Finding Your Path: A Five Step Process
Finding your path in life is one of the most ubiquitous problems people face. It’s easy to assume that as you get older, you’ll be blessed with more clarity; but this is not always the case. Not knowing what you want to do is frustrating, and inhibiting. How are you expected to progress if you don’t know where you’re headed?
In order to realise your goals, you need experiences to draw from. You need reference points when finding your path. If you haven’t had a diverse range of experiences, you can’t hope to arrive at a meaningful answer to the question; what do I want to do with my life?
For example, let’s say you want to buy a car. However, you have never owned a car in your life. You don’t know what driving a car is like, or what kind of features you desire, let alone the nuances between all the different makes and models.
You have two options:
- Do lots of thinking about what car you should buy; imagine yourself in a convertible, consider the practicalities of a hatchback, and wait for the answer to arrive. You don’t buy the car until you make the decision.
- Get to know what driving a car is like. Go out there and test-drive all the different cars in your price range. Do your research, and take action. Buy a car that suits your needs now, with the view that it won’t be the only car you ever own.
Of course option two seems obvious when it comes to buying a car, but the same is true when it comes to building a career. You’re never going to figure out what you want to do until you begin experiencing things.
As the artist Ai Weiwei says, “A small act is worth a million thoughts.” Even if you’re a very intelligent and thoughtful person, you can spend years thinking about finding your path, and still have achieved nothing in reality. A single action moves you further forward than any number of ideas. Contemplation is all well and good, but at some point you need to act. You can’t reflect until you’ve acted.
You need to explore. To encounter what’s out there. In order to figure out what you want, you first must gain experience and knowledge by throwing yourself into new situations. By building up experience, you broaden your understanding. The more knowledgeable you become, the clearer your thinking and finding your path will be.
Here is a simple, five-step process that may help you: set your goals, plan, take action, review the results and then readjust your plans.
These can be relatively long-term, even abstract, ambitions—perhaps you simply wish to be a successful individual that maximizes their life and contributes to society—or they can be more concrete; “I want to become the CEO of a tech company”. Either way, your goals may not change all that much through the course of your life. They’ll stay with you.
As author Antoine De Saint-Exupery says, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. Don’t expect your dreams to come true without making them happen. Do research into different industries; what they entail; what they require of you, etc. Make sure you know how you’re going to approach your goals. Equip yourself with well-considered plans.
As aforementioned, this is the most important stage. Many people think that planning is all they need to figure out what they want or where they’re headed. In reality, thought and action must exist in dialogue.
Moreover, they’re not exclusive… While you’re spending a couple of months contemplating whether or not you want to work in the Publishing industry, do an internship at a Publishing House. It might feel like you’re rushing into something, but it’s no big commitment. In fact, it will answer a lot of those questions for you, and most likely pose new ones.
Review the Results
What questions are you left with after acting? Once you have gained an experience, consider what you’ve learned from it. Did the internship make you want to work there longer? Or did it put you off the whole idea?
Edit and develop your plans in accordance with your experience. Your approach to finding your path will naturally change depending on what you’ve learnt (about the industry, the role and yourself). The more your experience feeds back against your plans, it will inform new approaches and decisions, and may even alter your goals.
This process is a helpful way to approach the question of what you want to do. Remember the key; take action. If you’re going to spend a few years figuring things out (which is fine, most people do), you need to put yourself out there. Not only to inform yourself, but to show employers that you are going through an active process of development; that you are actually moving forward, ever closer to what you want.
After a year of abstract contemplation, you might have figured something out, or you might not. Either way, you will have nothing to show for it. It’s not enough to say, ‘this year I figured out I want to be a CEO’. That hasn’t moved you forward in real terms. After a year of action, you’ll already have a string of experiences that set you ahead, and even if they aren’t directly related to the path you pursue, they’ll always come in useful.