When you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing

Lately it seems that between graduations, season changes, pregnancies, new jobs, moves and events that life just throws at us sometimes, I’ve heard lots of talk from friends and family of feeling uncertain – like treading water to keep your head afloat, like you’re in a situation with no direction and don’t know where to begin.

On one hand it can be completely scary having no direction or expectations. Either we don’t know how to give people what we think they’re looking for, or we know what comes next in a normal sequence of events, but don’t have a clear goal to reach. Both are entirely frustrating, especially if you’re like me and like everything to be as efficient as possible.

On the other hand, it can be incredibly freeing not to have a next step (depending on your situation, of course). You’ve finished a chapter and you’re free to make you own goals and rules to play by.

Growing up I always had a clear idea of the steps I had to take to be a successful adult. Follow the rules (mostly), go to college, make A’s and B’s (ish), join clubs, apply for jobs. Boom. But no one really told me how to do all the little things in between and they surely didn’t ask why I had to do them. To be honest, my parents were the biggest help in getting me through the “where do I go next?” questions throughout school, but that was only based on the fact that I picked a career path at 17 (based on interest and not experience) and then, like a robot, checked every box and credit off the to-do list until I had a piece of paper that said I had learned enough to be a professional.

Looking back on it, it sounds ridiculous. Not college per se, although I don’t think it’s for everyone, but the idea that we’re just cranking out graduates because college is “what comes next.” Let’s just say I did get some really good experience, but I could have been more efficient and done more to explore my available options had I known I could or should have. I could go on, but it’s beside the point. And really, college – like any part of life – is for making mistakes and learning!

Doing things on a “normal” timeline that isn’t working for you, not knowing what you’re doing when you’ve gotten yourself into something or being in a directionless situation is the best time to step back and take a breath.

Take your time and think about a few things:

  1. What do you enjoy? Not what will make you money or what would make your mom happy or what is the most popular next step in this situation. What is it that you want to do? How can you pivot your situation to lean in that direction?
  2. Who can you talk to that has experience with the situation? Mentors and friends are super important. Finding people who have been through different things and especially those who you can bounce ideas off of for fresh perspective will open up new doors and give you a new look at what exactly is out there for you.
  3. What is actually feasible? Goals are great, but they’ve got to be actionable to become more than just ideas. What is it you can do now that will lead to more things you want to do later? Do you have the means? The network? The interest and drive?

It sounds simple, but these can really be loaded questions.

Hopefully after all that, your direction will be more clear, but the most important part is to listen to yourself. It’s okay if your path doesn’t look like someone else’s – no matter how many questions and weird looks you get. It’s also okay if your aspirations don’t end up being as lofty as someone else going down your same path. It doesn’t make us any less of a person to be happy with different ideas of success. This world is about being an individual, and that means doing exactly what makes you happy, but also doing it on your own timeline and in a way that works best for you.

So take your new goals or your newly learned point of view and now ask yourself: What’s the next step? Just the one little bite-sized, manageable step from A to B – not A to Z – and how can you move forward to make that happen?