Is This Normal? I Don’t Know What I Want in Life
"I feel tempted to go back to a career I hate."
You’ve got embarrassing, tricky, and otherwise unusual life questions. We’ve got answers. Welcome to Is This Normal?, a no-nonsense, no-judgment advice column from HelloGiggles, in which we tap experts to find out exactly how typical (or not) your situation is.
Dear Is This Normal,
I’m turning 25 in a month and have absolutely no idea what I want in life. It wasn’t always like this. I thought I knew what I wanted when I was in school and studying finance. But then I actually got into my workforce and I couldn’t stand my job, which I ironically lost due to COVID-19.
Now I’m unemployed and I don’t necessarily want to go back and work in finance, but I also don’t know what I do want or even where I want to live. It’s also really hard to even find a job right now, so I feel tempted to go back to a career I hate. I feel so indecisive, and I’m currently living with my parents wondering what my next move will be. Any advice?
Stuck and Stressed
Hi Stuck and Stressed,
This letter really struck me, particularly because I’ve been there myself. When I graduated college, I was totally confused about whether or not I wanted to pursue what I had just spent four years studying. I spent my early twenties trying out different jobs, all the while criticizing myself for not having it totally figured out. I lived in a few different cities, dated a few different people, had very different visions of what my life might eventually become. I had so many wonderful adventures, but I totally lacked clarity.
From the sound of your letter, it sounds like you’re lacking clarity, too. You had these expectations for yourself—that you would be happy with a career in finance—and those expectations weren’t met. Now you’re at a crossroads, and you can’t decide exactly where you want to go.
First, I want to let you know that this is indeed normal. Lots of people—not just people who are in their early twenties—question their life path. And it often happens a couple of times throughout our existence, especially if you’re a person who’s prone to doubt or anxiety. Perhaps you’re sitting there thinking of all of the things you could be doing and getting overwhelmed. Once you settle on one idea, you immediately start wondering if it’s the “right” choice, if you’ll fail, or if you “should” be doing something else.
All of this waiting and wondering just creates more anxiety. In other words, not making a decision sometimes feels worse than making the “wrong” decision. (Which, FYI, I don’t believe in.) For example, you tried out a finance career and you didn’t like it. Now that’s one thing you can cross off your list. Sometimes, figuring out what you want in life is more of a process of elimination than it is a formula.
“If you don’t know what you want, go out and find out what you don’t like,” says Therese Curran, a campus recruiter. “Knowing what you don’t enjoy is a powerful process to finding out what you want. It’s a lot easier to say ‘no thank you’ than ‘this is my future career, and I want this to be my legacy.’”
In order to get the clarity you’re seeking, you just need to live your life.
Seriously. Make a choice and see how you feel after making that choice. If you’re still struggling to make that first initial choice, start by listing out your values. These could include family, love, independence, creativity, adventure, religion, stability, wisdom, philanthropy, or pleasure. Try to narrow it down to three or four as your top values. Now you have a general idea of what you want, and you can use this list as a sort of lighthouse for guiding you home to yourself.
You can also take some of the pressure off of yourself. If you truly hate something, you can always switch gears, because it’s never too late to start over. For now, focus on things that align with your values or spike your intrigue. Set an informational interview with someone you admire. Visit a city (safely) that you’ve always wanted to explore. Take an online class in a subject you find interesting. Apply for positions that sound fun. See if you can monetize any of your hobbies. As for bigger decisions, like starting a new job or moving, there are some general best practices.
“Weigh out the pros and cons,” Curran suggests. “Go with your gut, but remember that all decisions can be changed and adjusted once you make them, so know that there is always room for growth and change as you live with a decision. Steve Jobs didn’t set out to invent the iPhone; he just went into his industry and continued to adjust, grow, and find a white space.”
I’ll leave you with this: Even if you do figure out what you want, that very well might change.
You’re never “done,” but you always have a purpose—even if you don’t know what that is. Take some of the pressure off of yourself and focus on living your life rather than perfecting it. Through your choices, you’ll eventually learn what it is that you want and what it is that you don’t want.