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!

  • Gita

    hi Scott,

    this article its so refreshing.
    Most people forgot it or never think about it before.
    and its a simple question with a hard and many answer.

    Thanks Scott,
    Btw, may i share it with my friends at work?

  • http://www.michaelhwan.com Michael

    I was asked a similar question recently “Where do you see yourself in three to five years?” The person who asked the question told me that most people even mid-level executives don’t have an answer to this question. Can you answer this answer Scott?

  • http://blog.17thandriggs.com Rebecca

    What a great post… act upon those “passions” and move it forward to the next step… or not. You are the CEO of your life!

  • http://www.jerrywen.org Jerry wen

    Hi Scott:
    This article is so great , and we need to do something ,and find the passion. not just ask others about how to find the passion ..

  • Jan

    Just like you I have always been interesting in lots of different things, right now I just focus on learning interesting skills.
    I am interested what are your major passions? Will you pursue something related to software and CS?

  • Habibi

    Very useful, thanks. Lately I’m going through a period of introspection, I like my job but I feel that there is so much more out there, and not only work-wise but activities, hobbies and interests in general.
    My question to you Scott it, how to calm down when you’re head is rushing? ’cause I think I cannot notice new interests and whims unless I have inner calm and peace.

    Thanks for all you’re writing :)

  • poo yee

    i am facing the same problem right now .i am now 17 but have no idea wht my ambition should be .my family is not rich .so yea ,i doesnt manage to take extra class .pls help me ><

  • Ashleigh

    I just wanted to say thanks for posting this article. I have really been struggling with what I want to do with my life, and since I haven’t been able to make a decision or narrow down my choices, I have remained stuck in a rut. I just came across this article, and now I feel a little better. I think I will take the time to explore a few of my passions before making any decisions.
    I don’t know why I always thought it had to be all or nothing, but until I found this article that’s how my thought process worked.
    So thanks again, this really encouraged me :)

  • Twisted Sister

    What do I want to do with my life?

    I wanna rock!

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  • Shataqshi

    This was incredibly helpful,thanks!

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  • Kate A

    This is brilliant and has calmed me down considerably. I am facing my 40th birthday in the full knowledge that I have little in the way of skills to match my enthusiasm for helping people. I can see where I am being hasty and covering over weaknesses. Scott, you have done more for me in ten minutes than others have done in decades.

    Thank you.

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  • nimi

    I am past my half century age and still ask the same question but with a different twist – what is there else in life…………..

  • Tyrone

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the article.

    I’ve been dismissed from my job and as you can imagine, I was devastated. At the age of 21, I feel the pressure of society looking at me with expectation. Before I read your article I wondered how people knew what they were “destined” to do and how they found their passions with such ease. I realize now that those people have put a lot more effort into their passions than what I have and that’s the only difference.

    Most men have their “down-time” where they try to escape from reality, my way is video games. By reading your article I learned that my time is more valuable than that, instead I could be perusing these whims.

    Your method of delivering vital information like this in a simple, clear, age bias free way has helped me and a few others out there in a way that there is no comparison.

    Keep writing!

  • Mermou

    This article of yours has really illuminated and emphasized the fact for my 19-year-old self that I mustn’t worry about larger than life questions; The title pretty much tells what I’ve been thinking about and struggling to find an answer for for the past two years.

    My quest for finding an answer for that question has gone so far that I started to think there must be something mystical behind all that “finding your calling”-stuff, that one day I would just know. But after reading this I’ve realised that it’s much simpler than I would’ve ever thought.

    So thank you, Scott. I hope this article will stay with me on my journey, and I wish you great success on yours :)

  • mark

    It’s a very nice thing to read such articles like this, the problem is, I can’t put into actions what it says about. It’s really really hard to engage with the things you don’t like though you know that it’s the only choice you have. I want to be more inspired by something to change myself and hobbies. Btw thanks Scott for sharing this.

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  • trueant

    Thank u very much~

    I was struggling for my dream, what do i really want to do, and who i want to become,all sort of thing.

    But after i saw this article, i get to know that all i need to do is just to try and to find the true thing i love, which will not waste the only one life.

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  • SEAN

    I don’t think life is destined,our life is totally random.Maybe some people have precise goal ,ambitions,but they lack the prerequisites to pursue it,such as people living in Africa.Whether we can find our interests and passion is unknown,yet we can still believe we can improve it through our everlasting strive.What we can do is just to strive and then believe.

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  • http://digitalenlight.com samoei

    am an engineering student with great interest in programing. after every topic I complete i read an article of yours, they really are motivating and give a different perspective about careers n following passion. I even found a way to create time for my programming minor, thanks this and other of your articles. Grab a mug! that’s on me

  • Katarina

    This article helped me a lot. I needed to hear this from someone like you, life long learner that is around my age. Because I feel anxiety over future, tho only when I get into a loop of negative thoughts and stop thinking rationally.

    Your words made me think. Not only I’m not alone in this kind of problem, I equally have no idea what my future is like. So,why would I dread future if it’s unknown,and how come I didn’t think about it positively, when it’s sort of 50:50 chance to be either,good or bad.

    I had many ideas what I would like to be “when I grow up”, and decided to go to IT university because I had sparks of curiosity,and there are enough jobs in this filed in my country. It seams it started well, but went downhill once i questioned weather my “true calling” is graphic designer,biologist, artists, translator of Japanese, etc. And when I think about it, which ever it is, I could be anything. It doesn’t have to be one calling, I think.

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, I feel like I can stop stressing myself now over nothing. :)

  • http://www.createyourdreams.com Chris Krohn

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for writing this. We are so programmed to choose a profession in our teen years, and one that is practical and not necessarily what interests us, that many people never give themselves the opportunity to go within, to find those sparks, and to know that they can create a vocation that is both meaningful and financially rewarding.

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  • http://chunam.com/blog Chu Nam

    Interesting question “What do I want to do in life”. Your post very clear about things that people want to live life with passion and things they must lead to live. I also want to add more my opinion that is people should do thing they want to do, it is part of process help they find what they passion in life. Another side they must have view in things happen around them such as “If I do this then what will happen”, choose something and something with this question. You can give yourself clear about what type of work, income, lifestyle you want to be with. I also love your believe on idea you will be entrepreneur and this really is possible happen with everyone if they want it, must want it bad enough.

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  • http://writersideup.com :Donna

    Scott, I can see why Nicole (http://tinyurl.com/pa68966) said what she said about you. This is fantastic stuff! I didn’t discover my true passion ’til I was in my mid-thirties and became disabled. You can’t always see where roads take you!

  • Margo

    The social pressure of choosing one profession is enormous. I’ve been struggling with it my whole life, which causes additional unnecessary stress. I believe most of successful people did not even choose their paths on their own, it was more a matter of coincidence. Look at Spielberg – he probably wouldn’t be a film director if he wasn’t living in CA as a student. Steve Jobs might have chosen totally different career if he hadn’t met Steve Wozniak. The question is how do you know its the right path?

  • gridsleep

    And if you’re 56 and past the point of curiosity, when the questions have been answered and nothing is interesting any more, then what?

  • Zackhery

    Then just continue with it until you die……..or wouldn’t you?

  • José Antonio Fajardo

    Keep going and be patient!

  • José Antonio Fajardo

    As the article says, nobody knows the right path until you find it.