At some point, most people ask the question, what should I do with my life? It’s not an easy question to answer, and it’s not just about what you should do for a living.
We all fill many roles—mother, daughter, friend, spouse, sister, aunt, grandmother, neighbor, professional, helpful hand, advocate, coach, voice of reason, mentor, boss, expert, champion, schedule-keeper, political activist, listener, advice-giver—and the confluence of all of them is what makes us who we are.
For many, figuring out what they should do with their life is about finding a job or a career that they love and feel passionate about. In fact, women tell InHerSight that finding a career with a mission they believe in is the number-two reason 73 percent of them want to change careers.
With that in mind, here are five rules you should know when you’re asking this question.
1. You are more than your job
You are not your job. Sure, a career can be a great source of happiness and motivation, even purpose, in your life, but tying your identify to your job is a dangerous practice. The moment your job isn’t going well, your foundation will crumble. When you’re feeling dissatisfied with your job, you’re dissatisfied with yourself. If you choose a job you’re not succeeding in, suddenly you’re not succeeding in life.
So when you’re asking yourself, what should I do with my life?, what kind of job or career you choose should be just a fraction of the answer.
You might be an attorney by day and a movie buff by night, a crackerjack political organizer who just happens to be a teacher five days a week, a machine shop manager and a mother and a killer interior decorator, a bartender who wins in triathlons and always shows up for her niece’s softball games, a baker and emerging wine connoisseur with an eye for Victorian architecture, a wife and a psychoanalyst who organizes meal trains for bereaved families, a police officer and museum docent who takes her aging mother to the movies every week
2. It’s okay to not know what you should do with your life
There are some among us who are fortunate enough to know from a very young age what they want to do with their life. But for most, that’s not the case. Some will even spend most of their lives asking that question. All of the above are okay. And normal.
You may be very sure at certain points in your life and completely unsure at others. You may look back later and appreciate the natural ups and downs of your career path. Even for people who are sure about their jobs—no career path is seamless or without challenges.
It’s okay if you don’t know what to do with your life. But one thing you shouldn’t do is nothing.
3. Don’t stand still
Even if you don’t know what you should be doing with your life, standing still will not help. Trying new things, exploring your interests, volunteering, taking up a new hobby, competing with yourself—all of those are good ways to poke at the question of what you want to do.
Always been interested in politics? Try volunteering with a local party chapter or voting organization to whet your appetite. Want to know if you’ve got what it takes for a career as a writer? Take a writing class on the side or join a local club and start getting feedback on your work. What about building your own house? Volunteer with an organization like Habitat for Humanity and try your hand at the task.
You won’t ever know what you should do unless you at least try something new.
4. Think outside the box
Pursuing what you love or what you’re passionate about is not always easily translated into a job you love. Sometimes you might have to combine interests and think creatively.
Maybe you’re a financial analyst who would really like to serve at-risk kids in your area. You could volunteer with a local organization like The Boys & Girls Club, teach financial literacy in your community, or look into going back to school or changing careers (some companies make it easy).
Maybe you’re stuck in a marketing job that doesn’t exactly excite you and all day you dream of going home a reading the latest novel. It might be time for you to pursue a career as a writer, start a book-review blog, volunteer at your local library, or organize a book club.
Perhaps you’re a software developer who’s tired of working alone all day. Join an after-work running club, local kickball league, or train as a volunteer docent at a local historical site.
Read more:How to Find a Job You Love (No, Really)
5. It’s okay to quit
So let’s say you’ve tried a new hobby, or you’re 10 years into a career, or you joined a volunteer organization, or you’ve dipped your toes into a career change—and you’ve learned it’s just not for you.
It’s okay to quit.
Obviously, leave on good terms and don’t leave anyone in the lurch, but if in your search for what you want to do you come across something and can rule it out, that’s progress. That’s learning. Knowing what you don’t want to do with your life puts you that much closer to figuring out what you do.