How can you know what you want to do in your life if you have only been in school? / by Alen Faljic

You can't. And it's not your fault. 

Do you still remember when you had to decide which high school or university you want to attend? Looking back I can say that neither I nor my colleagues were ready for such an important decision. One of the biggest decisions in our lives is based on a totally skewed image of what a certain profession could bring us. 

The battle of passive vs. active

The education system is unfortunately designed to kill our creativity, freedom, and a will to create. We are forced to memorize important facts, listen to interesting lectures, and read up to date books. All of which subconsciously teaches us to become passive observers of own life. If we look from a high-level perspective, schools are actually creating lifeless, passionless, and bored to death individuals.  

By the time when we have to decide which university to attend and hence what to do in our lives, we usually have no idea what to choose. What is even worse, we think we know exactly what we want! We base our decision on a romantic image of what being a lawyer, a manager, a doctor, an engineer or a professor could bring us. But, truth to be told, we have no idea! 

Several friends of mine have come to the very end of their educational path, only to figure out that their choice was probably not the best. In the final year of their studies, they had the first real work experience as interns and while working they realized how much they actually dislike this job. 

So, how can you know what you want to do in your life if you have only been in school? 

You can't. And it's not entirely your fault. But who said you only have to be in school? You have to be active on your own. Even more, it is actually your responsibility to figure out what you want. 

Stop being passive. Stop studying all the time, stop watching tv shows all day, stop wasting every minute of our free time on Facebook, stop going to drinks every day and stop complaining too much. 

We weren't always like that. What did we do as kids? We were creative and active every day. We drew beautiful paintings, built castles from sand, wrote stories, played with legos, we sang, and when we were alone we used our imagination to play with ourselves. 

Let's become active and creative again. 

What you want is the wrong question

The thing with figuring out what we want is that it never ends. Think of it as series of challenges. Once you achieve something you want, you start thinking about the next challenge. It's human nature. A proper analogy for this process is peeling an onion. You start from the most outer layer and work your way to the core. In every point, you can only see and peel the next layer. Similarly, we can only see our next challenge.

Hence, what we want to do is a wrong question because what we want is not static. It is dynamic. I think that a much better question than what is how. How do you want to express yourself? How do you want to live your life? What gives you the most energy as a process? Do you like creating real products? Do you like writing? Public speaking? Knitting? Painting? Cooking? Dancing? Singing?   

I know... It's not easy. But don't worry too much. Just start peeling your onion. What is your challenge at hand? What do you feel you want to do right now? What do you want to create? If you have no idea, here is a list of 7 things you can do right now. 

7 ways to start peeling your onion

  1. Read a book. Find a topic that you are interested in and borrow or buy that book. If you dislike reading, go for a book that is full of pictures. Just start. You never know where this one book might take you. You can find some books to read here.
  2. Get an internship. It can be either in your field of studies or it can be something totally unrelated. Have you always been fascinated by a certain author, entrepreneur or company? Why not send them an email and see if you can work for them. Offer to work for free for a month or two. Use following for the subject line: "Can I work for you? For free?". Explain what skills and knowledge you have and how you could help. Have no idea where this will take you? Fine. Just do something. You will learn along the way.
  3. Cook a masterpiece dinner. Or go a step further. Throw a dinner party. Invite friends, and show your skills. Or create a whole project around it. Throw a running dinner
  4. Build something with Legos. What did you build as a kid? Do it again, just better, bigger, and stronger. Create something you will be proud of.   
  5. Write a short book; start off with just one paragraph. Let it grow over time. And if you already plan to write, why not write your own book and publish a hard copy of it?
  6. Shoot a short vine video. You can do it, it's only 7 seconds. Create a masterpiece. Watch other great vines, get inspired and do your own. Share it on Facebook and Twitter with friends.
  7. Take a set of beautiful photos, print them, and host a gallery night in your room. Get a polaroid camera if printing sounds too complex. 

Engaging in some of these activities might not seem anything like a way to discover what you want to do. And you are right. You probably won't find your life's mission, but you can learn a lot about yourself. With every new project, your mental model of what you want to do will become richer and you will gain a greater understanding of your path. For example, you might notice that you love to work alone. This is already a very important realization that will help you choose your next project or work...

I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.
— Joseph Conrad

I am sure I forgot a lot of possible peeling onion activities. If anything comes to your minds, please share it in the comment section below so that we can create and explore even more.