This super-fun existential question of what to do when you don’t know what to do with your life is something that many of us of experience at some point (or points). Maybe you find your current career path to be unfulfilling, or you hear the gentle siren of “grad school, grad school” calling to you. Doubting your life choices and wondering whether you should go back to the drawing board is a big, scary, and totally common thing. And, more good news: You don’t have to tackle the conundrum alone.
That’s a truth I know all too well: At age 20, I wasn’t invited back to the fashion design program in which I was enrolled in Philadelphia, because I earned D+ in flat pattern over the summer. Despite my unease about the future (okay, let’s call a spade a spade—I couldn’t stop crying), I had already done enough self-reflection to brainstorm a wobbly Plan B, C, and D. And, one day at a bus stop, I helped myself to explaining these plans to a complete stranger.
“I could try to fight to stay in the program, which at this point sounds exhausting; I could switch my major to textile design…” I mused, ticking off the options on my fingers. “Or I could leave the school in shame, go to community college for a year, and maybe get into journalism.” After I stopped rambling, the kind stranger distilled for me what would become my new reality: “I think you have your answer,” she said. This valley in my life of near failure and self-doubt was a total dark moment for me, but while I had a number of uncertainties with which to contend, I also had options. And options double as opportunities.
“Know you have time, and that being unsure of what’s next in life is very common.” —Susie Moore, life coach
But where do you start when you find yourself miserable and confused and totally unsure of what to do when you don’t know what to do? As in, you have no Plan B, C, or D to guide you. According to life coach Susie Moore, the best tip to follow is a very simple one: relax. “Answers, ideas, and inspiration don’t flow to us when we’re stressed out,” Moore says. “Know you have time, and that being unsure of what’s next in life is very common. It’s one of the most talked-about issues in life coaching. Spend some quiet time thinking and reflecting on what matters to you and what you feel passionate about.” Below, find five questions to ask yourself that Moore says will help you find clarity in a sea of uncertainty.
Ask yourself these 5 questions to unveil what to do when you don’t know what to do.
1. “What am I doing when I’m slacking off at work?”
“What do you love to research?” Moore asks. “[What do you] look up online? Who do you follow on Instagram? All of these things are great insight into what you care about.”
This exercise may not draw a direct line to your next career move if you’re, say, submerged in an onslaught of baby duck videos, but who knows? There might be a way to do anything if you brainstorm in accordance with what drives you.
2. “What blogs and books do I love to read?”
What you click on and flip open when you’re relaxing can provide some insight into your interests, but it’s the material that you mentally devour that can further unlock your passions. “I once worked with a realtor who spent hours reading recipes in cookbooks, websites, and natural food blogs,” says Moore. “He now has a decent following as a food blogger himself and earns a small revenue stream from it.”
3. “If I could be anyone for a week, who would it be?”
“Who we admire is a huge indicator of who we secretly would like to become,” Moore says. “Who do you look up to in this world?” I love this question, because it really speaks to personal values. (Also, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, thank you very much.)
4. “What do people come to me for?”
“Allow yourself to remember past accomplishments—times you’ve really helped others,” Moore says. “Let the parts of you that you might secretly feel proud of truly shine.” For example, if you’re constantly organizing your friends’ birthday parties, which always end up being Instagram-gold blowouts, taking a course in event planning might be worth your while.
My pro-tip? First consider whether the area in which you shine also serves you with a ton of stress. I’ve thrown a lot of cute shindigs at my apartment, but pretty much all of them involved a day-before interlude during which I would bawl under my coffee table, wondering why nobody knows how to RSVP properly. So. You know.
5. “What’s pure and simple fun for me?”
It’s also definitely worth mentioning that what you do for the rest of your life may not even involve quitting your day job, so to speak. In deciding what to do when you don’t know what to do, you may conclude that the career path you’re on is Fine, and having a steady income is Good. In this case, it’s more about finding an extracurricular means for injecting more joy (and maybe some cash, too) into your life.
Moore, who runs a free workshop aptly named Side Hustle Prep School, believes there’s nothing like a consistent hobby to reveal an awesome hustle idea. “The only difference between a hustle and a hobby is that a hustle pays—meaning it provides a service for others,” she says.
While these questions hopefully get your mental wheels turning for figuring out what to do when you don’t know what to do, it’s a tough, complex question that’s probably hardly simple to solve for. Whether you’re decisive, indecisive, exploring options, or have no idea where to begin, figuring out the rest of your life is tricky. That said, it doesn’t have to be figured out in a day. The first step is just knowing when you need a change.