What Should I Do With My Life?

What do you want to do with your life?

What do you want to do with your life?

Lifestyle design is a huge idea. It is about taking control of our lives and creating the future we want. Unfortunately, opportunists have distorted that idea into a ‘work as little as possible and live for the moment’ philosophy. Po Bronson, frames the issue in a better light. He asked, “What should I do with my life?” in his book of the same title.

Bronson wrote an article in FastCompany magazine when the book was released, and he recently followed up the question again with another article titled, “What should I do with my life now?” The book and articles delve into the heart of what lifestyle design is and isn’t. These are all issues that many of us have been contemplating so I would like to offer some of my own perspectives. I started this discussion on the LocationIndependent forum, but I would like to bring it back to my blog to bring all the ideas together.

Myth 1: People are the architects of their own change.
Reality: Most are pushed into it.

Ideally, we all want to be in control of our own future and follow paths of our own choosing. However, all of us are products of our environment whether we acknowledge it or not. Malcolm Gladwell covers the topic in great detail in his book Outliers.  Gladwell cited many examples like hockey players born early in the year have an advantage because they are bigger than the other players. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both had huge exposure to computers, allowing them to dominate their fields. Or why Jewish lawyers had an advantage in the age of hostile takeovers precisely because they were previously discriminated against. People tend to find their callings by accident and by a lot of trial and error.

It is much easier to choose a new career when you lose your job. Going back to school makes much more sense if you can’t find employment. Everyone becomes consultants and entrepreneurs when they can’t find decent work. It is easy for a white twenty-something male in a rich country with relatively well-off parents to decide to travel the world. But where is the lifestyle design for the slum children of Mumbai?

When I first came to Japan 12 years ago, I only had $1000 to my name and a string of business start up failures. I bought a plane ticket and a week later arrived in Japan with no job, work visa or any plans. It was a very easy decision to make, because in my mind I had no choice but to restart my life. Now I am married, have a house and car, a business, too many possessions and I am almost 40. My decision to uproot takes a lot more effort and planning. Still possible of course, but I am definitely affected by my circumstances.

Myth 2: All it takes is passion.
Reality: That myth is selling a fantasy.

There are three problems with passion. First, not everything you are passionate about can or should make you money. You may be the greatest television watcher in history with thousands of hours of practice, but it is unlikely you are going to make a living doing that. I like running, eating, drinking, traveling and sleeping but I don’t think there are many well paying opportunities in those areas.

Secondly, passion is not enough. You also have to show up and do the work. I am passionate about playing guitar. I play almost everyday. However, I only play for about an hour or so. Even famous musicians practice for several hours a day and the greats at the top of their field probably play somewhere between 6 to 10 hours a day. Genius doesn’t happen by accident. It is a lot of hard work and I simple haven’t paid my dues.

Thirdly, If you really had a passion for something, you would already be doing it. Most people confuse a vague wish with a passion. I wish I were a rich rock star traveling the world in a private jet, but the reality is that I have never had the dedication to practice and rehearse for several hours everyday. My fantasy of becoming a rock star is not passion, if it were I would have worked much harder at it.

Myth 3: Your dream job has no sucky parts.
Reality: All jobs have things you hate about them.

Even rock stars get sick of playing the same set in another city and yet another crowd. Every job gets monotonous and will have components that you despise. People dream of finding that one dream occupation where everything will be interesting and fun. Those jobs don’t exist. Stop whining and do the job you have now to the absolute best of your ability. Find happiness in doing excellent work, regardless of the job. That very effort will get you noticed and create the opportunities to do better things in life.

Myth 4: You’ll love the job for the job.
Reality: We do things for various purposes, generally not for the love of the work.

Musicians don’t love practicing five hours a day. That is not fun. The reward can come in a variety of ways. Some may like the paycheck. Many like the women. Some may like the attention and prestige. Others work hard for the brief moment when a song comes together beautifully and the band plays it very tightly.  Sometimes the satisfaction from one brief moment makes up for all the sacrifice. We all have different reasons for putting in the hours. The actual work itself is not always that enjoyable.

Myth 5: There is the “one.”
Reality: We all have many career choices which could provide happiness.

Most people spend their lives jumping around from one career to the next searching for the perfect position that will provide ever-lasting happiness. We all have tens of careers we could choose, all of which could provide an equivalent level of “happiness,” however you may measure that. Any choice we make will have its up and downs. There is no one thing that we are most suited to in life. However, we must choose to focus on only one thing if we are to be great at it. Stop searching and commit to one of your dreams.

I would love to go back to school. I enjoy graphic design and animating. Playing guitar is fantastic. I have been working on a couple of books for years. Blah, blah, blah. I could be happy with any one of those, but I have spent my life dreaming that I could accomplish them all. Guess what? None of my dreams has really been accomplished to a high level, largely because I continue to work on all of them at once.

Myth 6: You don’t know what you want.
Reality: We all want fulfillment, connection, responsibility and some excitement. How is hard, not the what.

We are all faced with such an overwhelming array of career choices that it can be impossible to decide on just one. Should I do this or should I do that? What if that doesn’t succeed? What if I made the wrong choice? There are many career directions that can provide satisfaction. Stop second guessing yourself and just commit to the choice you have made. Give your choice all of your energy for at least a couple of years. If it is still not working out then change, but make sure you have tried your best.

Spend more time enjoying the process of getting better and less time imagining some other occupation that may or may not bring you more happiness. Bust your ass to improve at everything you do. Challenge yourself to try a little better and work a little harder. What you do with your life is not about the career choice you make. Real success and happiness are the result of how hard you try each and every day regardless of your occupation. Constantly strive to do better things and quit your dead end jobs if you can, but make sure you are putting in 110% into every day and many of your anxieties will start to take care of themselves.

Lifestyle design is not a fad or instant solution to solve all of your problems. It is a quest to find something that that will provide meaning in your life. Stop chasing the get rich quick and retire early scams. Fulfillment only comes from trying to get better at something. The only way to be great is to focus on one thing.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

One Response to What Should I Do With My Life?

  1. Ken says:

    I think that some of the requirements for any kind of fulfilling work are that it challenges you, that you learn while doing it and/or improve your skill, that you can express your creative abilities. If you can find work that accomplishes all that then I believe you’ll be happy in your work.

    I think that many people will have multiple careers (not just flitting from job to job – that’s not a career, just working). As they find that they aren’t being challenged or learning it may occur to them that it’s time to find something new to do. The trick there is how to make the transition to a relative novice in a new field from expert in an existing one. That’s the hard part.

    I think essentially what I’m saying is that work should be like play was when you were young (only paying better).

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