“Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” -Les Brown
You hear the dreaded question from family, friends, and teachers. You even hear it on dates and when you’re meeting new people—and even worse, everyone else seems to have figured it out while you’re still stuck over here floundering.
So, what do you want to do with your life?
It’s a well-intentioned question and these people mean you no harm, but it’s a destructive question for so many reasons. And being asked it all the time doesn’t make answering it any easier.
The problem is people throw around this question a lot without really discerning its true meaning before asking it. Deep down, we know that in order to be “successful” we have to have already figured out our life’s purpose—but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is you can live a remarkable life even without fully knowing your plans regarding the rest of your life, or even the direction you want to take in life right now—and it doesn’t have to involve bashing your head against the table.
Why The Answer To The “Big” Question Doesn’t Really Matter
Even when we frame the question in a different way—so what are you currently doing with your life—it’s still a doozy.
First of all, the question dictates that you’re either A) unhappy with your life as of late or B) content with your life as it is. However, that still begs the question of success: because if we’re happy with our lives, shouldn’t that mean we’ve reached success in our lives too?
Here’s the problem: we don’t realize that “success” is an abstract concept, much like finding your path in life is. I’m willing to bet that nobody really knows what they want to do with their life, and even if they find intense satisfaction with whatever they’re doing right now it’s bound to change and evolve over time.
Let me explain.
You Don’t Have An Answer, Even If You Think You Do
I’ve always struggled with finding my place in the world.
As many of us have, I went to school in search of something greater than myself—some greater purpose, if you will—but I didn’t find it there. I ended up with a piece of paper that seems like it should have signaled me to a greater purpose in life, some sort of calling, but the whole thing just felt empty to me. I was still drifting, and I longed to find something to tether myself to reality.
I ended up working a string of jobs after graduation in the retail sector, but temporary satisfaction there didn’t amount to much. The issue there is temporary satisfaction—I was so sure that merely because I was “good” at these jobs that I would have to succumb to doing them for the rest of my life.
I’m actually happy with my job anyways, I told myself through the years. Besides, it would be too hard to find another job, I reasoned, when all my experience is in this field.
The problem was that I believed it. I convinced myself that this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and faked my way through years of smiling in dissatisfaction, even as I felt an empty longing in my stomach that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried to make the pain stop.
Redefine Your Identity To Redesign Your Life
You’d be surprised to know that many of the top thought leaders in the world never knew they’d be successful and if their ideas would ever gain traction. Van Gogh was ridiculed as a child and constantly told to stop making art by his mother and everyone around him; Michael Jordan was told “no” in his sophomore year when he didn’t get accepted for the varsity team; and even though J.K. Rowling knew she wanted to be a writer she was poor and living in desperate conditions long before she became a famous novelist.
All of these people craved an identity—of being an artist, an athlete, a writer—but the world told them “no”. J.K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected seventeen times, but she never quit, did she? She kept pushing on, living in poverty and striving towards her own success because she knew the reality she wanted and the identity of a writer she would have to take on to reach her dreams.
Finding your path in life all comes down to identity in the end. The answer doesn’t have to lie in finding fame or the “perfect” job or “true” love, but it has to start with you being okay with being you, no matter how much everyone else tells you no.
Even though I believed I was happy back when I was working a string of jobs in the corporate retail sector, I was only lying to myself. And one day the belief hit me like a freight train and shattered my fake identity.
I realized I was living a lie then—and this led me to finally pursue my dream of writing, which led to huge changes in my life. It allowed me to be free and identify with other writers that carried their own struggles of believing in themselves—and by helping them to reconcile their identities I could make my own dent in the mega-sized universe.
Change Is Not Stagnant
One of my mentors once said all the magic happens outside your comfort zone.
He was right, of course. But I can’t say that I didn’t doubt him at the time. I mean it seems like a cliché, doesn’t it?
You’ll never end up with the spouse of your dreams or accomplish your goals by standing still and “not-doing”—I mean, if anyone walked up to you and told you they were the love of your life anyways, would you really believe them? Even if they did, it’s not that easy—life doesn’t work that way.
As Alain de Botton says, “If one felt successful, there’d be so little incentive to be successful.”
If we already had everything we ever wanted, then would that really be a life worth living? We’d have nothing to strive for, nothing to work towards and nothing to gain from struggle—so then why do anything at all?
Getting what you want is hard. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth anything. @powellwriter (Click to Tweet!)
The only things worth driving for are those that push us forward, as we need to do these things to eventually reach our dreams, and that burning passion we all have inside of us that relates to our calling.
For years I struggled to break away from my corporate job—and for what?
Even though I wanted to write, I convinced myself it was too hard. That my dream was out of the grasps of reality and that I would never reach it because I was dreaming too high.
But as Les Brown says, too many of us convince ourselves that it’s too hard to do what we want so we settle for lives of mediocrity.
Do we really deserve a lifetime filled with misery, agony, and self-doubt? Probably not.
So then why are we always creating cruddy lives for ourselves, when deep down we know better?
You Define The Terms Of The Game
We each carry our own worldview—and as a result, we each view change in a different way.
In this way, “success” doesn’t carry one static definition. Success doesn’t necessarily equate to more money, power, or influence—but it must fit within your worldview.
I knew I wasn’t setting myself up for success in the retail world—even though I’m good at it—because it wasn’t something I felt driven to do. It wasn’t something I felt passionate about or ever truly cared about.
And it certainly didn’t send me reeling out of bed at five in the morning every day in the same way that writing does. I cherish the time I have off to pursue my dreams of writing full-time, instead of fulfilling somebody else’s dreams.
Even carving out fifteen minutes in the day to write is a success to me. Success doesn’t have to be a grand goal or big idea—because to me finding your path in life is discovering your own idea of success, regardless of how you answer the big question to other people.
What Does “Success” Mean For You?
Success is not a straight line or a straight road on a long highway. Success is a bunch of zig-zags rigged into a sort of coherency—and while we may not take a straight shot towards success we certainly can bend it to our will and define it on our own terms.
Success is not necessarily finding your true path, but finding something that you’re really good at—be it a calling, a vocation, a dream—and then sharing that with the rest of the world in whatever ways you can.
Because to me, success means living a life you know you’re capable of living and killing it while you’re doing it.
While we may not feel successful and feel like we’re stuck now, we always have the capacity to become “unstuck” and take steps to move forward. And in that progress we can feel confident that we’re doing something—and taking whatever little steps we can—to move towards our own success.
It doesn’t have to be hard to find your purpose in life—and maybe it’s supposed to be trying—but if you don’t move towards your own goals then you’ll inevitably veer off the path before you reach your destination.
You Have The Keys to Your Own Success
Never forget that you’re driving the car. You determine your own success in life, and nobody else.
It will be hard to create your own path, but always remember that failure doesn’t define you.
As I claw my way out of dead-ends jobs and redefine my own success, I realize that we all have the power to define our lives—and no matter what anybody tells you, nobody can ever take that away from you.
Although I never directly found my path to writing through my degree or working jobs not suited to my experience, I’d never call any of it a waste of time. Sometimes we need to flounder before we find our success, and sometimes we can never find our purpose without experimenting a little bit.
In the end, my degree helped me identify the one thing I was passionate about above all others in ways that I never would’ve discovered on my own—and for that I’m eternally grateful.
Don’t Wait For Tomorrow When Today Is Enough
We all have the power to be remarkable. In fact, changing the world could begin with changing one person’s life – and sometimes changing yourself can lead to huge change for the world around you.
Despite how bad today might be and how far away from your dreams you may feel, it’s never too late to create a better life for yourself and others. Only you have the keys to your life, and only you can create your vision of success in the world.
The good news is you don’t need the answer to the “big” question to figure out what you want to do with your life, even though I’m willing to bet you had it all along.
You only have to do what you think is best for you, and in that process of creating your own success you will be successful. Just don’t be stagnant, and refuse to secede your vision to anybody else.
Because if you give someone else the keys to your car then you’re giving up control of your life—and do you really want to do that?
Little Change Is Better Than None At All
Start with little steps, and go from there: if you want to be a writer then write one sentence, and if you want to run then put on your running shoes and run for five minutes. In the span of doing these small things you’ll embrace your chosen identity. And by assuming your identity you can take the first steps to becoming remarkable—but it all starts here with you.
Are you willing to live a life of quiet desperation, denying yourself from making the difference you know you’re capable of making?
Didn’t think so.
So get out there and be remarkable.
The change will come sooner than you think.
Blake Powell is on a mission to help writers embrace their gifts and live a life worth living. Click here to download a free copy of The Bulletproof Writer’s Handbook
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Image courtesy of Redd Angelo.