Saturday, 5 June 2010

What Should I Do With My Life?

A couple of weeks ago I read What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson. While I enjoyed the stories and it was vaguely inspiring, I was initially disappointed that it didn’t help me answer the question posed in the title. Throughout the book the author emphasised that answering the question was not something that could be achieved by reading a book, but I still held out hope that somehow it might. Sure enough when I reached the end - regardless of the frequent warnings - I felt slightly cheated that I was no closer to working out what to do with my life. Having reflected for the last couple of weeks, I still don’t know what I should do with my life, but I think I have worked out what the first step is.

The first step for most of the people profiled in the book was to reduce the number of options of things they could do. “Keeping your options open” is something that a significant number of people seem to aspire to. Having ‘infinite possibilities’ is appealing in the same way that buying a lottery ticket is and is flawed for the same reasons. As things stand my options are about as open as they possibly could be; I have very few commitments tying me to a specific path or location. Unfortunately I am also naive and arrogant enough to think that I could try to do just about anything with my life if I wanted to, I might not succeed but I could try. With that many options, working out what I want to do - and more the point, what I could be good at - is rather difficult.

In hindsight a quote from High Fidelity seems apt:
“I can see now I never really committed ... I always had one foot out the door, and that prevented me from doing a lot of things, like thinking about my future and... I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open. And that's suicide. By tiny, tiny increments.”
Everything I have done in the last decade, I have stumbled into on a whim and had one foot out the door. From university, to hobbies, to jobs, to geographic locations, I never set out intentionally and always had an exit strategy. Maybe I committed for the first few months, but then found that I could successfully coast along without trying which meant I ended up bored. After a while being bored I would stumble off to the next option.

There has also been an element of fear of failure in my decisions or lack thereof. If I didn’t try, then when I succeeded it felt like luck and when I failed it didn’t matter because I hadn’t tried in the first place. Either way I was damned: Attributing success to luck is a surefire way to feel like you don’t deserve what you have achieved. Attributing failure to not trying means you will always wonder what would have happened if you had tried. This has been true for me, both on the scale of micro-decisions and also on the largest scale of working out what to do with my life. By not narrowing my options and by not deciding what I really wanted to do, I made it impossible to fail, but also impossible to succeed.

Now that I have worked out that I need to narrow my options, the hard part is working out how to actually do that. The two obvious ways - deep analysis or random chance - both seem like cop-outs. Deep analysis seems like a cop-out because it would be very easy to spend a lot of time analysing as a way to avoid making a decision. Random chance seems like a cop-out because random chance is always a cop-out. There are other ways ranging from mixing analysis and random chance, to asking people who know me well what they think, to trying to remember what I wanted to be as a child, but again none of those options seem quite right... I know what the first step is, I just don’t know how to take it.

If anyone has any suggestions for how to start narrowing my options or what I should do with my life, I would be really grateful if you could leave a comment.

[731 Words]

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