A Reverse Method for Figuring Out What You Want to Do With Your Life

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In the last three months, I’ve worked 20 different jobs. I guess you could say I am struggling to find my identity. Although, I want to let you in on a little secret. I’m not struggling with my identity. I’m simply figuring out what I don’t want to do with my life.

Three years ago I had a realization while working my very first office job in the summer of 2011. It was a Friday afternoon and I was sitting on GoodReads.com reading inspirational quotes about traveling and what not (lame, I know). I was getting stir crazy, and the fact that I had recently discovered coffee wasn’t helping. The situation was this: I took a job with a company and after two months, I was doing busy intern work. I don’t mind starting from the bottom, but if I’m going to work in the mailroom of any building, it better be Google. And I was in a place like Sears.

On this particular Friday I reached a breaking point half way through our four o’ clock weekly meeting. Who holds meetings at 4:00pm on Friday? I felt like Squintz on the Sandlot after staring out at Wendy Peffercorn for all those years. I couldn’t take it any more. When the meeting was over, I walked out of the office and never looked back. I left in a very un-professional way, which I do regret. However, I realized something that day that I’ve carried with me ever since:

I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I know it’s not this.

I left that job and spent the next three weeks out in California. I spent all my money and came back home with my tail in between my legs. But I learned a valuable lesson- work is a rubber ball that always bounces back. Sure, I lost a decent paying job. But I gained something more valuable than money, the realization that the particular job I was in was something I never wanted to do, ever again.

I think most of us start off our careers with the expectations that we are immediately going to find something we love doing, and sadly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most college freshman who arrive have no idea what they are going to do with their future. The ones who do, don’t really know, they only think they know. Only the rarest few actually have been fortunate enough to be given that insight at a young age. For the rest of us, we have to figure out it on our own.

But how?

My first answer is, I don’t have one for you. I can’t decide what you should do with your life. I can hardly decide for myself. But I have figured up a reverse method for figuring out what you should do with your life, and it seems to be working pretty well for me. It’s this:

Don’t sit still and wait for “the perfect” job or career to come to you, but to go out and learn what you don’t love, so it might be possible to find what you do love.

Be proactive in finding what you truly enjoy doing. My most recent job I left was in sales. I really didn’t like sales, but it was solid paying and I adored my colleagues. Leaving that job was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. However, I knew deep down that good is the enemy of great. If I allowed myself to settle, I would never forgive myself. In the end I decided to leave because I knew even if I took a financial hit, I would be one step closer to figuring out what I want to pursue for the rest of my life.

As I make my way across the country, I’m able to cross off a different job in every state. I’ve worked as a janitor and as a server, and I’ve also realized that I don’t plan on pursuing those jobs as a career. Every new position I work I am able to cross something else off of my list.

Do you remember taking the SAT and you would come across a wickedly hard math question? It would be x+y-z (55+6)=12 and then something written in hieroglyphics. I think they also wrote some of my math questions in Spanish just to make them even more impossible.  You would have no idea what the correct answer would be, but you might have an idea of what the answer wasn’t. Well, I know the answer isn’t a or b, but it could be c), d), or e). So you were able to at least eliminate some of the choices.

It’s the same process with figuring out what you want to do with your life. You’re not going to jump out of college and immediately figure it all out. It takes time, and you have to be willing to try new things and really cross items off the list.

Here’s a few jobs I’ve tried so far in my life and have been able to cross of my list:

  1. Martial arts instructor
  2. Server
  3. Janitor
  4. Lifeguard
  5. Pizza delivery guy
  6. Security guard
  7. City ambassador
  8. Salesman
  9. Professional mover
  10. Farmer
  11. Winery employee
  12. Retail sales associate 
  13. Writer- pending
  14. Film maker- pending

Every time I start a new job I’m scared. What makes me more nervous is when I look around and see people who are “further along” in their career. Nothing makes me more insecure about my vocation than when I compare myself to others. I see people settled in what they are doing and it makes me feel like I’m playing around and should get serious about work. But then I tell myself that I am being serious about my work. I’m being intentional about finding work that I truly enjoy and work that only Heath Padgett can do.

What work can only you do? What work brings out the best in you? What work makes an impact on the world, and in your heart? Comment below 🙂