April 24, 2023 • 22 Minute Read • By Jenny Talavera

“I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” 50 tips to find your way.

How do you answer the age-old question of ‘what should I do with my life?’ Here are 50 ideas to help you move forward when you’re not sure where you’re going.

Person sitting on their car thinking "i don't know what I want to do with my life"

I’ve faced the question more than once.​

The first time I had to figure out what to do with my life, I was finishing school and I needed to decide what was next.


I was young. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted, so I did what seemed easiest. I looked at what other seemingly successful people were doing, and did the same thing.


I carefully followed the path they followed. I ticked through the list of things they did. Finish school. Check. Get your first job. Check. Get better job. Check. Become a homeowner. Check.


In my mind, that’s what adults did. They finished school, became gainfully employed, and got married. Then, they bought a house, had kids, and lived happily ever after.


Sound familiar?


By 26 I had checked 3 out of the 6 boxes. I was even ahead of the game! Yet, despite this, I felt miserable and lost.


I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was living someone else’s life.


And I was.


If I wanted to live my own life and create my own happiness, I’d have to face the question I was avoiding.


In this article, I’m going to share with you what helped me find my answer.

It took me a year, but it was not a year of sitting in a chair wondering. It was a year of adventuring, and by that I don’t mean backpacking in the jungles of Borneo. I mean going to places that were new to me, most of which existed within me.


I spent time getting to know myself better.


  1. I figured out what scared me
  2. Discovered what brought me joy
  3. Identified what I found meaningful
  4. Realized what I was capable of.

These things helped me better understand myself, which in turn, led me to better understand what I wanted to do with my life.


This was almost 20 years ago. Since them my life has changed in ways I never could have predicted.


Over time, I’ve managed to create a life doing meaningful work that also allows me the independence to center my life around things that bring my joy.


I am not a life coach and I have no certifications that will guarantee you success. I’m writing this as a person who has been there. Someone who wants to help others where they are right now.

I don’t know what I want to do with my life.

If feel like you don’t know what you should do with your life, you are not alone.


Everyone, at some point in their life, has had to face this question.


Even the people who seem to have it so together.


Even Oprah.


To feel anxious, overwhelmed, or even terrified is completely normal. If you’re wondering what to do with your life, you are probably in the midst of some kind of change, and change is always scary. It’s right up there with public speaking.


The good news is that it’s possible to move towards the answer even if you have absolutely no idea what the answer is.


Here’s how to do it.

10 ways to move forward, even if you don’t know where you’re going.

During my time ‘adventuring’, I focused on getting a better understanding of myself and what I wanted from my life.


Here are 10 things I did that helped me move forward and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. If you’re not sure how to move forward with your journey, start here:

Each of the items are big question in and of themselves.


Figure out one. Figure out them all. Do whatever helps you move forward.


There is no one path. Start with the first one that strikes you. Do the ‘easy’ one. Work your way up to what seems more challenging.


Some force you to look inward.

 Grab a notebook or a journal, find a comfy corner at home or in a local cafe, and just start writing. The answer to these lies somewhere within you. It just takes time to uncover it. Let your thoughts flow and give yourself the time to reflect and answer honestly. You will only get out as much as you put in. The point of these is to help you uncover who you are and what you want.


Some call for action.

For these, make a plan and then hold yourself accountable, or find someone who will. Keep it simple. Write down what you plan to do and then write down how you felt afterwards. If you don’t manage to do what you hoped, write down why you didn’t, then try again, but make it easier. The point of these is to help you get out of your comfort zone and learn even more about yourself.


Some will simply show you how capable you are.

Some will ask you do to things that take courage. Start small. One step at a time. With each small success, up the ante just a bit. The point of these is to motivate and empower you. You’ll surprise yourself by how much you are capable of.


All of them will help you move forward.

It’s Never Too Late.

I wish someone would have told me what I’m about to tell you.


It’s never too late.


EVERYTHING you’ve done in your life up to this point will help you, even if it seems completely unrelated.


I spent 4 years earning a degree in computer science from a rigorous engineering school. For the next 5 years I worked at various startups. Then, at 28 I decided to go back to school to study art. This is where my year of ‘adventuring’ had brought me.


But there was one issue.


I’d spent my whole life in front of a computer, not a sketch book.


I could barely draw while my classmates, who were also 10 years younger than me, had been drawing their whole lives.


But this ended up being an asset.


Because I couldn’t draw, I had to approach projects differently .


At the start of each project, my peers would sit down with a pencil and paper and start drawing out ideas. I, on the other hand, would analyze the problem and state my ideas with words.


In my past life, I had designed entire courses and architected software. Was creating a new brand for a product so different?


I approached each project as an engineer. My solutions looked like no one else’s.


The skills I had acquired in my past life turned out to be a huge advantage.


They still are.


I went on to graduate at the top of my class.


If you think it’s too late for you to switch whatever path you’re on, you’re wrong.


Julia Child started her career working in government at the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA). It wasn’t until she was 49 that she took her first cooking class.


According to a National Center of Education Statistics report, 17 percent of part-time undergraduates attending public four-year institutions are 35 and older.


And according to an EdX poll, 32% of workers between the ages of 25 and 44 are considering changing careers, and 29% actually have.


Many others others have done it with great success.


Everything you’ve learned up to this point in your life will help you. All the life experience that got you where you are today will help you.


You just have to let it.

How do I start? Take a single step.

My first step was bringing my lunch to work every day.


At that point I was still working and had no idea what I wanted to do. But, one thing I did know was that having money in the bank would only help me.


Yet, the biggest affect of this action had was not on my bank account. It was on my mentality. This tiny, little action shifted my perception of myself.


Every time I packed my lunch for the next day, I felt like I was working to change my life.


By bringing my lunch, I was taking action.


This new found sense of empowerment brought me to my next step. I bought a book about women traveling the world alone. Traveling solo was something I’d always dreamed of doing but was too scared to do.


Reading this book (and feeling so inspired) brought me to my next step. I bought a plane ticket to somewhere I’d never been with a local language I didn’t speak. I’d also be traveling alone.


Each step led to the next without me knowing.


I never would have bought the plane ticket had I not been inspired by the book. I never would have bought the book, had I not felt empowered bringing my lunch.


Individually, each step is very small, but combined together, they’re very powerful. Combined together, they will get you were you’re going.

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Every action you take will lead you closer to the answer.


Most important is that you begin.

Your first step doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.

What’s one thing that you can do right now?


It can be as simple as buying a book, signing up for a class, or going for a walk every morning.


Or maybe it’s just bringing your lunch to school or work every day.


Remember, figuring out what to do with your life is like driving a car at night. You don’t have to see where you’re going. You only need to see two or three feet ahead of you.


Once you start, you may find you’re closer than you think.


1. Figure out who you are.

If you’re not sure what you want out of your life, think about what you want as a person.

Think back to when you were a kid. What were you like?

What did you do for fun?

What shaped you?

Now it is time to look within, and let time have its way. Be honest, be still, and be open.

Here are some quick exercises you can try:

  1. List your top 5 happiest life experiences. Then list what it was about these 5 events or experiences that made you happy.
  2. List 3-4 challenges have you faced in your life. What was the outcome of these challenges? What qualities helped you through them?
  3. List any principles or values that are important to you. Your list might include honesty, integrity, kindness, generosity, courage, or independence. Why are these important to you? How have these principles guided your life so far?
  4. What gives you your identity. Is it your job? Your name? Your family? Your achievements? Now remove yourself from your identity for as long as you can – a day, a week, a year. Take a trip somewhere without this identity. How does it feel?
  5. List your 3 impactful memories from when you were younger. What were you doing and why did this make you happy? Do you do anything like this now as an adult?

My strongest memories from my youth are a mishmash skateboarding, computer graphics, and photography. Thinking back on memories of me doing any of them floods me with joy. I also remembered how important the idea of independence was to me. I grew up with 3 other siblings and busy working parents. I felt like I had very little say in anything in my life growing up. Everything was a compromise. I figured out I needed to somehow incorporate creativity and board sports in my life. Somehow.

2. Decide who you want to be.

Instead of figuring out what you should do with your life, try figuring out who you want to be.


Do you want to be a chef?

Do you want to be professional athlete?

Do you want to be an actor?

Do you want to be financially independent?


Imagine the person you want to become. Think general or specific. Once you have that identity, use it as a frame for your actions .

  1. Imagine you won a million dollars in the lottery. Would you change anything in your life? What would you do? How would your life be different? Write it down and put it on your wall.
  2. Imagine 10 years from now and you’re at a party. You meet someone new and they ask what you do. Imagine you could be anything. What would you tell them?
  3. Think of someone you admire most in the world, someone you would love to meet if you could. What qualities do they have that you admire? What qualities helped them get to where they are? What would you ask them if you could?
  4. What would you do if you were 100% sure you would be successful and if time and money were not an issue? Sometimes it’s the fear of failure that keeps us from finding our true calling. Sometimes it’s limited resources. What is keeping you from your calling? Write it down.
  5. What values or skill are most important to you? Make a list in order of importance. Some examples might be financial independence, personal independence, accountability for your actions, or the ability to make decisions alone.

When I was still working, someone asked me what I would do if I won a million dollars. Without a second’s hesitation I said ‘go to art school.’ Hearing those words come out of my mouth shocked me. I never, ever considered going to art school or being an artist. Not until that moment, anyway. Saying this out loud planted the first seed that eventually led me to actually go art school.

3. Do a life audit.

Imagine going on a road trip.


How would you prepare for the road ahead?


Do you have enough gas?


Are you driving alone, or bringing friends?


Have a spare tire in back? Snacks?


Anything you should leave to lighten the load?


This kind of thinking is always helpful when you’re considering a life change. Even just a small one. Is your tank full or empty? Is your car empty or already full?


These short exercises will help you take stock of your resources:

  1. Make a list of the things you love about your life (or job). Is there anything you wish you could add to that list?
  2. Make a list of the things you dislike about your life (or job). What would it take to remove those things from your life?
  3. Make a list of the things you would change in your life if money were no object. What would it take to make those changes?
  4. Make a list of the things in your life that you enjoy or perhaps even love, but require a lot of resources, such as time or money. If you were to no longer have these things, how would it impact your life?
  5. Create a vision board of the life you want. How do the items on that vision board align with your life right now? What visuals or quotes best represent the ideas that you are working towards, that give you passion?

While I was at my various tech startups, I managed to buy a nice condo in a great part of town. I loved it. I was (and still am) a bit of a homebody and this condo was my sanctuary. It was also this sanctuary that was keeping me anchored in place. I had to keep doing what I was doing to afford my mortgage. It took me a year, but I eventually sold it and used the proceeds to go back to school. In the end, it was what gave me my freedom.

4. Identify what gives you meaning.

Research states that doing something that matters to you increases your psychological well-being.


In other words, living a life of meaning can make you healthier, wealthier, and wiser.


This doesn’t mean you have to commit your life to a cause or a charity.


It just needs to be something meaningful to YOU. Your meaning could be a cause or charity.


It could be a hobby you love.


It could be a person or a group of people.


Once you figure out what it is, try and make it part of your everyday life.


Try answering any or all of these questions, and see what parts of life truly matter to you:

  1. What’s something you would do for free if you knew it would help someone?
  2. If you had one month left to live, how would you spend it?
  3. What’s something you’re good at, and you want to share with others? Perhaps it’s a special skill you have, or it could be knowledge that you share. Is there a community of like minded people interested in the same thing? Engage this community, even if you’re scared. Find people to share your interests with who can truly relate.
  4. How can you be of service? Is there a local organization or community that you can donate time or resources to?
  5. What’s something you do right now for others, that you can’t help but do, even if it requires time or money on your part?

When I was still working, someone asked me what I would do if I won a million dollars. Without a second’s hesitation I said ‘go to art school.’ Hearing those words come out of my mouth shocked me. I never, ever considered going to art school or being an artist. Not until that moment, anyway. Saying this out loud planted the first seed that eventually led me to actually go art school.

5. Discover what brings you joy and awe.

Psychologists believe awe can help us be happier and healthier. They even go so far as to say experiencing awe can help you live your best life.


Yes, awe is what you may feel standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, but it is also something you might feel listening to a moving piece of music.


Awe helps us stay balanced and gives us perspective. It can also be a powerful motivator. Discover what brings you joy or awe and use it to help you stay grounded.


If you’re having trouble re-discovering what brings you joy, try answering any or all of these five questions:

  1. What is something you do that engages you so much, you lose complete track of time?
  2. Describe your perfect day. Where are you? What are you doing?
  3. When you were a kid, what did you love to do? How did you spend your free time? How would you feel if you were to do something similar as an adult?
  4. When was the last time you actually felt like a kid?
  5. When was the last time you felt moved? Maybe it was an event or a performance you attended? Or maybe it was something you experienced?

Photography, computers and skateboards brought me joy as a kid. I taught myself to program when I was 12 and spent countless hours coding graphics of Vans skate shoes on my Apple IIe. A few years later, I discovered photography, which led me to graphic design. I fell in love with surfing in my 30s which essentially lead me to what I do today: creating mobile apps. I wanted to surf every day, but having a full time job and a 1 year old made that very, very hard. So I bought a book on Amazon started making apps with the goal of one day quitting my job so I could surf every day. I quit my job 3 years later.

6. Look for inspiration from others.

Inspiration helps us transcend our understanding of what’s possible. It can motivate us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise dream of doing.


When we learn about the thoughts and lives of others, we can find alternative ways of thinking and living. When combined with motivation, inspiration can help us discover our super powers.


Here are five short exercises to help you discover inspiration no matter where you look:

  1. What’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but were too scared to do? Find others who have done these things and learn about their experience. What would it take for you to do it?
  2. Who is someone you admire? It could be someone you know, someone you’ve read about, or even a character in a movie or book. What have they done that you admire and how did they achieve it?
  3. Read books, watch documentaries or listen to podcasts about people who have done something that amazes you. Try ted.com or something from here. Learn from their experiences. What are similarities in their experiences? Are there any similarities with your experience so far?
  4. Find other people who are on a similar path to you but a little farther along. Look for a meetup or club with people doing something similar to what you’re interested in. Talk to as many people as you can. What lessons have they learned that can help you on your way?
  5. Read ‘What Should I Do With My Life’ by Po Bronson. It has numerous stories of people at different stages of their journey, trying to answer the same question as you.

I was inspired by anyone who could do something I was too scared to do, artists and writers especially. And of course, solo-women travelers. I read countless books about women traveling alone. This is my all time favorite. When you finally face a long standing fear, the whole world opens up to you. Traveling alone, feeling scared, yet still loving it taught me to say ‘yes’ to other things that scared me.

7. Realize what you’re capable of.

What often keeps us from reaching our true potential is ourselves. 


Whether it’s fear, self-doubt, lack of consistency or just plain a lack of organization, too much or too little can keep us from creating the lives we want and deserve.


What keeps you stuck in place? How can you overcome it?


Conquer your fears and find your strength. Here are a few ways you can start:

  1. Do something small that scares you. Maybe it’s eating dinner alone in a restaurant. Maybe it’s introducing yourself to someone you don’t know. Think of something scary, but safe, and do it.
  2. What’s something you always wished you were better at? What’s something small that you can do consistently,preferably every day, that will help you get there? Let’s say you want to be better at drawing. Try spending 15 minutes or less, every day, drawing just one thing.
  3. Along the same lines, what’s a goal you’ve always wanted to accomplish? What’s something small that you can do consistently that will help you get there? For example, if you’ve always wanted to run a 10K, but are not yet a runner, you could start by walking a mile every day.
  4. Try a 30-Day Challenge doing something important to you. Write 250 words a day for 30 days. Workout everyday for 30 days. Cook dinner every day for 30 days. Whatever it is you choose, stick with it and amaze yourself.
  5. What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but are too scared to do it? Is there a way to face this fear in small doses? For example, maybe you’ve always been fascinated by rock climbing, but are afraid of heights. Perhaps take a rock climbing class at a local gym in a safe, controlled environment and work through your fear.

I found empowerment through running. I’ve never been a runner. I actually hated running, but since I was trying to save money, I cancelled my gym membership. I needed a form of exercise that was free. When I started, I could barely run a mile, but I kept with it. Each time I ran, I would run just a bit farther than the day before. Within a month I could run 3 miles. A year later I ran a marathon. Crossing that finish line was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had no idea I was capable of such a thing.

8. Gain a new perspective.

How we view ourselves and the world around us is shaped by our perspective.


How we judge something as a success or failure depends on that perspective. How we judge ourselves depends on that perspective.


The broader your perspective, the more possibilities you will see and the greater your chance of achieving your goal. Subtle shifts can be the difference between moving forward and turning back on something we’re pursuing.


Here are a few things you can try to expand your perspective:

  1. Go for a walk every morning before you start your day, even if it’s just 5 minutes around the block. Look up at the sky. Notice your surroundings. Observe what nature you can. Do this for a week. How does this morning walk affect your day?
  2. Learn about other people’s lives. Surround yourself with people other than who you’re used to. Get out of your comfort zone. Talk to people. Learn about their stories. Or Learn about other’s stories online.
  3. Take a class in something you’ve never thought about doing. Knitting. Rock Climbing. Cooking. Meditation. Try something completely new. Is it what you expected?
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Start each morning by listing at least one thing you’re grateful for. Remind yourself what life has given you, and it will only benefit you.
  5. Instead of saying no, say yes. Get out of your comfort zone. If someone invites you to something you’d normally say no to, say yes.

Traveling expanded my perspective in ways I never imagined. When I left, I assumed being exposed to a new country and culture would be the most eye-opening, but I was wrong. It was actually other travelers I met, of all ages from countries all over the world. So different from me, yet so similar. Many in the midst of transition. I met 72 year old Alma, an art history teacher from Argentina on an overnight ferry from Italy to Athens. I helped her carry her roller bag up 3 flights of stairs. She had just retired and was fulfilling her dream to see the art she had taught her students about her entire life. She was traveling alone also. Each person’s story gave me a new way of looking at mine. I realized I was often my worst critic. And though I was wandering, I certainly wasn’t lost.

9. Embrace change.

Change helps us become more resilient and opens us up to new opportunities. It broadens our horizons and can give us a new perspective. It teaches us to adapt.


If you’re like me, you don’t like change.


When I go to my favorite restaurant, I always order the same thing. I go for a neighborhood walk every morning and I always walk the same route. I eat the same breakfast every single day.


Like so many things that are good for us, change is hard!


Change takes courage, but remember: courage is a muscle. The more we exercise it, the more courageous we become.


The more courageous we are, the more we can embrace change.


Here are some easy ways to spark change in your life. As you do these things, pay attention to how you feel before and after the change.

  1. Go to your favorite cafe or restaurant. Order something you’ve never tried. Or, go to a restaurant of cafe you’ve passed 100 times, but never tried.
  2. Switch up your surroundings. Maybe it’s rearranging your furniture, moving to a new room, home, town, state, country.
  3. Switch up your routine. What do you normally do on weekends? Swap this for something entirely different.
  4. What do you normally do after dinner? If you love to flop onto the couch and watch a show, go out for an after-dinner walk or perhaps read a book. Try doing this for a week, then try something entirely different.
  5. What’s something about your life that you wish was different? Maybe you wish you would stop staying up so late or perhaps you wished you ate better. Try making that change. Make a plan and stick to it for a week.

I decided I needed a change and went to the extreme. My brother was in college across the country in California, and his roommate had just moved out. He offered the room to me and I accepted. I sold my condo, put everything in storage, and flew across the country. I was free.

10. Prepare for the future.

The road ahead will be full of highs and lows.

There will be sharp curves you didn’t see coming.

You may even be the tempted to turn around entirely.

The best way to prepare yourself for this is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, whatever that ‘worst’ is for you. Perhaps what will save you in these moments is a supportive friend. Or maybe it’s extra savings in the bank. Whatever it is that will help, start fostering it from the beginning.


Take stock of the resources and support system you have around you. If you don’t feel confident yet, here are some places to start:

  1. Find a person – a friend, family member, partner – to support you during the ups and downs of your journey. Tell them what you are doing, why you are doing it, and ask them to remind you of that when you need it.
  2. Save money (or whatever resource you depend on). The more resources you have, the more options you have in the future.
  3. Keep a journal of your thoughts and progress. Maybe it’s a notebook. Maybe it’s an app. Whatever it is, fill it with your hopes, dreams, challenges, progress, and achievements. It will help keep you going.
  4. Find an accountability partner or someone who is going through something similar. Make a plan to check-in with that person every day, week or month. Hold each other accountable to your journeys.
  5. Create a Vision Board. Look at it every morning. Use it to remind you of your ‘why’ and stay focused on your journey.

The two things that helped me the most on my journey was saving every single penny I could, and keeping a journal. Having money gave me more options. The journal kept me focused. It reminded me of my ‘why.’ When I hit a bump in the road, I would re-read it and somehow it always kept me going instead of turning back. My journal reminded me who I was, what I wanted, and how far I had come.

Focus on where you are now. The next step will follow with time.

If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I’ve listed, don’t be. Think of these as mere suggestions. Do one. Do them all.


Don’t get overwhelmed by the possibilities of your journey. Take it exercise by exercise, step by step, day by day. Give yourself time to reflect, consider, explore. With time, the next step will reveal itself. You will likely discover something I haven’t even described, and it will be wonderful because it was dreamt up by you.


I started by bringing my lunch. One year later I quit my job, sold my home, moved across the country and went back to school to study something I had never done in my life.


Your path will probably be very different. What I hope will be similar, though, is that you stay on the road and keep adventuring until you find your answer.


If you find yourself stuck, pick something from the list above and see where it brings you.


You are on the road to something big. You only need to see 2–3 feet in front of you to get there.

And finally, some parting words of advice.

  1. Be open to possibilities. The answer you’re looking for may present itself in an unexpected way. Don’t miss it because it wasn’t exactly what you were looking for. Think of everything as an opportunity to learn and explore. If it doesn’t work for you, you’ve still learned something new.
  2. There’s no ‘right’ way to get where you’re going. Caught in an unexpected detour? Don’t despair. Detours keep us moving instead of idling in place. Stuck on the slow road and taking longer then you expected? Keep your pace. It’s not a race. You will get there. Enjoy the drive, wherever and however long it takes.
  3. There’s no such thing as being lost. Unexpected turns can reveal new opportunities. I went to art school thinking I wanted to study photography. While looking for the bathroom, I took a wrong turn and wandered into the graphic design department. Before that moment, I didn’t even know what graphic design was. I switched my major from photography to graphic design that same day. Instead of finding the bathroom, I found what I wanted to do with my life.

And with that, bon voyage. And don’t forget to write.

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