When you get up in the morning and go to work, you always take the quickest route. But in the journey of life, there is no one “right path.” The difference is that the goal of your life journey isn’t to get to your destination as quickly as possible–indeed, that would be tragic. It’s also because life circumstances are constantly shifting, much like voyaging across the open ocean through changing weather. You don’t always sail straight through a storm. Instead of arriving at your planned destination, you might discover a new island–and decide you like it better.
Other times, you might feel lost as though floating in the middle of the open ocean without a compass. This might be when all your careful planning goes awry; or when you’re not passionate about your current life–but don’t know where your true passion lies. Or perhaps you had a definite dream, but circumstances blew your ship off-course. Finally, you might have stayed exactly where you were, in the safety of the harbor, for fear of getting lost at sea.
What’s withholding you from progress in each of these cases is simple: not knowing what you really want, and not knowing whether you can achieve it. Finding your life path isn’t about having a course charted on the map–but possessing the “compass” of self-awareness of your wishes and strengths.
Even if you currently don’t have a clue about what you really want from life–and whether you can achieve it–these 5 steps will help you discover your inner compass.
1. Find some quiet time for yourself.
Getting your inner compass is the process of self-dialogue–and this conversation can’t happen unless you become still. For many people, thinking about the future brings on anxieties, which leads to further confusion and sense of helplessness. Create a positive, calming environment for yourself so that future-planning isn’t about anxieties, but dreaming. Light your favorite candle and settle down comfortably, practicing slow breathing to clear your mind, and letting it wander without judgment. Grab a journal or a notepad.
2. Make a list of non-negotiables.
Once you’re ready to get dreaming, think about what you absolutely cannot give up in life, and write it down. For some of us, it might be a successful career, and traveling the world for new experiences. For some others, it might be the chance to do good in the world. Still others won’t be able to imagine life without marriage, kids, and a house. When you really limit yourself to non-negotiables, you will find that there are not that many “requirements” to how you want to live your life. On the other hand, don’t be afraid when you really can’t give up seemingly incompatible ideals like “exciting adventures” and “having a family,” as long as they’re both true to you. Don’t be fixated on the idea of a constructing a likely scenario, since what you want is an extraordinary story!
3. Think about what you don’t like.
Just figuring out the non-negotiables won’t get you to a more specific idea of your life path. We have difficulty figuring out what we want because we make assumptions about our preferences before any actual experience. (Did you know what was waiting for you at your first job/internship? Yeah, exactly). Write down what you definitely dislike and want to avoid, probably from having experienced it firsthand. Try to come up with at least 2-4 things each for your professional and personal life. “No work-life balance,” for instance, or “emotionally unavailable jerks,” etc.
4. Free-think about your ideal scenario.
Now that you’re more comfortable with imagining your future, permit yourself to dream freely. Imagine yourself five or ten years from now, wiser and happier than ever before. Where is she? What is she doing and who is she with? And how did she get there? To figure this out, take your ideal future self back, step-by-step, until you reach the present. It’s okay if those steps have some uncontrollable elements like “meets The One” and “gets accepted at her top choice grad school.” Again, you’re not trying to create a likely story, but the most wonderful story. Write this down, keeping in mind what you learned about your wishes and dislikes from earlier exercises.
5. Trust in your power to realize the path.
Take a look at your ideal scenario on your notepad. Does it make you feel joyful and eager? Or do you feel incredulous and doubtful?
Because your goal is to create the most wonderful life path, not a mediocre one, your path will have unpredictable aspects–which in turn can cause anxiety and doubts. There is no guarantee that you will become a happily married surgeon with three well-behaved children, or a journalist living in Paris. And so, we stop ourselves from seeing our life path. We tell ourselves that it’s not the way, and our thoughts stop us before we even set foot.
Your job is to get out of your head, and own the fact that you’re the captain of your ship. Lift any obstacles to your trust of your power to stay the course. “I’ve never done that,” “I couldn’t ever move,” “I will never find a job that great”–we cloud ourselves with so many negatives that we chase away our dreams before they can become reality. Instead of reflexively responding with doubt, allow your dreams to “rest” for a while in your mind. As you become accustomed to the idea of this life path, you will naturally open up to more ways to shape your reality in that direction, whether that can be planned (such as school) or not (finding love).
And gradually, put into action those ideas that bring you closer to your ideal future. Even if you read articles like this, or seek advice from loved ones, therapists, and life coaches, all insight and wisdom will be for naught unless you actually do something about it. Live as though you know you will achieve your destiny by staying the course. When every day, week, and month reflects the life path you envisioned for yourself–you’ll realize that while your goals aren’t real yet, your path is.
Photo: ecstaticist via Flickr/ Peaceful Dumpling