There are a heck of a lot of articles and books out there about how to figure out what you want in life. (I know because I’ve read most of them!)
And yet, like many others, I still grapple with the question.
Have you ever taken a personality test?
I’ve taken a lot of those too. The DISC profile, Strength Finders, the Keller Personality Assessment (KPA) and several others the names of which I cannot recall.
My KPA says I’m a 95% match for a real estate agent. A single agent, to be specific. Not an agent on a team, not a leader of a team (which I am) but a Single. Agent. And let me tell you, I’ve spent a lot of time stressing over that as I’ve worked to build a real estate team.
So how do we figure out what we want?
There are a variety of ways. Taking a personality assessment is certainly one of them. We all have inherent strengths as a result of our unique disposition. And yet at least in my world, I’ve found that that’s not nearly enough.
There are other things we must do in order to get clarity. Here are the ones that have worked best for me:
Find someone who’s doing what you want to do and go ask them about it.
In the book Stumbling on Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert suggests that we as humans are pretty terrible at predicting what we’re actually going to like and want in the future. It’s been several years since I read that book, so I don’t remember much else, yet this one point stuck with me.
We suck at predicting what will make us happy.
Have you experienced this? You got a new job you were super-excited about and it turned out to feel terrible. Maybe it was the people or the environment or maybe it wasn’t what you expected, yet maybe it was exactly what it was supposed to be and YOU simply didn’t realize that this was what it was. Have you ever heard this from a physician or an attorney? They went to all that schooling and then realized (even though they may have liked the education) that the actual-factual job sucked to them? Right.
And then what about the new car or new item of clothing? This has happened to me several times with clothing, from adolescence onward. I’ll see something (usually something very fashionable, popular, trendy, expensive) and when I finally get it, it’s terrible. And it’s not that it’s actually terrible, rather that it’s just terrible on ME. How did I not see that in advance?
One way around this (well, maybe not for clothing) is to go and find the person who’s already in the place that you want to be – they’ve got the job, the car, the lifestyle, and they’ve had it for a while. And ask them. Ask them how they feel. Ask them how they like their life. Ask them what surprised them about the journey, the destination, and ask them what -if anything- they would do differently, knowing what they know now. This is guaranteed to blow your mind.
Document your thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Did you ever have a diary as a kid? I totally did. In fact, I had dozens of them. Each one would have 3-5 pages written in and then the rest was blank. Over and over again. And speaking of diaries, who loves that word? Let’s say journal instead… or as a leader in my organization likes to call it: documentation.
Do you document your life?
Do you see your patterns and how they influence your actions and reactions?
Do you document what you enjoy and don’t enjoy?
What things surprise you and how you feel about your day-to-day experiences and habits?
I highly recommend doing so. I’ve been journaling for the last 5 years, the last 4 months of which have followed a process called Morning Pages from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. And what I have learned is that when I write three pages of stream-of-consciousness crap every morning, I get to know myself better. I get to see what I REALLY think, and how I REALLY feel, in a way that I never have before. I mean sure, the thoughts may have been in my head, yet they got pushed around by distractions such as to-do lists and various interruptions. The really deep thoughts about who I am and what I want were always fractured, partial, pushed away, and ultimately forgotten. Until I gave myself the space and permission to put them on paper and be with them every morning. It’s powerful.
Listen to the small voice.
(See above – this works best when you write down what it says!)
We all have this small voice. It’s strong when we’re young – it says I WANT ICE CREAM. I WANT LEGOS. I WANT TO PLAY WITH HEIDI AND STEVEN IN THE PARK AND I WANT THAT RIGHT NOW. As we get older, we are trained to stifle and ignore the voice, and it becomes smaller and quieter and, in some cases, nearly disappears. But it never completely disappears. We must listen carefully for it.
The small voice says I want to write, please. When you have time. If it’s okay.
It says: I want to connect with a couple of close friends. I know you think that’s selfish because I have a family and it would take time away from them to do fun things with girlfriends but I really want this just the same.
It says: I want to be an actor. Do you think I’m too old? Should I stop wanting this? I should probably stop wanting this. I mean, I have kids. I could really rock the stage though, I know I could.
We are all put here on this Earth to become our best selves and use the gifts that are unique to us as individuals. Yet our society tells us a powerful story about who we need to be to fit in and be accepted. That story is generally at odds with our small voice. We want to please our parents, we want to please our teachers, and we want to make money, be respected, and be loved. And we are taught some very specific ways to get there, most of which involve fitting into a mold. That hurts us. We need to hear our voice and allow it to begin guiding us.
Realize that our desires, dreams and goals will most likely always be changing, and embrace the journey.
Sometimes, we listen to our voice, we document our patterns, and we go after what we want. And we get it. And we are happy. And then our happiness level begins to decline. This can be dejecting, and yet it is normal! We are growing and changing all the time, and when we’re strong enough to go after what we love, we are also likely to be the kind of person who needs to CONTINUE growing. Not satisfied with just hitting one goal – not content to do the same type of work for years, even if it’s making us plenty of money.
Be growth-oriented, and don’t be afraid to outgrow what you want. When you continue to listen to your voice and document your life, you will know what you want next, and you will have the courage to go after it.
And then you keep going.