What To Do While You’re Deciding What To Do

I’ve noticed a particular pattern of behavior that seems to trap a lot of people.

Many people seem to treat deliberating as a distinct action. You meet someone who’s a recent graduate and ask what they’re doing now that they have their degree, and they say “I haven’t decided yet.”

Okay… but what are you doing? Right now?

Deliberating isn’t discrete. It’s fine to take a reasonable amount of time to gather information and make a subsequently informed choice, but while that’s happening, you should absolutely be doing literally anything that develops yourself.

Consider two recent graduates, Goofus and Gallant. Both graduated the same year from the same school, and both are unsure of what they want to pursue with their degree. Both initially feel pretty lost.

So Goofus does very little. He lives with his parents or with friends so his costs are low, but he subsequently makes as little money as possible. He considers lots of jobs “beneath him” and therefore doesn’t work much. The problem gets worse over time, because every year he compares himself to peers that have been advancing in their careers, and thus puts even more jobs in the “beneath him” category. Five years after graduation, he has virtually nothing to show for it, no return on the investment he made in his degree.

Gallant also feels lost and unsure, but he took some good advice from someone and figures that while he’s figuring out his ultimate goal, he can commit his life to being in service of the day he figures it out. He doesn’t consider any work beneath him; money is money, and he wants to have a lot of it saved. He also keeps his costs low by living with parents or friends, but he makes as much money as he can and squirrels it away. He waits tables, drives for a rideshare service, picks up entry-level work in other fields if they’ll have him. In his spare time, he teaches himself new skills (he doesn’t worry about what, just learns!) and makes sure to meet new people. Chances are very good that Gallant doesn’t go anywhere near five years without deciding what to do, but let’s say he does.

So now we have Goofus and Gallant, both five years out, and on the same day they both suddenly come to the decision about what it is they ultimately want to do. Look how far ahead Gallant is! He has money saved, so he can be mobile – he can move to a new city that’s a hub for his chosen field, or he can buy a certification course, or even just live off his savings while he interns or apprentices. He’s valuable to employers because he’s kept his skills up to date and kept himself in the active workforce. He knows a lot of people so he can network his way towards his goal. In short, even though he didn’t know what he’d end up wanting to do, he was preparing anyway.

Goofus, on the other hand, is in bad shape. He found out what he wants to do, but he’s wasted years of his life. Whatever he wants to be, he’s now at square one – and actually, he’s worse than that because he has five years of bad habits weighing him down.

That’s the obvious benefit of this style of thinking. But there are at least two other major benefits:

  1. The more proactive you are, the less time it will actually take you to decide what to do. Goofus and Gallant wouldn’t have taken an equal time to make their decision in reality. On average, the more stuff you do, the more likely you are to get the insight, information and inspiration you need to find your calling. It’s not inside your head – it’s out there, in the world.
  2. There is at least some chance that you never decide what your “purpose in life” is. Instead of five years, it could be eighty. If that were the case, would you rather spend those eighty years like Goofus or like Gallant?

While you’re “deciding what to do with your life,” focus on other goals. Make money. Stay healthy. Keep your costs low. Stay mobile. Learn like a sponge. Be devoted to self-improvement and open to the world. Don’t sweat the details; don’t worry if you’re learning the “right” thing or improving in the “right” way. You can change course a thousand times if you want. In fact, that might not be so bad.

And if you’re saying to yourself, “this is great advice… five years ago. I wish I’d done it, but now I haven’t. I’m a total Goofus, so what do I do?”

It’s never too late.

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