This question gets so many of us, whether we’re 12 or 42.
The problem starts when we’re quite young.
In fact, the other day, my nine year old niece was stressed out because she doesn’t have any hobbies.
“Why are you worrying about this now?” I asked her.
“Because hobbies determine what I’m going to be when I grow up,” she told me.
The pressure to figure out our “passion” starts at a young age. We see successful athletes, models, writers, singers, artists. How did they get there?
They must have passion and talent. Passion + talent = the secret sauce that most of us don’t figure out until later in life.
When we get to college, we’re told to pick a major. At this point we’ve had about 18 years to get our shit together. So if you don’t yet know what you want to do, just pick a train, get on it, and you’ll figure things out later.
So we pick a train and head on our way. Eventually there’s a ladder to climb, money to make, promotions to acquire.
But hold up. Something just isn’t right. Is this really the right direction for me, one that I had to pick because I wasn’t self aware enough or experienced enough at the age of 18 to make the right decision?
So, what should I do with my life now that I know this isn’t it?
There is a formula to figuring this out. Self awareness and strategy are critical.
When you identify your mission, the work you want to do, mostly you cut out the bullshit. You learn to make decisions. Life becomes simpler, better, more fulfilling.
So how do you identify your mission? I’m building an in-depth framework to answer this loaded question, but for now, here are three ways to get started.
What Do You Care About?
Many of us get lost here because we care about more than one thing.
Recently, I stumbled on clarifying my big mission for this website. I gravitate to education, gender inequality, the career space and mental health. I’m also drawn to social impact, and I can’t seem to get creativity out of my mind.
How do you make sense of so many interests? How do you pick one?
I stopped. I took a step back. Because making an impact is important to me and because it’s a key value for our generation, I asked myself “What social issues am I drawn to?”
I made a list.
- Gender inequality
- The black lives matter movement
- The environment
- Education and creativity
- Mental Health
Now it’s out of my head, down on paper.
Dig Deeper. Why These Issues?
Do these issues spark any memories? Are they connected to any personal experiences?
Likely, yes. Here’s how I break mine down.
- Gender inequality: I’m a woman, so I directly feel the impact gender inequality has on our society. I feel especially frustrated when I see my female friends struggling to ask for raises and promotions.
- The black lives matter movement: I’m horrified by recent events, and I find loss of life extremely tragic, disturbing, unjust. I also see how it directly impacts my close friends and colleagues.
- The environment: I often crave nature and the outdoors, and I want to see our environment protected.
- Education and creativity: In school, I focused heavily on getting good grades, succeeding, getting the reward. But this impacted my ability to be creative and think critically, which impacted my professional life and approach to problem solving. I’m also a mom so I often think about the larger consequences education will have on my son.
- Mental health: In the past I used to approach problems with anxiety and stress. I know this is no way to live or make an impact. In fact, this has held me back in the past.
- Career: I struggled in my twenties to figure out what I wanted to do. The result was a lot of stress, anxiety and wasted time.
All of these areas have some personal connection to me, my experiences and my growth. Pinpointing the reason behind the interest allows us to have greater clarity. Relief and understanding follow.
So next is focusing.
Can You Prioritize?
As you think about all of your interests, in this case social issues, ask yourself, “What speaks to me the most?”
This could be more than one thing. To narrow it down, review the social issues and think back to one of your most powerful experiences around that issue. Also, do any of the issues and experiences connect in some way?
For example, I’ve selected the following issues:
- Gender inequality
- Education and creativity
They are all connected. My education and perceptions around creativity impacted my career, which of course also touches on gender inequality in the workplace.
Furthermore, these issues show up for me daily. I find myself reading about them more, thinking about them deeply, and working to incorporate them in my work.
So What Do You Do with This Information?
Having awareness of what you care about and knowing why you care about it brings you much closer to identifying what you want to do.
You don’t have to pick one and be set with your life. You can combine one, two or three of the issues to come up with a new solution.
The best next step is to start exploring opportunities in these areas. Start finding communities and meetups that talk about these issues.
Do some market research. What job opportunities currently exist? Go broad before you focus on your next steps. Live the questions.
To help you get clear on your mission, I’m launching a new version of Work Bigger, an in-depth framework (in beta). To get updates on the launch, submit your email here, and if you have a friend or two who are feeling stuck, forward this article to them.