There is one fundamental question that my thoughts have naturally gravitated toward recently: “What do you want to do with your life?”. I have not been analyzing this question solely from my perspective — as in, what I want to do with my life — but rather looking at it from a higher level, and thinking about how other people should be expected to answer that question. I have recently come to realization about how to effectively answer this question — you can not answer it effectively. Indeed, this is a bad question to ask.
The danger of this question lies in its deceptive simplicity, or rather, that people think it is a good and easy way to start a conversation. People think that it is a very easy question to ask. After all, most people who are asking the question are doing so from a position of having everything figured out — or at least, so they say. And so this has become a conversation starter. A very common question by people — parents, friends, extended family, professors — is “what do you want to do with your life?” because it comes to mind quickly, and it is assumed that people have an idea of what they want to do. In truth, it is very difficult for people to actually tell others what they want to do with their life. Everyone sees this as a simple question because it comes to mind easily, but, it is actually one of the most difficult questions to answer. This is evident by my aforementioned conclusion — you cannot answer this question effectively.
I have recently pursued a path of “finding myself”. On this path, I have learned a lot about who I am as a person, and who I think I want to be in the future. I initially started by asking myself what I wanted to do with my life, but now, benefiting from the power of hindsight, I realize that I was asking the wrong question. By asking myself what I wanted to do with my life, every decision became a life decision. Whether I should pursue a certain project, write a paper, et cetera, all became life decisions, and I always felt as if everything I done was incredibly important. This meant that I was left with little room to innovate and be my true self, because I was always concerned with the pressure of answering the question “Is writing this paper really what I want to do?”. You can’t find yourself by asking what you want to do with your life, because if you do, everything becomes a life decision, and you start to realize you have less freedom to experiment, to explore, and to learn more about yourself.
Perhaps the worst I have ever felt in my life — and I don’t often remark on my negative thoughts — was a few weeks ago when someone had made a comment about my work, and I asked myself whether what I was doing was really what I wanted to be doing. I thought that I had lost my sense of purpose because I no longer had an internal voice telling me that I was doing a great job and that everything would work out in the end. Upon further analysis and reflection, my reaction to what they said was because I am playing a long-term game, and they were more concerned about my short-term progress. Suffice to say that the feeling that I didn’t know what my purpose was felt horrible, especially considering the fact I had spent the previous few months trying to find my purpose. I tried to get back on track by asking myself what I wanted to do with my life, but it turned out that was an ineffective way of doing things — self-fulfillment can only be obtained by looking into the past and reflecting on your life, rather than something that should be set as a goal.
The thing that I realized after this all happened was that I had already found my purpose, I was just not conscious of it. My writing about Income Share Agreements and education — although it may not seem interesting to many people — is my purpose. I find value in doing research in the space because I am able to explore something completely new, and learn something new every day. I am uniquely positioned to realize substantial growth in the future because my research is being recognized in a high-growth industry that has very little professional research available. When I am writing, I feel a sense of purpose. I feel that my writing can have a direct impact on someone else’s thought patterns. Indeed, I do not confer advice, but rather knowledge and wisdom. The thought that someone may benefit from reading about my perspective on a certain matter in the ISA space gives me the motivation I need to continue. I have the power to change minds, and to impact societal change on a high level through my writing, even if one article will not change everything.
When I started with my research, I did not see it as a viable career path. I didn’t realize that Income Share Agreements or life capital had became my passion — they were just a hobby for me. At the time, I was too busy focusing on answering the question what I wanted to do with my life, and so I decided to manifest what I thought would be fulfilling. In actuality, however, it was the work that I was already doing that gave me a sense of purpose. It was only when someone remarked on the eloquence and potential impact of my work that I realized it could be a viable career.
That leads me to conclude the following: purpose is to be found from a position of reflection. I realized that I had found my purpose because I could look back and say to myself “I really enjoyed writing this article”. When people come to me and say they have read my work and enjoyed my perspective, it reminds me that what I am doing right now is what I want to do in the future — inspire thoughts in other people’s minds. It is only through reflection that we can discover whether or not what we have done is what we want to do. Introspection helps us gain a firmer understanding of our selves, and gives us the opportunity to analyze our past work, and figure out what we found fulfilling and purposeful.
This emphasizes the importance of living in the moment. We spend too much time looking forward to the future that we never embrace what is going on now — what actually affects our thoughts and feeling today. If you go on a pursuit to discover what you want to do with your life, you will realize that you are always looking into the future, rather than now. The thing about the future is that it never comes — there is, and will only ever be, now. If you spend all of your time looking for a sense of purpose and trying to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, then you will not be able to fully appreciate the value you derive from the work you are already doing. You will always be on a path to doing something else, and you will ultimately overlook what makes you your own person.
When you start to focus on what matters most to you right now — in the moment — then you will realize what your true purpose actually is. Purpose cannot be found by looking into the future, but rather analyzing your life today, and figuring out what you can do to become your best self. It is about making good decisions in the moment about who you want to be, and taking pleasure in every action that you take. Analyzing your life in the moment will allow you to discover the passions and qualities in your life that you previously ignored because you thought they were not your true passion, or that they are not a viable career path. Ultimately, if you are passionate enough about something, it should become a career path. Spending your entire life asking yourself what you want to do with your life implies that what you are doing right now isn’t worth anything — you are always looking for something new. Realizing that what you are doing right now is already a step in the right direction is the motivator you need to discover your full potential.
This is just my personal journey — indeed, I expect most other people will have their own thoughts on this subject. That being said, I cannot help but state the importance of living in the moment, and reflecting on the past and thinking about what made you happy then. When I look back over the last month, I see myself writing, talking about my work with others, and helping others with their work. I derive great value and purpose from that. Steve Jobs famously asked himself the question “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today.”. This question forces the reader to consider the exact value that their tasks for the next day were to provide, and the opportunity to think about what tasks they can eliminate from their day that provide them with little value.
I cannot answer the question “What do you want to do with your life?” because I am focused on what is going on right now, and working toward making this moment great. Indeed, I do have a set of personal goals and do frequently plan things in advance — this is a critical part of being a human. However, I am more focused on what is going on in the moment, and reflecting on what I need to do to grow as a person, and feel a sense of fulfillment every day — not just some day in the distant future. Perhaps in ten years I will be doing something completely different — who knows. But all I care about is that right now, I feel fulfilled.
Don’t ask yourself the question “What do I want do with my life?”. Reflect on your last month and think about what has made you feel happy and purposeful, however small. Stay in the moment.