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April 12, 2024

The Dreaded Question: What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?

By Caroline C.
, 22
, from Florham, NJ

As a recent college graduate, I have frequently been asked some variation of the commonly-dreaded question: 

“What are you going to do with your life?” 

This question can create anxiety when the person being asked doesn’t have a clear answer. It feels daunting to be in that position and not have any sense of direction. Feelings of inadequacy can arise because oftentimes, we think that not having the answer means we are doing something “wrong.”

I even asked myself this question again and again, trying to conjure up inspiration or motivation to follow a particular path or passion. But every time I imagined my future and what I wanted it to look like, it felt too abstract. I had thousands of possibilities circling my mind, yet nothing in particular at all. 

I thought to myself, “How does everyone else know the answer?” and “What if I can’t decide what I want?” which sent me into a pattern of self-doubt. 

Then, one day, I was talking to someone older than me about my feelings around this and I asked them about their own career path, which included an assortment of seemingly “random” jobs that had nothing to do with their major in college. 

However, these jobs resulted in a love for their current field. Then, they ended up giving me a piece of advice that I carry with me every time the thought of the future begins to cause me stress. 

They said, “You don’t have to worry about what you want to do in life long-term, you only have to focus on what you want to do NEXT.”

This may sound like such a simple concept, but it has the power to alleviate the overwhelming amount of pressure that many of us face around choosing a career and maintaining one. 

For me, that one sentence shifted the emphasis from this big, all-consuming thought of the future to a less intimidating sense of the short-term. The consideration of what to do went from feeling like a very high-stakes situation to a more easy-going one. 

As someone who has always had a lot of different interests, having a mindset that aligns with this piece of advice helps me feel hopeful that I may never have to settle on one type of job or one field. 

All I have to do is pay attention to what is currently inspiring me and have the courage to act on it. 

I’ve realized that when I try to have everything planned out perfectly, the universe has other ideas anyway. The less I try to control, the more I can just be exactly how I am at that moment in time. 

I encourage anyone, no matter what stage of life or career they are in, to keep this advice in their back pocket whenever they are feeling weighed down by the daunting thought of what they will do with their life. 

Now, I take each day as it comes instead of focusing too far ahead into the future, a future that won’t even exist until I face each present day first.

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