This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
You were a golden child on a golden path. Smart and talented, you looked forward to your happy ending: waking up every morning excited for work that paid well, charismatic colleagues who were also great mentors, and lots of after-work time to have fun.
You had great expectations. Like everyone around you. They still do.
And yet here you are today: feeling lost. Trapped in a life that you somehow feel isn’t really yours. Disengaged from what’s going on around you; while daydreaming of a better day that you don’t even know what really looks like.
I write this not because I’m one of those Internet millionaires who’s got everything figured out, and has the money to prove it. (“BTW, please sign up for my course to achieve guaranteed happiness here.”) I write this because I was once in your position, and somehow found my way out of this.
This is how I found meaning in my small world. And maybe this is how you’ll find yours.
Everyone Compares; Everyone Feels Like Shit
Maybe you feel lost because you have a bunch of friends who seem to have it all figured out. You know, the ones who are already on their way to becoming millionaires, with their 10,000 social media followers.
“Find your passion, and you’ll never have to work again!” screams Nora’s Instagram caption of her latest project — one that concurrently helps underprivileged people, makes good money, looks cool, and even the f*cking government wants to invest in.
You Like. You try to be happy for her; but deep inside — you start to wonder why you’re such a loser. Here she is on her path to change the world, and you can’t even complete your college assignments on time.
“I wish I could be like Nora,” you say.
It’s okay — I wish I could be Nora too. Everyone has a Nora in their lives, and everyone wishes they could be Nora.
But maybe Nora wishes she could be more like you.
Time Is Your Friend
Actually, you still have plenty of time. It’s good that you’re already thinking about a meaningful life — but stop pressuring yourself to figure everything out today.
I say this because you’re young.
When I was your age, I was a slacker. All I knew was to follow the traditional path, whether it was studying mindlessly for exams, or doing the minimum at work and trying to go home early. My mind was focused on chasing girls, basketball, and the Akavari Warblade I was gonna buy for my computer game character when I got home.
And that’s before I count all the hours I wasted looking at sexy women online.
I was 30 years old before I started anything that I was really proud of.
Now I’m 33, and I get the feeling that what I’m most proud of is meaningless for most people. I still drive an old Malaysian-made car that people laugh at. And I’m still unmarried, whereas many of my peers are already celebrating birthdays with their kids.
No, I can’t tell you that I have it all figured it out. But if I’m 33 years old and content, I’m pretty sure you’ll figure it out before me.
Because you’re way younger and already thinking about deep stuff like this. Because you’re hungry.
As long as you don’t fall into the terrible trap of numbing that hunger with distractions.
(By all means, go party, have that drink, and say yes to that poker game — just don’t get addicted and make your life all about pleasure.)
How to Understand Yourself
So how do you feed your hunger the right way? Glad you asked. It’s an extension of what you’re already doing: trying to figure out your place in this world. And it starts by understanding yourself.
The people who love you can help. Talk to them — those who are around you right now, and those who knew you when you were younger:
- “What do you think I should really be doing with my life? Please be brutally honest.”
- “And what do you think I’d be really successful at?”
You’ll be surprised at what they can reveal if you ask.
But more importantly, reflect. Think about why you feel a certain way towards certain things. Like:
- “During my internship, what was my favorite part of work, and why did I love it?”
- “What skills do I have that people frequently ask for, and how does it feel when I use them?”
- “If I didn’t have to work for money, but instead had to do something to improve society — what work would I choose?”
People sometimes ask me how I figured things out, and could be “brave” enough to quit well-paying jobs in big companies to try risky things. Well, I’m actually an over-analyzing mental masturbator, so I can tell you: those decisions did not come easily.
I only dared to move after spending months (and in certain cases years) questioning myself first, and talking to wiser people.
But since we’re already talking about courage…
Experiment to Get Courage, Use Courage to Experiment more
Gain courage by actually doing things. It’s easy to sit behind the safety of your screen and dream about all the great things you’ll do. It’s easy to talk, criticize others and laugh at how they’re such noobs.
But you will learn so much more about yourself and the world by getting your hands dirty; by trying things. You will also learn humility.
Start. Start that podcast you wanted to launch. Start emailing potential customers for your after-work business. Start talking to your bosses for that job you really want. Whatever it is you desire — even if you’re not sure — get off your butt and just start.
How do you get around the fear of being laughed at?
Learn to view everything as an experiment, not a scorecard of how valuable you are. Like if you try your hand at singing in public, and nobody claps. It might mean you’re a lousy singer, but that doesn’t mean you’re a lousy person. How successful you are at the things you try is not a measure of your self-worth.
Experiment more and see if something else works better. Maybe your singing is poor, but a great singer might like your piano skills and want to work with you. But if you never take a step forward — maybe even something small like uploading your song on Instagram — you’ll never find out.
Courage to do one big thing comes from confidence gained through a hundred small wins.
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The oldest cliche in the book is also true: Life is a journey, not a destination. But you could replace the word Life with anything else you desire: Success, Passion, Love, Happiness…
Because actually, certainty is unnatural. Destinations are unnatural. All of life is a blurry analog signal of ups and downs, ebbs and flows. There are no notifications that pop up saying “YOUR LIFE IS SUCCESSFUL NOW!” Instead, learn to accept and be comfortable with uncertainty.
If you feel lost today, that’s okay. Everyone feels shitty sometimes; even old people. Understand that you’re young, and that you’re really okay. With time and with courage, you’ll figure things out. And that wandering and exploring are part and parcel of life.
You’re not lost. You’re just living.
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Originally published at Thought Catalog.