It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life.
I’ll say it again – It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life. (really)
When I was in junior college, the two years between secondary school and university, my class had to attend a Career Guidance session which took place weekly over a month. During these sessions we had to break up into groups based on what our ambitions were for our futures.
There was a group of future engineers, a group of future teachers, a group of future researchers, and a group of future accountants. They animatedly discussed their futures and how they would achieve their ambitions. I, however, stood apart from all the rest. I didn’t feel that I belonged to any group. I didn’t know what I wanted my future to be.
My teacher said, “Just pick anything.”
But no matter what I picked, nothing felt right. My classmates were all so sure of what they wanted to become after they finished their formal schooling.
Except for me.
When the time came for me to choose a university course, I had a dilemma. Should I choose Philosophy? Which I liked but had no career prospects. Or should I choose Chemistry? Which I was good at, and had some decent career prospects (but I didn’t really enjoy.)
I chose the safer option (Chemistry), because my parents were funding my university education. I had to choose something that made them feel their investment in my education was worth it. I didn’t dislike Chemistry. It’s hard to dislike something you’re good at. But I never made a career out of it either.
After I graduated, I didn’t want to get a job. Not because I was lazy, but because I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I observed my peers who seemed to quickly get sucked into the rat race. I didn’t want that life for myself. So I explored for a year or so.
I did volunteer work. I befriended an old lady. I wrote a fantasy novel and got it published. That was when I discovered that I enjoyed writing. I went on to write the biography of a World War II pilot, and he paid me for writing his life story. It wasn’t much, but for the first time, I realized that I could earn a living from writing.
I was employed by a religious organization to write for their fortnightly newspaper. I had a lot of fun there. I worked flexible hours — which isn’t a good thing when you’re a workaholic. A workaholic isn’t just someone who works very hard. It’s someone who really enjoys their work. I enjoyed writing.
I also got to meet a lot of famous people, including the president of Singapore. I wasn’t a newsmaker, but I did get a by-line more often than I could care for. Seeing my name in the newspaper eventually lost its appeal.
DEALING WITH DEPRESSION
Unfortunately I lost my ability to write for a few years after falling into a state of depression. Obviously it wasn’t permanent otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this now. But back then, it felt permanent. Writing was everything to me. It was how I communicated. It was how I expressed my thoughts and feelings. It was how I made a living. It was my identity. I was a writer.
And then I wasn’t.
When I couldn’t write, it seemed like my world ended. When I couldn’t write, I no longer knew who I was. I had lost my identity. When I lost the ability to write, I didn’t know what to do with my life. Again.
So again I explored. I left behind the world of words which once brought me so much joy. And I entered the world of numbers. An average person changes career three times, I read somewhere. This was my first career change. It wasn’t so bad, I told myself.
I went into financial planning and I found that I enjoyed working with numbers. I enjoyed organizing them such that they made sense. I enjoyed building systems that organized those numbers. Over time, I discovered another gift of mine — organizing information.
I discovered that this is the root of my writing ability. Writing is merely the organizing of words and ideas into a story, much like the one you’re reading now. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but now I had an idea. Now I knew that whatever it was, it was going to involve organizing information.
Over time, I combined my past experiences of organizing words and numbers into a process that helped people make sense of their financial information to help them reach their life goals.
It was something I found people hated doing, and they lacked the knowledge and expertise. It was something I would do for free because I enjoyed it so much. After giving it away for free (for years), I started charging, because I too needed to make a living.
It was funny. I never really had any life goals, but here I was helping other people to achieve theirs. I finally discovered a life goal to call my own.
I learned an important lesson through this process. I learned in general that life has no purpose. The only purpose that life has is the one that you want it to have. You get to decide the purpose of your life. You get to decide how you want to work towards that purpose. No one can decide that for you, because no one can live your life. Only you can.
It’s okay not to know what you want to do with your life. It’s more important that you discover what your gifts are, develop them, use them, and share them.
And along the way, you’ll find that purpose.
Daniel Tay: Lives in Singapore, running a team of fee-based financial planners. While helping to lead the freegan community of Singapore.
D R E A M