Scott H Young

What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?


What do you want to do with your life? It’s a question almost everyone asks themselves. It’s also a question I don’t believe you should bother asking in the first place.

“I don’t know what I want to do in life, all I know is that it isn’t this.”

That was the sentiment a friend reflected to me. She’s in her mid-twenties, smart, savvy and hard working. But she is still stuck working jobs that don’t hover much beyond minimum wage. Every year, she tells me, that she applies for Universities, but never goes through with it. Why? Because she can’t answer that question.

Passion Evolves

I worry a lot of people fall into the same trap. The trap of believing that they need to make big life decisions before they can start doing anything. The trap that you need to be born with a passion. And the lie that being able to combine your interests with a profession is easy.

When people ask me what I’m going to be doing in five or ten years, I usually tell them I’m going to be an entrepreneur. “Oh. What’s your business going to be?” I have reason to believe this internet business could be it. Between revenues and freelance work I’m expecting to make about ten thousand dollars this year. Concentrated effort for the next four or five years could definitely make this a livable income.

But I don’t usually say that. Because it isn’t the point. In all honesty, I have no idea where I am going to be in a decade. My track record shows that my passions have evolved considerably, even over the last couple years.

Ben Casnocha, the 19-year old CEO of Comcate, shows how his passion didn’t start with a flash of insight, in the book My Start Up Life:

“It didn’t start with a dream. It didn’t start with in a garage. It didn’t even start with an innovative epiphany, which are perhaps entrepreneurs’ most overplayed recollections.” He continues, relating the story of Jerry Kaplan’s epiphany moment in Kaplan’s book, Start Up. To which Ben adds, “I wish my epiphany were as primal. It wasn’t, and most aren’t.” [emphasis mine]

As Ben shares his story of being a teenage CEO, it becomes clear that his passion evolved. There were interests in entrepreneurship and making a difference. But from these interests, he made smaller steps, each building a passion. I don’t believe his journey ever started with deciding what he wanted to do with his life.

Replace Decision with Curiosity

Instead of making definite decisions about a career path, I believe you should get curious. Get curious about the way the world works. Notice your own interests and find small ways you can exercise passion in something. Even if you can’t find a way to make money off of it yet.

The bridge from passion to money-maker can’t be made hastily. Interests often get discarded because they cannot be immediately relayed into a source of income. And therefore aren’t as important as work that does.

Blogging is a great example. I know many bloggers who want to go pro. They want to take the interest they have and turn it into a passionate source of income. But blogging isn’t easy. Even the most rapid successes I’ve seen, took over a year before the author could claim blogging as more than a hobby. And those were due to writing talent, luck and an incredible amount of work.

Patience is a necessary ingredient in evolving a passion. But even more, you need to be open to other possibilities.

Interest to Income Isn’t a Straight Path

80% of new businesses fail in the first five years. But more interesting, is that of the 20% that succeeded, most didn’t do so in the way they had expected to.

Before setting up his immensely popular website, Steve Pavlina believed he would make most his revenue through products and workshops. But close to five years later, he makes all of it from advertising and affiliate sales. A revenue prospect he downplayed when making his business plan.

Similarly, I don’t believe that most people’s passions follow a straight path. Scott Adams began with a degree in economics and a position in a bank and now he is the successful cartoonist who created Dilbert.

Seven Steps to Evolving a Passion… and Making it Work

Step One – Gather Sparks of Curiosity

Don’t have an inferno of passion driving your actions yet? Don’t worry about it. Most people I know don’t. And if you are under thirty, you are probably in the overwhelming majority.

The first steps is to simply invest your energy into whims. Those little sparks of interest where you don’t know enough to make them a passion. Ben Casnocha calls this seeking randomness. For me, it has been a process of finding my intuition and using it to make small investments in things that are potentially interesting.

This means reading different books, taking on different activities and meeting different people. Broad associations gives a lot of chances to stumble on a passion that can work.

Step Two: Fan the Flames of Interest

After exposing yourself to a lot of randomness, you need to cultivate the successes. Build upon the little sparks of interest that come by your life. If you read a book about physics and like the subject, try taking a physics class. If you enjoy some basic programming try a small software project.

Step Three: Cut Out Distractions

Cultivating whims and exploring new passions requires time. One of the reasons I’ve placed such an emphasis on productivity with myself, is that without it I couldn’t explore these options.

If your interests are genuine and worth exploring, it shouldn’t be too difficult to eliminate the non-essentials. Distractions such as television, excess internet usage and video games only take a bit of conditioning to free up. The hard part is reallocating time you don’t believe is yours.

Step Four: Living Minimally

If you already have a job you aren’t passionate about, work only as much as you need to keep going. Valid passions need time to grow into income generating skills.

I don’t suggest becoming a starving artist and racking up huge debts. But avoid expanding your life to fit a bigger and bigger paycheck if you aren’t living your passion. Otherwise you simply trap yourself into a life that is comfortable, but otherwise dead.

Leo Babauta, author of ZenHabits is a great example of this. With six kids, freelancing work and another job to help support his family he found ways to cut expenses and focus on his passion. His website has quickly grown to become incredibly popular, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a stable source of income for him in a few years. Live minimally, and avoid getting trapped into a comfortable, but unsatisfying, life.

Step Five: Make a Passion that Creates Value

If you have a skill that creates social value, you can make money through almost any medium. Monetizing a passion takes skill, as any entrepreneur can tell you, but without providing legitimate value it is impossible.

You need to transform your developing passions into a skill that can fill human needs. Some passions are easy to translate. An interest in computers could allow you to become a software designer. Others are more difficult. A passion for poetry, may be more difficult to meet a specific human need.

Step Six: Find a Way to Monetize That Value

Once you have the ability to create social value, you need to turn that into a repeatable process for gaining income. This could be in the form of a job. As a programmer you could get hired by Google. Or, it could lead to becoming a freelancer or an entrepreneur.

Monetizing value isn’t easy. It requires that you learn how to market, sell yourself, and find ways to connect human needs. Whether you intend to work in a job or own a business makes no difference. You are the CEO of your life, so you need to know how to connect your passions with serving other people.

Step Seven: Go Back to Step One

Describing this process in steps is misleading. It implies that there is a destination. There is no destination. The process of following whims, cultivating passions, turning them into valuable skills and then finally earning revenue from them is lifelong. I have some passions that are in steps one and two. This blog is in the midst of step six. In ten years I may have gone through them all with a completely different passion.

Not all your passions will or can finish the sixth step. But as persistent as the myth you need to decide what you want to do with your life, is the myth you can only have one passion. I’m at a point where cultivating passions has meant I have too many options. Too many possible paths that could lead to enjoyable and fulfilling careers. Don’t obsess over one failed attempt.

What do you want to do with your life?

Your life doesn’t need to go through a predictable story arc. It doesn’t have to start with a dream, follow through hard work and end up in a nice home with four bedrooms. Instead it can twist and travel. You don’t have to know the final answer, you just need to act on the next step.

This article is also available in Italian, thanks to Paolo Marintano!


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135 Responses to “What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?”

  1. kanika says:

    Hey,

    I just came across your website today, while feeling somewhat confused about where my life was heading.

    Like many of your other posters, I really enjoyed this and am so thankful that you posted on this subject!

    I thought you did a great job of setting steps, and then bringing it back and illustrating that really, figuring out your passions doesn’t happen in steps :)

    I’m excited!! I’ve been looking at life as if its between point a and point b… when really there are so many dimensions apart of the picture I haven’t even begun to touch….

    Thanks Again.

  2. [...] focus, ervoor gaan en het gewoon doen.) Het interessante is dat bijvoorbeeld Leo van Zen Habits en Scott Young ‘het geld verdienen met je passie’ als integraal onderdeel van zo’n visie zien. [...]

  3. Ram says:

    Dude, this is cool. It makes a lot of sense when you say that one need not have just one passion in life. I really like this perspective of yours. It will be really easy if one could focus on the next step instead of worrying about what would happen 5 years hence, or 10.

  4. [...] I do question whether it is wise to spend a lot of time daydreaming about your passion. For most cases, I believe, being interested [...]

  5. Great post Scott! Having discovered some of my passions over the years, your list truly does reflect how the process works. People need to dabble and find things that interest them. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with time, passions are found. I’m at the point of trying to develop and monetize my passions. Hopefully I’ll become a success story like you!

  6. Stephanie says:

    Dear Scott,
    I am so grateful just reading that tid-bit of information/tips on how to jump-start your life! Thank-you so much, you seem like such an amazing guy/professional. :-)

  7. Bill H. says:

    You make a lot of sense about life and following one’s bliss. Passion is the key in unlocking the soul’s mystery. I find that the body, mind and spirit all have to work together. I’m on a path and hoping to continue getting all three in harmony in discovering my passions.
    Thanks Scott for your valuable insights…

  8. Amy says:

    We will do a lot of different things in our lives, thats why I think more esoteric goals are important – loving more, living life fully, finding joy. Cause when it comes down to it, these are the most important things.

    Because… It really doesn’t matter what you do, it matters who you are while you are doing it.

  9. Aarti says:

    All this is great! How do I find out what are my interests???

    I’m interested in creative art/ work…I can’t draw or paint to save my life…any scope for me???

  10. chene says:

    Hi Scott, I have found your website to be truly helpful. I work from home, have been battling emotionally, have warped beliefs, feel like I’ve lost my social skills and hey presto, I stumbled across your website! Thank you for sharing your battles and for mastering ways to overcome them and then passing it on to those who need guidance.

    Can you recommend your most helpful book in my situation? I have two kids, am a single mom, type court cases from home, my car has just been taken, my boyfriend lives with me but doesn’t provide for us in any way despite the fact that he earns triple my salary, eats here every night and goes out with his friends and leaves me at home. Of course I don’t approve and when I say so, he leaves, sometimes for weeks. He says I don’t trust him and that’s why he’s not fully committed. I’m not sure at this stage whether it’s my belief system or his bad behaviour. I feel I’m being rocked to the core. I am starting to make friends (one so far) so that I can move forward but I have become so shy and my confidence is shattered. I used to be very popular at school, did well and was very ambitious when I left school 15 years ago. My life is nothing what I expected it to be and somewhere deep down, I’m still the same person with the same passion and drive but along the way I lost all belief in myself. How do I get back on my horse and show myself what I’m made of? I value your input and I will put your advice to good use but I would really like to buy a book so I can refer to it at my convenience. (Can’t very well carry my computer around everytime I need your advice!) :)

    South Africa

  11. Scott Young says:

    Chene,

    There are too many to mention, I’m not sure what you would find most useful. For accepting things, The Power of Now is a good read for the basics of finding inner peace.

    -Scott

  12. lisa says:

    Hi Scott,
    I have always been thinking for the past 1 year, what I want to do with my life.
    being in my mid-twenties, my career path took off in a diff state prior after my graduation. I didn’t know if this is what I want to do with my life.
    But you opened up my eyes about having passions. I am an outgoing person and full of energy. However, deep within me, I am seeking for something outside my own bubble to change my life and others.

    I will slowly learn to cultivate my talent and my passion. Well done Scott!

  13. chene says:

    Hey, thanks a lot for the response. I read your e-book and a few of your other articles and I think there are a lot of us in a place of restlessness. Technology has boosted, life has changed drastically over the years but no one has really had the chance to adjust. Appreciated skill is a thing of the past but the human mind will always be a fantastically powerful thing and can take you anywhere you want to go, guide you to be anything you want to be, do or have. It’s people like you who wake us up and give us the tools to use to make the most of our lives and situations so thanks a lot, Scott :)

  14. Rob says:

    Hi Scott,

    how do you know if something is your real long term passion? Or just a ‘test out’ ? I have been doing a lot of different things last 10 years. I am 22 now. And I rarely stick to something. Should I keep looking for new interests or invest in something that no longer interests me in order to make it long lasting and fulfilling after hard work? With the purpose of regaining interest after working on it for so long? Or does that never happen ?

    Appreciate any feedback ,

    Rob

  15. Scott Young says:

    Rob,

    My feeling is passions are built, interests are discovered. So there is no such thing as a “true” lifelong passion that you just stumble upon, that can only come after years of dedicated work within it.

    -Scott

  16. Rob says:

    Thank you for the quick reply Scott.

    So basically a passion will only develop once an individual maintains interest in a subject for a prolonged amount of time. And this can only happen if the person likes what he is doing.

  17. Scott Young says:

    Rob,

    That’s my general feeling. Passions aren’t tripped upon, but slowly constructed. We have natural tendencies towards certain areas, but that’s it.

    -Scott

  18. Andy says:

    Scott,

    I just ran across your blog and this article spoke to me, particularly because I’ve been struggling with what to do with my life and I’m 28 years old.

    “Interests often get discarded because they cannot be immediately relayed into a source of income. And therefore aren’t as important as work that does”.

    You are right on the money, Scott. I’ve been ignoring my interests because they cannot provide me with a source of income, at least not anytime soon, and instead, I’m focusing on meaningless work that provides me with stability and income. I need to see where my interests take me and develop PATIENCE. I think I just had an ephipany! Thanks Scott.

  19. Sammy says:

    Hey Scott,

    Good advice! I knew I shouldn’t have been sweating the small stuff. (LOL)

    Chene, I know its none of my business but I really do think you should dump your boyfriend because no woman should have to deal with a jerk like that. I also heard of a professor who said that he overcame his self-esteem and confidence issues by waiting tables at a bar/restaurant. I know it sounds bizarre, but he said that dealing with so many people made him realize that he was a likable, friendly person who got on great with people.

  20. Balaton says:

    this is a great artikel! I have found your website to be truly helpful.

  21. Gina says:

    I came across this article today and I am so grateful for finding it. Your advice is the most encouraging and insightful advice I have found and that I needed one hundred percent right now.

    I cannot begin to express just how fantastic this article is and how extremely important it was that I did find this right now. THANK YOU.

  22. drew says:

    came upon this aricle wasted. and its put my life into perspective a bit better.

    i know i got to sober up and take life by the horns. but i really like doing that wasted.. anyways i think my problem may have negative benefits for me. i realize that i should be following my passions. i sorta am, in a lot of ways. i’m a guitar player, in a band – we play around town, kind of great – i’m a great furniture installer(drapes), i also work at a respectable hotel.. unfortunate events have left me some what homeless but my tent and i are happy together, yeah we talk. anways this article was cool.. i think i’m smarter than all this, but i’m stupid at the moment.

  23. Rob says:

    As a Developmental Psychologist, children very early on have interests and things they like to do. Often with formal education they are indoctrinated to believe they need to pursue a certain path or their parents may be concerned that they “make a living”. Of course people grow into their life choices – you have to grow up and have life experiences to know what’s important. Some kids are fortunate to have parents and mentors that assist in this path. I find a lot of people haven’t had the opportunities to see what their abilities are – and sitting in front of TV watching other people’s lives doesn’t help people find their own abilities. So take a risk – go out and try as many safe life choices as you can.

  24. [...] What Do You Want to Do With Your Life Posted: November 1, 2010 by timczech in Uncategorized 0 What do you want to do with your life? [...]

  25. Ahmed says:

    Please check grammatical error here “if you have a skill that has creates social value..”

  26. Mohammed says:

    I really like the phrase “you are the CEO of your life”. No one will take care of us if we don’t, no one will help and support us to do what we like, we have to search by testing things and getting more knowledge and follow our passion (and sometimes our boss) on what we want to do.

  27. Sam says:

    its all bull

  28. Angel Mata says:

    Scott,

    I love this! Really Great… -Angel Mata

  29. Fernando says:

    Great info. I too am at a point where I think I’ve wasted much of my life and have no passion for anything. I’m 28 and had a lot of trouble with depression and pills. I just started getting in touch with my real desires. This is a great set of ideas and steps. Thanks!!

  30. [...] Young has two blog posts about this very subject here and here where he states: Don’t expect inspiration to hit you across the face. [...]

  31. [...] What Do You Want to Do With Your Life? « Scott H Young. Share and Enjoy: [...]

  32. Nathan says:

    My only passion for the past two years has been to 1. Marry my girlfriend (now fiancé) and 2. Make my parents happy by getting a college degree. Any advice for a hopeless future like mine? I can’t really monetize having sex with my wife once we’re married :P

  33. Gopal Mishra says:

    Very helpful post . Your ideas are very good and fresh. I am following my passion of providing quality Hindi content on web, but i am yet to find a way to monetize it. :)

  34. Great post Scott!

    I’m going to have my son read it. I couldn’t have said it better. When I was growing up, we were all trained to live a cookie-cutter life… This concept hurt a lot of people who a different idea about how to live their lives! I hope that these days, people continue to exercise flexibility and intuition when discovering their passions an interests!

    Thanks! Vlad

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  36. thebeats says:

    but what if I dont know what to try??
    the few nuggets of ideas I have cost money e.g to move, try a new job etc etc and I have no money, and also none of the ideas are really sticking out.
    and I have a family that just wants to see immediate success and no struggles, failures, or trying…??
    what then?
    I mean it’s not anybody’s problem but mine, but the article didnt help me get any closer to what I might want to do with my life sadly.
    I wish I had an overwhelming desire and excitement to do/try something in particular (or a way to find that!!)

  37. Phoenix says:

    I still not clear what knid of life I want to have.

  38. Gunn says:

    Hi im 24 and im completly lost! i have had severe depression and anxiaty problems for a few years now and i have lost so much confidence im just to scared to try anymore. i am very creative and also very athletic but i dont know what to do? im thinking joining the forces is the only way for me now….no hope for a guy like me. thanks

  39. Lee says:

    I’ve thought about this forever, and I knew in my gutt that there’s no way I could ever answer that question about what to do with my life.

    Thanks for adding to my confidence that I’m on the right path. Note to self: follow my instincts more often!

  40. Blu says:

    Hello everyone,

    My name is Blu, I have an ability but cannot use it because I don’t believe I have it

  41. rabbiswhy says:

    tks Scott!!

    I hit an emotional stumbling block that pulled me from now and thrust me into a very negative remembrance of rejection from the past.

    Reading your article has reset my engines into the present now and squeezing enjoyment from life through my never ending curiosity bursts! lol!

  42. Martin says:

    Thank you Scott !

    Great page, very inspiring article.

    Martin

  43. [...] What Do You Want to Do With Your Life? [...]

  44. ysabet says:

    Hi Scott,

    I got something very different from this article than most of the other respondents, I think. It gave me insight into how other people function.

    Me, I’ve always had at least one driving passion – according to my parents, it first became obvious when I was around 4, when I decided to be a palaeontologist. I changed my mind when I was 6, though, and wanted to be a physicist. I had other interests throughout my childhood – ancient history, meteorology, geology, mathematics, writing, music, although strangely I was utterly uninterested in life sciences like medicine or botany.

    By the time I was in high school, I was pretty much sure I was going to be a scientist – and then along came computers. So I did my degree in Software Engineering, and that was going along fine as a career – until I got hit in the face (and everywhere else) by idiopathic hypersomnia. It causes me to never really wake up fully, unless I take medication – and it took 4 years to get a diagnosis and treatment.

    When I first became unable to work, I took up a degree in Wine Science, which I’m still pursing (on hold for the minute, though, due to travel issues). I later took up a job as a technical writer – the use of language has always been a passion of mine, and well, it didn’t challenge me technically enough to exceed my limited energy by too much. I edit without thinking about it.

    Since an international move (Australia to London), an interruption in my supply of medication, and a major resurgence of depression, however, I’ve been pretty much trapped into doing nothing at all. My passions – programming, wine, photography, writing, music, cooking, knitting – are all horribly far out of my reach, or so it feels. Passion I’ve never lacked – right now, what’s lacking is capacity to pursue any of them. Which is really depressing. Which makes it harder for me to get off the ground. Etc.

    In this kind of situation – one where I don’t lack passions, just capacity – how do I break out of it? Any ideas/advice/links would be awesome.

  45. Max says:

    Probably the most helpful “What Should I Do With My Life” type post I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot, as a soul-searching pot-smoking 21 year old. Thanks, you’ve reminded me that life indeed does not have to have a story arc, and it’s the little projects that matter.

    Cheers.

  46. Rachael says:

    Nice. I’m driving myself mad with figuring out what to do over long term. I have a job, but it’s a family one (yep, I want out). I just have no passion, or skills good enough to keep me going very long at anyone thing. Now I think I am going to be able to curb that seeking of passion and find another means to get me motivated, current, and going on thru thick and thin.

  47. Kim says:

    What a great article. I have been trying to explain this concept to so many people around me and never made a half decent effect.

    “Not getting trapped in a comfortable but unfulfilling life” and “learning how to monetize your passion” are two central concepts that I believe can help a lot of people in today’s society.

    “Not having a fixed story arc” is also a recent concept that I have come to realize and appreciate!

    Thanks for another great read!

  48. neil says:

    great post

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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