Navigating Life: What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do

Pack your bags and allow this guide to be your compass as you figure out what you want to do in life.

Published September 19, 2023
Girl laying on couch looking depressed and stressed

After college, I moved away from my hometown to a major city on the east coast. I had no plan. I had no idea what to do with my life. I simply leaped and hoped that somehow, somewhere, a net would appear. And while I don't totally endorse that idea, what I'm saying is: if you find yourself thinking "I have no idea what to do with my life" or "I have no idea what I'm doing," you aren't alone. 

Sometimes muddling through those thoughts can be just as painful as when you were looking for a place in this world as you navigated being a tween and teen. But it's not all dark days. You aren't buried, simply planted. And there's a way to grow, stretch your leaves, and blossom. 

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing With My Life

These words haunted me for a very long time, and they might be following you, too. If nothing else, remember this: you are not alone; no one has it as together as they look. Now, let's dive into YOU. 

Start to Say Yes More

And no, this doesn't mean say yes to that sky diving trip if you're terrified of heights or quitting your server job to take a cross-country road trip. Anytime I have found myself feeling cornered or stuck, I push myself to say yes to plans, parties, concerts, dinners, or even just brunch plans that I wouldn't ordinarily say yes to. Instead of going straight home, linger, stop at a bookshop, and take the longer way home — anything to break the routine. 

Quick Tip

Putting yourself in new situations forces your brain to think differently — and could make you happy when you might be struggling. Happy pro, Gretchen Rubin, recognizes positivity in routine but also suggests breaking things up: "It's true that novelty and challenge bring happiness and that people who break their routines, try new things, and go new places are happier..."

Take Goals One Step at a Time

If you want to hike the Appalachian Trail, you must first start with walks around the block. The same is true for a career path, a certification, and life goals. Dip your toes into the field you're looking to pursue by finding online communities, checking for a local young professional groups, or even attending traditional networking events. Consider reaching out to schools or other groups you've attended or worked with in the past.

Conventions are another excellent place to meet people in your desired field. However big or small you want to start is up to you; it's important to start in any way that'll get you out the door and taking that first step. Even if you don't make a connection, getting yourself out there is an important first step. And it's one to be proud of, no matter how you do it. 

Know That Failure Is Still Success

It's more than okay to fall down seven times, so long as you stand up eight. The world is filled with people applying for jobs, schools, internships, or apprenticeships, and things don't always work out. (Been there, done that, and I keep doing it!)

But in the words of Michael Scott, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. — Wayne Gretzky." A rejection is experience in disguise. At the time, it sure doesn't feel like experience, and frankly, it sucks and is incredibly discouraging. Rally and keep going. You're getting closer. The next door could be the right one. 

Reach Out to Former Communities 

Some colleges, universities, or high schools offer alumni career assistance or can provide resources to help navigate life. This can range from applying to college at any age to a graduate program to helping you to land a job in your preferred field.

 If you don't have a LinkedIn account, or another professional profile, establish one. And don't be afraid to reach out to those you enjoyed working with or for. Connect with those you've had positive experiences with. Someday they might be reaching out to you when they're unsure of their next step. 

Quick Tip

Those communities don't even need to be about school or work. Join a sports club, a book club, any community where you share an interest. You never know who you'll meet or what advice they have tucked away inside of them. 

It's Okay to Change Your Mind & Make New Plans 

Sometimes things just don't work. So if you find yourself metaphorically banging your head against the wall, trying to figure out why all your planning isn't working, there's a beauty in starting over.

I was absolutely certain I was going to go back to school for a second degree, and I had myself convinced that I was a lock. When I received that letter of rejection, I was absolutely gutted. But now? I am so glad things didn't go that route. I took a few weeks, considered whether I wanted to go back that route, see what I could do better and try again, or if this was a Hail Mary pass because I didn't know what I wanted in life.

Spoiler alert: I just thought I needed to find a career that wasn't serving. So I moved on and left that plan on read.  

Questions to Ask Yourself to Help You Figure Out Life

Grab your journal, your laptop, or mull these answers over in your head to help you guide your compass as you figure out where you want to be — but still appreciating where you are now. And while that can sound cheesy or difficult (I have been there), once upon a time you dreamed of being where you are now.

It may not be the exact situation, but there's some aspect of your current life that was a goal. Relish it, celebrate it, and use it to help you as you look ahead. 

  1. What makes me happy about my life as it is now?
  2. What do I want to see change in my life?
  3. What am I passionate about?
  4. What is my gut or intuition telling me?
  5. What do I feel as though I'm missing in my life? 
  6. How can I add those missing things to my life? 
  7. What advice would I give a friend? 

Give Someone Else Advice — For You

That last question might leave you puzzling. Sometimes it can be easier to see the solution when you remove yourself from the situation. Imagining a friend in your position can help to look at it analytically and find solutions or ideas that you otherwise wouldn't have stumbled across. You know when you have insider knowledge a character doesn't have during a movie? Think of it like that. 

Lost? Confused? You're Not Alone

I graduated college, moved to a major city, and had no plan or safety net other than an English degree and a tenacity that only a new and hopeful college graduate could have. And then seven years later, not much had changed. I had the same job, dabbled at a law firm briefly, but otherwise I paid my bills as a server. 

I watched my peers step into careers immediately and while I knew what I wanted to do (I'm going to be a writer!) I did not have even the tiniest idea of how I was going to make that happen. But, I started saying yes. I failed. I made myself anxious and pushed myself out of my comfort zone.

Is that the plan for everyone? No. But I sure didn't know what I was doing then and, honestly, I still don't always know. 

Need to Know

Here's the secret: even after you get where you want to go, you might find yourself wondering, what's next? And that's all part of the journey. 

Feeling Lost Isn't a Hopeless Place

Life can feel and be tricky, and at times, it can feel like you're simply stuck. But nothing in life lasts forever, and with a little bit of patience, a splash of guts, and a touch of hope for the future, you can start turning the wheel of change in your life. You've got this, you can do this, your goals are just around the corner. 

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Navigating Life: What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do