In the culture I grew up in, I was conditioned to envision my future according to specific goals. The assumption was that by knowing what I wanted (and for the sake of example let’s use a career aspiration) I could take all of the practical steps to achieve the goal. We see this all the time with young adults attending college with their minds made up about what they think they want to be less so than what they want to do. The determined few that stay on their selected trajectory often make it to the finish line and realize the daily grind isn’t what they wanted at all- they hadn’t even considered that facet of the dream. On the other hand, I know plenty of people that have never had and still don’t have any idea what they really want to be or do in their lives, and that is an equally valid struggle. Ultimately we want to live a life that is meaningful and enjoyable, and it can be challenging pinpointing what those things are for us individually.
How can you direct your efforts when you don’t know where you want to be going?
I fell into this boat. I graduated college without the faintest idea of what particular career I wanted to pursue. I felt sure that if I knew what the exact job I wanted was, I’d be able to forge a path to that role. Problem was that I truly did not know the kinds of jobs that were out there, or if they would actually be a fit for me. It struck me one day to try a different approach. I was pretty sure there were plenty of roles out there I would enjoy, but how could I group them instead of searching for specific jobs? I made a list of experiences that I wanted to incorporate into my life that could be accessed through my work:
- Being outside
- Working with people
- Contributing to a cause I believe in
- Creative challenges
- Self development
It completely changed how I approached the job hunt. By thinking about what I enjoy and how those things represent deeper values (i.e. working with people= my value for service and empathy, creative challenges and self development = my value for learning and growth), the possibilities opened up dramatically and primed me to search along new terms. By exploring each of these new avenues of experiences I enjoy (such as outdoor positions and service work) I found an expansive new variety of resources that lead me to a job that I currently love. The beautiful thing is that multiple things could have fulfilled this list, and I have a long list of options for the future should I change my mind and still desire the same elements.
In this process of discovering fulfillment, having a grip on experiences (and how they relate to your values) that you enjoy enables you to find creative ways to access them. By seeking out the elements surrounding the thing we think we want instead of the thing itself, we widen the potential for meeting our desires.
An intriguing layer of this concept deals with the relationship we have with goals and meaning. Goals can feel purposeful and driving, but ultimately when we put all of our efforts into attaining something that must be achieved (i.e. the goals themselves) we place our satisfaction in the future. All you’re ever going to experience is the present moment. How do you experience fulfillment now? We make decisions every day that become our reality. When we know what experiences are meaningful to us, we can more easily make choices every day to have these in our lives. I’m not suggesting you abandon your goals- being future-oriented has plenty of benefits. However, if you were to instead choose to be now the things you expect to get from achieving your goals, you’re more likely to experience what you want. For example, say my goal is to be a doctor because they contribute to the well-being of others, are highly skilled, and are very focused. I can continue to attend school to become a doctor, but I do not need to wait eight years to experience what I expect to get from being a doctor. Every day I can make choices to help others, I can appreciate any skills I currently possess, and enjoy diligently focusing on whatever I work on daily.
What sorts of experiences do you want to be having in your life?
If you have a particular goal, what elements of that goal make it attractive/worthy to you?
Be present. Placing the experience of meaning in the future by investing in concrete goals keeps it out of reach.