I remember having four post-its with different professions written down on each. Then I crumbled the papers, put them in my hand, and shook them around.
I picked up two and unfolded them. Then I told myself, “This is what I should do with my life.”
It didn’t work.
In this article, I will teach you what works: I will help you determine what to do with your life by providing you with a simple solution to how to fill it with worth.
Albert Camus, the absurdist philosopher said,
“Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”
In a way, he’s right. Because if life is not worth living, then what’s the point of it all?
Sadly, there appears to be an increase in meaninglessness and depression in the world. In the UK, a survey revealed that 2 million people thought their life was not very worthwhile.
I once felt that way too. I had no clue what I wanted from life, and in my despair of trying to figure it out, I tried the approach I mentioned above.
It didn’t work, and the reason it didn’t work was because I didn’t find what I had written valuable enough.
Luckily, however, there’s a better way.
What Do You Want?
When we’re young, we might say we want to be firefighters, police officers, or doctors when we grow up.
Of course, these are only simple labels yet that we’re unable to fully understand, so we can pinpoint what we want with ease.
As we grow older, however, and start to discover the complexity of life, the easy labels disappear and we begin to understand what truly lies behind them.
Becoming a doctor suddenly means becoming something more. It means taking care of patients, understanding the human body and prescribing medicine. And what’s more, it’s really hard trying to become one as well.
With an increased understanding of life, we also discover there are thousands of other things we can become as well.
And that’s when our trouble’s begins.
We feel lost, don’t know what to do, and we worry because we know we ought to choose something.
But how can we choose when we’re completely clueless?
The Best Choice is Something Valuable
As a human, you instinctively want the things that are valuable to you. You have a value-judgement, and you use it to determine the worth of things.
This also includes yourself. And that means it’s your subjective judgement that makes life worth living or not.
To say it again: To live a life worth living is to judge your life by your own internal standards.
This judgement, however, is influenced by external factors, such as what your family or friends want, or what the larger society wants as a whole.
The key to knowing your true values, then, is to silence the noise and get clear on what you want.
But still there’s a minor problem. There’s a difference between what you want now and what you want in the future. So how can you know what you want to do with your life?
The Solution is to Look to Others
There’s a difference between you actual values (in the present) and your aspiring values (in the future).
So if you want to do something different from what you’re doing today, you have to develop into someone else; a different version of yourself. You have to look into the future.
That’s not as easy as it sounds, however. The future is vague and far away; and although we have the capacity to look into it, the truth is that we’re not particularly good at making accurate predictions (just take the weather forecast as an example).
In his phenomenal book, Stumbling on Happiness, psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues there’s only one viable approach to figuring out what will make you happy in the future:
Because humans are more similar than different from each other, you can look at the lives of others, and infer from their happiness that you would be just as happy if you were living in the same way.
This is also true for your values. You can look at what makes other people’s life worthwhile, and infer that your life would be equally worthwhile if you were living in the same way.
“We think of ourselves as unique entities — minds unlike any others — and thus we often reject the lessons that the emotional experience of others has to teach us.” — Daniel Gilbert
Although this might appear to contradict the previous statement about silencing the noise from external sources, it doesn’t. The key is to separate the noise from what’s important. You can silence the noise and still rely on external guidance.
And some of the best guidance comes form your ideals; the people you already admire.
Your ideals inspire you for a reason: they’re living lives you judge worthwhile, and you look up to them because you aspire to be like them one day.
To know what you want to do with your life, then, simply identify how your ideals are living.
If you have more than one ideal, distill a mixture of every one’s best qualities to create an ultimate ideal.
Then choose to go after it.
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