Wednesday, April 20, 2011

4 Questions to Determine What You Should Be Doing With Your Life

A lot of people either don’t want to determine what they should be doing with their lives or think they already have the answer.  That’s fine—if they aren’t ready to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror, that’s their own prerogative. 

But for the rest of us, it’s imperative that you figure out the answer as soon as possible.

Too many people are living life on somebody else’s terms, be it a spouse, parents, friends, or even bosses and co-workers.  Like I did for so long, they don’t question whether or not the ultimate end game is something that they actually want in life.  So I wanted to make this post about some really tough questions that you should ask yourself to determine whether you’re on the right track or not.

Would I be content if today was the last day of my life? I know for a lot of people, the answer is an unqualified “no.”  The biggest problem with this question is the implication that we’re all going to die.  A lot of people aren’t comfortable with that thought, so they either deny that it’s the case, or self-medicate with booze or drugs until it’s put out of mind.  It’s always good to remember that you are going to die.  It’s a troubling thought, but once you move past the built-in morbidity, you realize that shit, if I’m going to die, I better make the most out of my time left.  Look at Steve Jobs.  His Stanford Commencement Address is incredibly inspiring, and one of his main motivators is the fact that he knows he will die some day.  And we’re not talking too far out here, either—the man has had a couple of bouts with pancreatic cancer, which is usually a death sentence, so he knows that his number could be up any minute.  But he doesn’t let that get to him—he accepts it, and tries to make the most of his time left after looking himself in the mirror and asking himself this very question every day.

If everyone that I loved or cared about died in a plane crash, what would I do?  This is the ultimate “am I living my own life?” question, but, again, it’s horribly troubling to think about.  Nobody wants to imagine a world where everyone they care about is dead.  Quite frankly, it would fucking suck.  But the point of the exercise isn’t to get tangled up in knots of fear and anxiousness, but rather to determine if you are foreclosing any opportunities due to someone else’s preconceived notion as to how you should run your life.  This was a hard question for me, especially, because a number of people very close to me were unsupportive of my decisions, and tried to throw up roadblocks to prevent me from making the right decision for me.  At the end of the day, though, no matter the decision you make, these people will always support you and care for you.  If not, then they obviously aren’t true friends or family members.  It’s a tough pill to swallow, but absolutely true.

Ask other people, “what am I really like?”  Does your estimation of what you are “like” align with that of your colleagues, friends, and family?  Does one of those groups see an ugly side of you that the others don’t?  Too often, people put on “masks” at work or with their friends or family to hide what they’re really like.  The upshot of this is that a lot of times, often unfairly, their family bears the brunt of all of the shit that person has to deal with on a daily basis.  I know that’s the case with me: for too long I tried to be all sunshine and roses to the outside world, and whenever I would talk with family members (the people I truly care about), I would get crabby and short with them.  This is not healthy.  If it means being more of yourself at work, even if you’re a dick, then isn’t that a good thing?  I know several of my friends that don’t give a fuck about who they “should” be at work (Staff, Jet, I’m looking at you), and they’re probably a few of the most “successful” (as they and many others would define it) people out there.  The point is, don’t hide who you truly are at the expense of the people that you care about.  By asking people how you come off, you’ll be able to better balance who you really are throughout your life.  Be warned, though—people are generally reluctant to give others criticism.  Tell them to be brutally honest.  You can’t fix what you don’t know.  Also, don’t get pissed off when you hear something awful that you don’t want to hear.  Instead, make it a special point to work on whatever it is, and follow-up with whomever it is a few months later to see if you’re improving.  It’s all a process, just like life, and a step on the path to self-actualization.

If you had $100 million, what would you do?  This question is a bit more fun than the others, and, admittedly, I can’t take credit for it, as it’s Tim Ferriss’ idea, but it gets to the heart of what you really want to do.  Would you give a good amount to charity?  Would you retire to a beach filled with beautiful women (or men)?  Or would you still want more money, in the hopes of buying a sports team, or something similarly extravagant?  The main point of the “$100 million” mark is that even after you bought every possible luxury for everyone that wanted it in your life, you’d likely still have a shitload of money left over, unless everyone you know has an unhealthy obsession with Faberge eggs.  Write out a list of five things that you would do if you had this kind of cash—and “nothing” is an acceptable answer, too.  It’s your life.  Live it however you want.  I just wouldn’t want to go out knowing I could’ve done more.

Any additions or answers?  Leave them in the comments.

Questions?  Comments?  Ready to punch me in the face after a long session of soul-searching?  E-mail me at  Follow me on twitter @djgelner.  Friend me on facebook here.

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