Finding the right direction in life is an existential problem that all of us face at some time.
Whether you’re fresh out of college and figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your 20s and beyond, or you’ve realized that the life you’re living no longer serves you, these steps will help you find direction.
1. Draw the Line Between Thinking and Over-Thinking
While taking time to think about big life decisions is, of course, important, over-thinking leads to paralysis, deferred decisions, self-doubt, and, ultimately, inaction.
With every obstacle that comes up, ask yourself: “Is this a genuine concern or am I using this as an excuse to not follow my passion because I feel scared (or insert alternative uncomfortable feeling here)?”
2. Take Action
Finding the right direction in life is not something that happens to you, it’s something you create. This means that, at some point, you’re going to have to stop thinking about taking action and act.
One of the main reasons people don’t act is that they’re scared. They’re scared of messing up, scared of things not working out and scared of realizing that, actually, what they thought was the “right direction” isn’t right for them at all.
You have permission to change your mind. Just because you take action doesn’t mean you’re committed to that path forever. If it doesn’t work out, that’s great! At least now you know that you need to go back and try something else. Taking action, living through the disaster scenarios, and coming out the other end with more know-how and wisdom is far better than not taking action at all.
3. Trust in Your Instincts
Whether or not we should trust our instincts is a perennial debate, but at some point we do need to learn to trust our guts.
Yes, at times your gut instinct will lead you astray. Rather than viewing this as a justification for returning to over-thinking, however, use it as a learning experience that will better attune your gut instinct next time.
4. Notice What Makes You Happy
If you know that your current life direction isn’t meeting your needs, but you’re not sure what will, start to do some self-research.
As you go through your daily life, notice when you feel most alive, most enthusiastic and most like you’re adding value. Ask yourself what activities present a positive challenge and which make time feel like it’s speeding up.
Once you have that list, make a note of the common elements between those activities.
5. Discover Your Strengths
We all have individual strengths, but sometimes it’s hard to identify them ourselves. Because our strengths come naturally to us, we’re not always aware that not everyone has a particular trait or skill that we take for granted.
Taking a strengths test (such as the VIA Strengths Test) will give you more awareness of where your strengths lie, and perhaps a few more ideas of how you can use them to add value to the world.
6. Focus on Your Values
Just as we all have individual strengths, we also have a set of core values that are deeply important to how we live our lives. The more we’re living in alignment with our core values, the happier we will be. If we’re not conscious of what these values are, we’re not necessarily going to make the best decisions regarding our life’s direction.
To identify which values are must-haves in your life, find a list of values (such as this one) and narrow down the top 10 and top three that resonate with you. Once you’re aware of them, you’ll be better equipped to make important decisions based on these values.
7. Surround Yourself With Supportive People
Finding the right direction in life is a rewarding challenge that can involve a lot of trial and error. To give yourself the best chance of finding your right direction, you need to surround yourself with supportive people.
Focus on what people do, rather than what they say. If someone says they have your best interests at heart but constantly tries to force their way of life or opinions on you or tells you why you can’t do what you want to do, that’s not support. Find a group of like-minded people who will respect your autonomy and still be there when you need them.