How to Stumble Into the Life You Want

Man sleeping while fishingPhoto courtesy of Christolakis, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license

This post is for people young or old who feel like they are still waiting for the life they want to arrive. While no one can unlock all doors and instantly give you that life,  I have a few things to share, based on my experience, that might help you get closer.

1. Get clear about the life you don’t want

Early in my life I came to understand three things about myself very clearly. 1) I didn’t like math. 2) I didn’t like physical labor. 3) I didn’t like a lot of supervision. I knew I would never be happy in a career that required a great deal of any of these things. Most people spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to do, but it is critical to consider carefully what you don’t want. Otherwise you could easily find yourself just drifting into a life that could make you exceedingly unhappy.

2.  Get clear about the life your strengths seem to point to

As I got into Jr. high and high school, I realized I was very good at some things that many others were not. I excelled at things involving language and ideas. My answers to questions in class seemed to be deeper and more creative than those of others. I somehow had an instinct for connections between people, and ended up spending a lot of time talking to my friends about problems they were having with relationships. I had an innate spirituality and was constantly reading books about different religions and asking questions it seemed most religious people around me were too afraid to ask (which means in some ways I have been provocative since I was in my early teens). I was deeply curious about why I, and people around me, did the things we did. I loved writing and literature. Those were my passions and strengths. If you listen to your life, your strengths will point themselves out to you. Your passions and things you are good at are the key to the kind of life you want. You want to spend your life doing what you love to do, feel that others appreciate your strengths and gifts, and find yourself financially rewarded for them if at all possible.   

3. If you are creative in certain ways, plan on creating the life you want

Some people are able to go to college, major in a certain thing, graduate and get a well-paying job doing that thing, and enjoy their lives immensely. Many people, especially artistically-inclined people, will not be able to take this route. We have the thrill of creating our lives, even our jobs, for ourselves. How do you do this? You start with the first two items above, and you stand by them no matter what. Which leads to my next point.

4. Be willing to do whatever it takes to get the life you want

Many people surrender to fear. Life is uncertain and mowing lawns for a living offers stability some intensely desire. Of course if mowing lawns is your passion, that’s what you should do with your life. If not, you still need to be willing to mow some lawns, drive some trucks, pick up some trash, or make some hamburgers. The life you want, after all, is not just sitting there waiting for you to find it. You will have to make it for yourself, and that takes time and effort. It may require years of schooling or other focused effort. Here is what I did between 18 and 25 years of age, when I took my first job in ministry.

  • Worked at a carwash
  • Bussed tables
  • Groundskeeper at an apartment complex, and for a school district
  • Drove a truck and did odd (and very difficult and sweaty) jobs for a large plumbing company
  • Sold CD’s in a record store
  • Made pizzas in several restaurants, owned by two different companies
  • Cleaned equipment in a commercial kitchen
  • Went to school, went to school, and went to school
What did all of these jobs have in common? I hated every one of them. I wasn’t good at most of them because I was an ideas person and almost none of these jobs allowed me to work with ideas. That’s the way it goes. The life you want is waiting to be created, and you will need to plan on spending a lot of time doing stuff you might not enjoy as you reach for the life you really want.

5. Make decisions that maximize opportunities

This one is critical. If you are an artistic type person, the life you want is not merely a job, but a whole lifestyle. You will likely not be happy punching a clock and implementing someone else’s ideas. Therefore you must make every decision with the goal of maximizing your opportunities. I knew at an early age that I might end up in the ministry, but majored in Clinical Psychology and went to grad school for Counseling instead of majoring in Bible or ministry. That has allowed me to teach graduate counseling students and see clients, both of which I love. Of course each of my jobs has a financial side to it that is important, but for me it has always been more about being fulfilled, basically self-directed, and able to help others learn to think in new ways. Your decisions must be stepping stones to more decisions, not landing pads that will keep you grounded. Don’t sell out and just take the paycheck. Keep dreaming, and be willing to work hard to get the life you want. Above all, don’t box yourself in or allow others to box you in.

If you follow these guidelines, you will likely one day “stumble” into the life you want. At least it will probably feel like stumbling, but it will come about specifically because you have lived your life in such a way as to arrive at the place you wanted to arrive.