the most important predictor of success in any field from athletics to corporate sales. She calls grit, “the hallmark of high achievers in any domain.”
This means that you if you are willing to put in the effort, you can achieve greatness or at least make a living doing something you love.
A Growth Mindset Helps You Succeed
Cultivating a growth mindset can help you succeed in your new career, live a happier life, and make it through life’s inevitable challenges.
A growth mindset is the belief that your basic qualities are things that can be grown through your effort and intention. You’re intelligence and abilities are not fixed. You can learn new things—like the skills and subject matter of a new career—to become a researcher, programmer, recruiter, salesperson, data analyst, grant writer, occupational therapist, or [_________].
Neuroscience has now proven that our brains are plastic and can be changed with effort and intention. While we are all different in our inherent talents and aptitudes, interests, and personalities, we are all able to grow and change.
Growth mindset is a term coined by Carol Dweck who also wrote a great book, “Mindset” on the subject.
How do you cultivate a growth mindset?
- Embrace challenges
- See effort as the path to mastery
- Persist in the face of challenges
- Learn from criticism
- Find inspiration and lessons in the success of other people
For example, Let’s say you start a business and after a couple years of blood, sweat, and tears, it fails. If you see it through a growth mindset, it is a fantastically challenging learning experience. You feel the disappointment, harvest the lessons, and embrace the challenge of what to do next with newfound wisdom and experience.
If you see it through a fixed mindset you say, “I’m a failure.” You attach it to your identity and think of yourself as a failure. Obviously, that’s going to decrease your confidence and make it harder for you to launch a new career.
Think about the difference between these two statements: “I am a failure” vs “The business failed.”
“I am a failure” isn’t even true. If that were the case, Richard Branson would be a failure because he’s had multiple businesses that failed.
A more true statement from a growth mindset is, “I’m becoming a better business owner.”
Final Thoughts: No one can do it alone
Building meaningful relationships in life and work is essential to living your best life and doing great work. No one can do it alone and even if we could, we’d be lonely and depressed without loving and supportive relationships. It’s true that your network is your net worth and people hold the key to opportunity. But I think it’s more true that the deepest fulfillment in life comes from loving and being loved, and being around people who inspire and delight you. And the very best way to build those relationships is by being authentic and doing what you love and being good to the people you meet along the way.