How To Determine What To Do With Your Life

By Hanne Keiling

Updated October 11, 2021 | Published October 10, 2018

Updated October 11, 2021

Published October 10, 2018


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Hear a brewer, welder and a real estate agent describe their daily work and the skills it takes to be great at their job.

There may be times in your life when you find it necessary to consider the best path forward. You might be considering college, relocation or a career change. Determining what to do with your life requires a process of questions and decisions involving thought and self-reflection over many years. Making these decisions will help you shape your life around the interests and passions that motivate you. In this article, we offer steps to help you decide what to do with your life, like establishing your core values, non-negotiables and key skills.

How to answer “What should I do with my life?”

There are several different times in your life when it might be necessary to consider the best paths to take. You might determine what to do with your life when you are in school, have recently graduated or perhaps are in the workforce looking for a new career or industry.

Thoughtfully consider the answers to each of these questions can help provide structure for what you should do with your life. While you might be asking this question to determine personal decisions, we will focus on how to use your answers when deciding on your career.

Regardless of why you are making this decision, take time to think about these key elements:

1. Establish your core values

Understanding your core values can help you find opportunities that align with what’s important to you in life. Working in a job that fulfills your values and a company that values what is important to you can improve your productivity and satisfaction at work.

For example, if your core values include peace and work/life balance, it might not be helpful for you to explore fast-paced, aggressive companies. It might also be wise to avoid jobs that involve long hours or competitive atmospheres, like sales or investment banking.

Related: Core Values: Overview and Examples

2. Determine your short and long-term goals

Taking time to first determine what you want to accomplish in the long and short term can help you navigate broader decisions in your life. If you don’t have defined goals, it might be helpful to set goals for yourself. Even if they aren’t specific, setting goals can help you answer questions by determining whether or not certain decisions will bring you closer to achieving your goals.

For example, if you have the goal to make a certain amount of money by a certain age, you might focus your energy on industries and positions that provide a clear path to advancement. You will want to understand the starting salary of industries you’re interested in, what you need to do to get promotions and how the pay structure works.

Related: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples

3. Understand your talents, skills and abilities

Next, take inventory of your skills and abilities. These might be things you excelled at in school, technical skills you’re proficient in, soft skills that helped you succeed or others. If you’re unsure about what skills you have, think about times when you won an award, were complimented or received recognition for something. What skills, talents or abilities allowed you achieve it?

Identifying your skills can help you identify the professions where you can excel. If you have little or no professional experience , you may want to review your own skill set and check it against the list of skills employers ask for in job postings. Drawing this connection for employers can help you write a relevant resume.

Related: Best Skills To Include on a Resume

4. What are your interests?

It is important to understand what you’re interested in when deciding what to do with your life. Finding tasks, industries or even ideas that interest you can help narrow your job search down to jobs that will keep you motivated.

Are there any activities or tasks that make time pass quickly? This can be anything from designing presentations to organizing data to being a leader in a group discussion. If you do enjoy designing presentations, for example, write down careers that might involve doing this work.

You should also consider industries that are interesting to you. Even if you can’t identify a specific job you want to do, starting in an industry that you like can drive your career in the right direction. For example, if you’re interested in the outdoors and wildlife, you might consider finding a job at a non-profit that protects the environment, a science lab or an outdoor and recreation consumer goods company.

If helpful, take time to research different job titles and their common tasks, salaries and requirements.

5. Verify your non-negotiables

Finally, you should take time to identify your non-negotiables. These are details of a job that you must have in order to accept a job offer. Non-negotiables can include things like:

  • The hours that you work

  • Ability to work from home

  • Pay and benefits

  • Commute time

  • Managerial style

  • Ability to travel or not travel

Many jobs and industries have common requirements, so determining what you want and don’t want in a job can help you to avoid positions that don’t fit well with your lifestyle. You should identify items that you cannot negotiate on, and also those that you prefer but have flexibility with.

If you are in the beginning stages of determining which career you should choose, try performing a blank search on Indeed for positions in your area. Reading job descriptions for various positions might help you uncover new areas of interest. If you are ready to start applying for specific jobs, narrow your search by industry, job title, salary, experience level and more.

Related: The Essential Job Search Guide

Determining what to do with your life is an ongoing process. Over the years, you will make several decisions as you grow in personally and professionally. You will continue to define your interests, goals and values. This process will be an asset to you as you face life changes, such as a career transition , developing new skills or gaining expertise.

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