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How to Answer the Question: ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’

Answering the Question: 'What Should I Do With My Life?'What’s the first question exchanged when we meet someone new? You guessed it: “So… What do you do?”

In our culture, what you do for a living is inextricably tied to society’s perception of your worth. A stable job with a good salary is highly regarded, but we often look less lovingly upon the self-trained artist or entrepreneur who gives blood, sweat, and tears to make their vision possible.

Why is this? Is the number on your paycheck the true meaning of success?

Instead of focusing on money or power, let’s focus on what’s fundamental: happiness and a sense of purpose. These two elements drive us to do more than status or material gain.

People don’t succeed by migrating to a particular industry or job. They thrive by getting curious about answering questions about who they really are and doing work they truly love. In doing so, they unleash unthinkable creative and productive energy. To truly be happy, our work must have meaning.

This is not a new idea. For decades, psychologists have known that humans are more motivated by personally meaningful goals than by external rewards such as money or status. Put simply: When you love what you do, it shows. You’re lit up by your passion, you put in extra effort, you’re a source of great ideas. Others envy your confidence.

Remember that 95 percent of the time finding oneself doesn’t happen in one major epiphany. Clarity comes in fits and spurts. Passion evolves.

All of us are born with innate strengths and aptitudes. Nurture your interests and have patience when finding ways to exercise passion for something — even if you don’t see a way to make money from it yet. Be persistent and remain open to the possibilities.

The first step is to simply explore your whims — those little sparks of interest you’re not sure what to make of yet. To help you figure out what you find meaningful and inspiring in your life, try this exercise:

Get out some blank paper or open a fresh computer file. Write for a minimum of five minutes straight. Do not censor yourself. Write freely. Jot down whatever comes to mind, no matter how silly or unformed the idea seems.

  • Name the top 3 peak experiences in your life. What do they have in common?  What does this tell you about yourself?
  • What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
  • What are your strengths and values?
  • If money weren’t a problem, what would you spend your every day doing?
  • What would you be doing if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
  • What have you done in your life that you are especially proud of?
  • What activity are you doing when it feels like time just flies by?
  • When do you feel the most alive?
  • What kind of impact do you want to have?
  • What kind of professional and personal breakthroughs do you want to experience?
  • What are things (a language, a sport) you want to learn?
  • How do you envision you will leave your goal or legacy on people’s lives?
  • What are you excited, happy, and enjoying most in your life right now?

You can also grab these questions in workbook format here. 

Final Thoughts

Life isn’t predictable. Often the path to success isn’t clear-cut. The real secret to success is embracing life’s twists and turns. By dispelling limiting beliefs, you’re igniting a fire to help your interests grow and thrive. So the next time someone asks you, “What do you do for a living,?” you won’t have to know the final answer, but you’ll already be taking the next step.

How to Answer the Question: ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’


Melody Wilding, LMSW

Melody Wilding, LMSW is a performance coach, licensed social worker, and has a Masters from Columbia. She helps established and rising managers and executives advance in their careers. Her clients work at companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, HP, and Deloitte. She also helps entrepreneurs take bold steps to grow their businesses. Melody has helped over 10,000 smart, self-aware people like you. Her coaching gives you actionable strategies to reach your goals. You get concrete steps to overcome the complex struggles of success. Melody loves arming ambitious people with tools and tactics to boost their confidence. She can teach you skills for assertiveness and influence. Her specialties include better managing your emotions at work. Melody also teaches Human Behavior at CUNY Hunter College in NYC. She writes about psychology and careers for Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, and more. Click here and grab the FREE COURSE to go from insecure to unstoppable confidence 5 DAYS TO FREEDOM FROM SELF-DOUBT..


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APA Reference
Wilding, M. (2018). How to Answer the Question: ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 16, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/answering-the-question-what-should-i-do-with-my-life/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.