Figuring out ‘what do I want to do with my life?’

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

John Lennon

What did you want to be when you grew up?

We are taught as young children that when we grow up we are expected to ‘be’ something. We are told to work hard in school and do our best, so that when we are grown up we can be whatever we want to be…

As long as it’s a sensible, established vocation.

You can be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer, or anything you want…

As long as it’s a real job.

Oh, you want to be a cat when you grow up?

No, sorry.

Being a cat is not a real job.

You want to be a pirate and sail the seven seas looking for buried treasure?

Hmmm, how about joining the navy instead. You could train as a naval engineer! That’s a good, solid career choice. Or if it’s buried treasure you’re after how about becoming an archeologist?

Children quickly learn that the answer we are looking for is a job. We ask them to define their entire future based on the career they will one day aspire to have, leaving out every other dimension of life. Fast forward umpteen years and you’re left with an adult that pinned all of their hopes for a happy and fulfilled life on growing up to ‘be’ something, only to discover that they still feel empty.

We are so conditioned to focus on what we do for a living when thinking about what to do with our lives that it can be challenging to look outside of that narrow focus. We start with the obvious goals; the ones society and social media tell us we should be striving for, like losing weight or finding the perfect partner. But when our motivation inevitably wains we ask ourselves ‘was that really what I wanted?’

So the question remains, how do we figure out what it is we REALLY want? How do we cut through the childhood conditioning, social pressures, and self-doubt  to determine what it is we truly want in our lives?

Having studied goal setting for several years, I believe one of the most powerful methods for figuring out what you really want was put forward by Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley and author of The Code of the Extraordinary Mind. Lakhiani’s method is based on a simple, fundamental premise; that we all want the same two things:

Happiness and fulfilment.

Lakhiani argues that every dream, aspiration, and goal we set is simply a means to achieving either happiness or fulfilment. We pursue certain career goals because we believe the achieving of them will make us happy or fulfilled. We seek out new experiences, new people, and new places because we believe doing so will bring joy, fun, and happiness. We strive to help others through our careers, volunteering, or through our families and personal relationships because we feel fulfilled by doing so.

Think about the goals you have set for yourself in the past. Why did you set them? What was your reason? What underlies that reason? If you keep going deep enough, you will ultimately discover the true reason underneath it all to be the pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, or both.

Based on the assumption that all goals, dreams, and desires are ultimately motivated by the pursuit of happiness or fulfillment, Lakhiani developed a simple question-based method of bypassing all the conditioning and what he calls ‘brules’ (bulls**t rules of society) to determine what you really want in life.

He suggests thinking about and writing down your answers to the following three questions:

1) What do you want to experience in life?

Write down everything you would like to experience in life, everywhere you would like to go, everything you’d like to do, and anything else you would love to be a part of.

2) How do you want to grow?

Write down all of the ways you would like to grow and develop yourself. What kind of person would you like to be? What skills would you like to learn? What challenges would you like to overcome?

3) What do you want to contribute to the world?

Write down all of the ways you would like to contribute to others and the world. This could be a simple as being a good parent, spouse, or friend, contributing to your local community or helping others through your vocation, or it could be on a larger, global scale.

These three questions cut through to the core of what you really want to do with your life by allowing you to think outside of the confines for your career. By thinking in terms of experiences, growth, and contribution, you can identify those things that are truly valuable to you and begin to set your goals for achieving them. Instead of putting together a forced set of goals based narrowly on your career or other aspects of your life you think need improving, you can create a dynamic set of diverse goals focused on things that will actually bring you joy, happiness, and fulfillment directly.

If you found this valuable, please share it with others on social media! I’d also love you hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Louise xxx

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