You know what I HATE?
The fact that at times I don’t know where I’m going, how to do certain things, how best to organize my time, how I’m going to make my money, how to change my mindset, how to stay present, how to be a good person, how to say no, what job I’m supposed to be doing, when I’m going to die, what city to visit next, what people to surround myself with, how to talk to girls, how to be cool guy, how to work out properly, what my passions are,…
You know what I continuously love?
Repeat that list.
As much as we would like it too, life doesn’t come with a road map. We go through bumps, turns, and hopefully huge successes until we come out the other end improving, changing, and continuously moving towards our authentic selves… assuming that we are listening and not repeating our mistakes ad infinitum. Life doesn’t come with a set of books saying “read this and you will know all of everything you need to about X subject”, something that traditional education engrains in us. Even with the vast amount of textbooks, e-books, and countless forums on the internet, you’ll still never “know” enough.
Self-improvement, -exploration, and –discovery never stop.
You educate yourself, make decisions, and try different things to keep inching towards the day when you wake up every morning saying “FUCK YES, I live for everything in my life”. Job, relationships, ways of living, hobbies,… it all comes together. Even the bad days don’t seem so bad, because you know the good outweighs anything that comes up.
You can read all you want. Then you can, and should, go DO things. You create ways of navigating the world as you go to craft a road map and life that works for you.
I’m going to talk about some uncertainty I’ve had over past few days, and ways that I alleviated some of my own anxiety about the future. I hope this can help you as well with any decision you need to make.
My Anxiety About The Future
For the past few days I haven’t slept well. I’d take over-the-counter sleep medication and melatonin and still wake up during the night with a racing mind. After coming back from Europe, daunting questions were hanging over me:
Where am I going to live?
How am I going to survive?
What the fuck is my job? I have no idea what I want to do with my life!
I’m sure you’ve had this happen to you as well… It feels like a constant clawing, drilling thought that keeps gnawing at you:
“Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?”.
At 6AM two days ago I sat on a phone browsing “what should I do after college” questions on Google. I know this was utterly stupid and it mostly contained trite advice, but it made me feel better.
But after talking to two friends, I decided on a path and reasoned with myself that I have a bunch of safeties and fallbacks to make sure that no matter what, I’ll be OK (emergency savings, a Master’s degree, and my family) when it came to making my livelihood. That was my main concern. And if I wasn’t making enough money or hated what I was doing, I could always change, but I would learn things in the process that would help me.
Notice there are three important components that helped me here:
- I turned my thinking into action, picking a path instead of standing still, doing nothing
- I reasoned with myself that I would be OK no matter what, there was support
- I knew that if I started doing something I didn’t like or that wasn’t working, I could always change and would learn things in the process that would help or teach me
This made me feel in control of my own life instead of being lost and afraid.
Stop Hoping For The Crystal Ball, The Ability To See Everything
Now you might say “Noam, back to the road map thing, you’re off topic”.
As much as having a road map might make anxiety about the future go away, stop hoping for one. Stop hoping for that magic guide that can tell you exactly what to do in every situation.
It’s up to you to figure that out.
Depending on how you handle things, you can either be really excited by that fact, or beaten down daily by anxiety.
I mean that would be insanely boring if the road map existed with a book entitled “The Life Of (Your Name Here)”, where you can read about every decision you will make.
For instance, say I had a book that told me my entire life story. Everything that would happen from beginning to end. That would useful because I could have never predicted a lot of bad stuff that has happened over the past few years and I could be prepared for it. It would save me a lot of pain, heartache, and stress.
But in all honesty when I look back, all the bad things pale in comparison to all the GOOD things that have happened over the past few years. And from the pain and stress of the bad things, I keep learning a great deal about how to handle other issues that arise in life.
And if I knew about all the good things, it would kind of ruin the surprise. There was:
- No way to predict the people I met and I connected with
- No way to predict my rowdy and insane nights with friends
- No way to predict how much I’d change
- No way to predict how my Eurotrip would have ended up
Yeah I used to be a HUGE control freak (and to a certain point I still am), but consider if you knew EVERYTHING that you were meant to do, how it would happen, and how to get everything you want.
Where’s the fun in exploring? Where’s the FUN in discovering yourself?
The Dirty Secret – Nobody Really Knows What They Are Doing
Don’t sit stagnant for too long, take a guess and try something, keep checking if things are going well, change if they aren’t, and learn to laugh at your mistakes and enjoy the process of getting better everyday!
You don’t know what will happen in the future, no one does. The future doesn’t exist yet. Maybe you’ll receive an amazing job offer you could have never predicted. Maybe you’ll need a harsh surgery. Maybe you’ll fall in love with a stripper.
I don’t know and neither do you!
I personally wanted far different things a few years ago. If I tried predicting or creating my road map for 5 years back then it’d be completely wrong at this point.
Road maps don’t account for unforeseen circumstances, personality changes, events, and everything else.
Everyone, even my Dad in his 50s says he’s still just making his best guess at what he’s supposed to be doing.
All you can do is take the past, and learn from it to hopefully make a happier future here and now in every decision you make.
The hope for knowing how to do everything exactly right, including making decisions, comes from a need for control. That control stems from anxiety, and a child hood belief that “I need to know exactly what will happen, otherwise shit will fuck up, and all will go to hell. I will be hurt or die”.
Of course that’s hardly ever the case, but that’s what your anxiety unfortunately tells you.
Anxiety About The Unknown Is Normal, But You Will Be OK
The main point is that you have to keep repeating to yourself that you are getting where you need to go, at the speed you need to. Assume that you only have one life (unless you get re-incarnated as a fly on an elephant), and let things happen. Yeah if there’s stuff that bothers you, you need to do some planning, you need to take care of it, and improve…
But hopefully you have fun doing it and can take bumps in the road.
Not knowing a road map leads to chaos. Chaos leads to randomness. And randomness leads to unforeseen explorations and discoveries.
Now it does still bother me that I don’t know everything, for sure. Again, I lost a lot of sleep this past week. Everyone gets scared about the unknown sometimes when things are really up in the air.
And that’s OK. That’s NORMAL.
All we can do is just roll with the future, baby.
The Road Map To Handling The Uncertainty Of The Future
OK, it’s true that I said that there is no road map for the future. BUT, there is definitely a road map for how to HANDLE there not being a road map.
Sorry, a bit confusing I know 😉
Remember the three steps you can do to move forward in life and with a decision:
1. Turn your thinking into action, picking a path instead of standing still, doing nothing
Thinking causes anxiety, action cures it. A bit of pondering, rumination, and self-reflection is good. Incredibly impulsive decisions don’t usually end up going well. But you have one life, don’t spend the majority of it thinking or in your mind. Spend it making mistakes, trying things, and LIVING.
DO NOT get stuck in analysis paralysis.
Pick a path and do ANYTHING, with ANY decision.
Pick a job. Pick a hobby. Pick a place to live.
Sitting and doing nothing about something is the worst thing you can do, and will create more anxiety and unhappiness.
Indecision and standing still is worse than making a “wrong decision”. There are no wrong decisions, just constant choices which lead you to your ideal life.
2. Reason with yourself that you will be OK no matter what, that there is support
Who can help you if you are in need – your family, friends, spiritual advisors?
There is always support out there if you need it, especially if you are reading this (you have resources available to you).
3. Know that if you start doing something you don’t like or that doesn’t work, you can always change and you will learn things in the process that will help or teach you
Think of it this way:
“Even if the path I’m taking is just a stab at what I think would be good for several reasons, It might not work. It might prove to not be fun or good.
Then I change. I can always find a new job, or move from where I’m living. I can always find new relationships.”
As an adult, you are in charge of your life and that means no matter what, you can always, always, change.
And moreover, you will learn cool things along the way. Anything from useful skills for a future job, to things about a new city or culture.
Two other tips:
a) Write your worries down. Then brainstorm what you can do about them.
Worried about not having a job? Go find or create a job – Start looking at online job directories, handing out resumes, or brainstorming business ideas.
The mere fact that you have taken your fears and put them on paper will release them from your mind. And furthermore, the fact that you are actually doing something about them will make you feel better.
b) Can’t make a decision on your own? Go talk to someone.
You could be missing something, or in a negative frame of mind. Talk to a trusted friend, let your fears out, and see what they have to say. When I did this one friend told me he was in the exact same position a few months ago, he told me the anxiety is normal, and everyone gets anxious.
“Oh, right, this is normal to feel this way!” I said, as I felt so relieved that I wasn’t the only person having been in this situation.
And then he helped me work out what to do right now, and if something failed what the worst case scenarios would be.
My Decision About The Future
So for those who are wondering:
“So Noam, what did you decide to do with your life right now? Stop keeping us in suspense!”
I will be pursuing a writing career for at least three months, and will be trying to sustain myself on it. Along with my new writing firm Light Way Of Writing (under construction as of this writing), this blog will be consistently updated weekly, as opposed to just being a muse for my thoughts from time to time.
I may also be starting a web development firm up to provide additional support to myself since I find design to be pretty fun.
I will be writing my first e-book shortly which will be FREE, and I have some book ideas for the future. Stay tuned for updates! If you haven’t already, sign up for the mailing list to get all the updates from the site (form down at the bottom of this article).
Depending on what picks up fastest, I will pursue that with greater effort.
And if everything falls apart, I’ve always got my Master’s degree in engineering to fall back on.
Or maybe I’ll totally change what I want to do.
I don’t know and never could, but I know I’m slowly moving towards what I want to be doing, and that’s OK.
I hope this has helped you deal with your anxiety about the future. Let me know if you want any more resources on this via e-mail or comments!
Good luck! And remember:
You will be OK.
Image Credit: Cover picture courtesy of Corey Leopold under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.
I wonder about this one: “Indecision and standing still is worse than making a “wrong decision”.”
For most people this is probably true.
But for people who make life or death decisions, such as doctors and our politicians choosing to go to war, there are times where they should think for a moment.
That said, some people are trained in such a way that they already know what to do once the situation presents itself. It’s this training that helps make ‘the right decision.’
In other words, maybe we need better training in how to make good decisions. For example, I’m considering moving to a new city next year, the ‘right decision’ seems logical but part of me wants to go somewhere else…
Hey again David!
You know what I honestly wasn’t even thinking of decisions that serious, that’s a good point. I was more thinking along the lines of jobs, moving, and so on…
I’m actually moving cities in a month as well. Part of me is a bit nervous even though I have tons of friends there and I know I’ll get lots done. It’s just hilarious (and frustrating) analysis paralysis.
I’m really bad at making decisions, and that’s helped spurn this article. A good friend of mine recommended reading “Decisive” by Heath and Heath, which gives methods to “train” you to make decisions. Maybe check it out if you are having trouble in general, it’s next on my reading list.
One technique, for example, is to set a tripwire: Suppose you are worried a decision is wrong, but it is reversible. Say for taking a job and seeing if you like it, it’s reversible because you can (usually) quit. You take the job, set a tripwire for 2 months, and at that point if you hate it, you leave. That way you aren’t sitting still doing nothing.
I found what helped me for deciding between two cities at least for the near future was writing down a pros and cons list, just getting it out onto paper made the answer clear: for one city it would involve less effort and money. The other I’d have more support as an entrepreneur, more opportunities, my good friends are there, and there’s more to do. It made the decision easy.
Either way, hope your decision becomes easier 🙂
I like that tripwire idea. I actually started a book on decisions, and then went on holiday, should go back to it.
Yeah, for me it’s big partly because the decision might be between Europe and Melbourne, and once I’ve left I can definitely come back if I wish, it’s just that getting visas and so on takes time. Oh, to have a UK passport 🙂
Have you seen Mark’s new design? Might catch you on the other side…
Woaaah thanks for telling me, I wasn’t even aware. I know what I’m going to be doing tonight :p
The funny thing is that last night I was thinking of having a site update and complete overall and opening up my own ‘premium’ zone, then today Mark comes up with how to actually do it..I hope he’ll have a section on ‘online entrepreneurship’
Thanks for your comment on my blog..I’ve been travelling and haven’t written much lately but want to expand things and make it a real learning space..Much work to do!
Haha he was reading your mind.
I started this just as a space for my random musings. Now I’m posting every week and planning to do some major overhauling – not only of the infrastructure, but also what I offer. Slow but steady progress as they say though 🙂