“So what do you want to do with your life?”
I was 20 years old, and my father and I were having another tense conversation about the direction my life was taking…or rather, lack of direction.
Five years earlier I had survived a suicide attempt, and I had been slowly putting together the pieces of my life ever since. My home environment was still a disaster, but thankfully I was away at college most of the time.
I was about to start my Junior year, and I had finished all the general education requirements. I had to choose a major—any major—if I wanted to continue school.
It was time to stop stalling. But I couldn’t.
“I don’t want to DOOOO anything!” I spat back at him.
My life had no direction. Zip. Nada.
I couldn’t imagine what career I’d have as an adult. I hadn’t planned on living into adulthood, and now I had all these responsibilities and obligations. Narrowing my focus and making a choice about my future felt like I was suffocating.
Obviously, I eventually found a major and spent nearly 10 years happily working in the field of my choosing.
So what happened?
I had to do some deep soul-searching to figure out what emotional, spiritual, and even physical blocks were holding me back.
Feeling like you have no direction is something most of my clients experience at one time or another. It can be difficult to know which path to choose when you have many competing distractions.
Getting back on track (or finding the track in the first place!) can be easy once you know what to look for. Please allow me to be your tour guide!
Here’s how to find your path when your life has no direction.
Assess Your Basic Needs
I didn’t realize it at first, but the reason I couldn’t focus on my future was because of the problems I was facing in my present.
You’re probably familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s usually represented as a pyramid, and it’s a theory of how humans grow and progress through different needs or “motivations.”
The 5 levels of need are Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization.
Basically, if your needs aren’t being met at the bottom of the pyramid, you won’t be able to move up to the next level. Each step builds on the one before it.
For example, someone who is starving and doesn’t know where she’ll find her next meal (physiological need) won’t be concerned with finding enlightenment through meditation (self-actualization need).
I was stuck in safety mode (level 2), but I was working on meeting those needs. My family situation was a mess, but I discovered there were other things within my control.
In terms of employment, I got a job modeling for the art department. I worked on my health by spending time at the campus rec center, and I quit eating Ben and Jerry’s for dinner.
I met my husband Chris a few months later, and he helped me jump to level 3 (wink, wink), which in turn upped my self-esteem (level 4). Finally, I could start planning my future.
What level are you at in the hierarchy of needs? What things are missing before you can move to the next level?
Make Time for Your Passions
One thing I notice about a lot of directionless people is that they don’t have hobbies or things they do for fun. And that’s understandable if your other needs aren’t getting met or if you’re feeling hopeless about life.
But having fun and focusing on self-care is HUGELY important if you want to find direction, meet your goals, or simply have a meaningful life.
What makes you happier more than anything else? What things did you enjoy doing as a kid, but you don’t do now? How could you pamper yourself this week?
Your hobbies and interests are meant to give you relief, but they don’t necessarily lead you from Point A to Point B. I encourage all my clients to do something just for themselves every day, such as reading a book, going to a Zumba class, or painting. Even 10 minutes a day counts!
Think of your passions as rest stops on the road of life. Sometimes you need to pull over, stretch your legs, and eat a sandwich before continuing on your journey.
Choose a Path, Not a Destination
I once read an article by another coach (I think it was Alexandra Franzen, but don’t quote me on that), and she said that she hated the advice to “think about what you’d love to do all day even if no one paid you.”
The idea is that whatever you have so much fun doing for free is what you should be doing for a job. As this coach pointed out, the things she’d love to be doing all day is reading magazines, watching reality TV, eating chocolate, and masturbating.
Not exactly the fast track to success, right?
I hate that advice too. How am I supposed to build a career around playing Super Mario World and watching cat videos? (Of course, this doesn’t apply to my husband who actually does play video games for a living. Only in San Francisco.)
A better idea is to choose a path, not a destination.
This means to pick something you’d enjoy doing every day even if it’s not as much fun as whatever it is you do when the work day is over. That’s why it’s called “work.”
Whatever path you choose is just that—a path. It’s not your final destination because there is no endpoint. You’ll most likely change careers, move towns, and color your hair many, many, many times during your life.
As for my direction, I chose healthcare publishing, mostly because I was living in the Chicago area and I knew I’d have an easy time finding a job. But it wasn’t completely for the money or security. I’m passionate about healthcare and still have friends in the publishing world.
My job as an editor made me happy to go to work every day. And the skills I learned editing manuscripts has proven to be vital in my work as a coach where I edit people’s lives.
I like to think I’m making progress on the hierarchy of needs, especially since I’ve stopped letting other people (including my family) direct my life.
I love this quote by JK Rowling. It reminds me why I chose to be a coach and not a therapist.
“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.” JK Rowling
If you have no direction in your life, do these 3 things:
- Assess your basic needs and determine what’s holding you back.
- Make time for hobbies, passions, and self-care.
- Choose a path while knowing you can always choose another one later.
When have you lost your direction in your life?
In the comments below, share your tips for figuring out where you’re going and what you need to do next.