My Tough Love For You

Do any of the following statements resonate with you?

  • I have no idea what I want to do with my life.
  • Everyone has always made my decisions for me, so I’m not sure I know what I actually like to do. 
  • I love my mom and dad, but I think they’re helicopter parents.
  • I’m majoring in X, but I don’t even like it.
  • I’m working at X company but I don’t think we are a fit.
  • My parents/teachers/boss/friends have expectations of what I should do with my life, and I’m just doing what they say I should.
  • I don’t really have an opinion.
  • I’m truly lost in this thing called adulthood.

Did you say yes to any of the above? In the last few years, I’ve been having more and more conversations with people who mention these statements. Yes, many fall into the stereotypical “Millennial” or “Generation Z” categories, but I think this can be true for people of all ages. I think it’s a part of life to feel this way at times. The problem is when it lasts for what seems like forever and you can’t function as a happy and successful adult.

  • Person A decided to attend medical school, but realized in the first couple of years that she really didn’t like it. However, she kept plugging along because that is what was expected of her. She accrued huge loans and ended up being miserable for years to come because her heart really wasn’t into it. If you don’t really like your job, the long days at the clinic can really get to you.
  • Person B listened to his mother’s advice on everything, and then she sadly passed away. Person B was so lost and lonely into his late-40s, that nothing could break the spell. There were many things at play here, of course, but because he never learned how to make his own decisions, he was startlingly confused when his mother was gone. 
  • Person C was addicted to proving her grades to her parents, especially since they would shower her with compliments. She would go to all lengths to be sure that she had straight A’s: pulling all-nighters, doing extra work, and avoiding friends and social activities. She managed to keep her good grades, but she finished college not really knowing what she wanted to do with her life. In her hurry to get the good grades, she forgot to truly live and enjoy her life.

Why am I even writing about this with such depressing examples above? Why is this important? Well, I deal with people who need jobs. Most of them are college students or graduates, and they’re trying to figure out what to do once they leave the safe embrace of a college education. If people don’t know what they want out of life or a career, then they don’t have confidence and are unhappy. They could struggle with finding or keeping a job, and that could lead to even more problems. Some are bumbling their way through life only to pay the bills or do something that they think they have to do.

Your success and happiness is on the line if you don’t know what you like.

Here’s my tough love for you.

  • Try some independence; start with doing one thing on your own. Just because you had hot dogs every day as a kid, doesn’t mean that you can’t try a taco now.
  • It’s okay to not do what others are lovingly advising you to do. It’s your life, and you are going to have to learn to think for yourself at some point.
  • It’s okay to change your mind about your career, fashion style, food choice, etc. Just because you liked hot dogs as a kid doesn’t mean you have to like them forever.  
  • It’s okay to admit that you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Life is a journey, and you make it up as you move through it. You weren’t born knowing that you needed to enter any particular profession. 
  • Listen to your gut. If something isn’t feeling right, then don’t do it.
  • That said, learn to make decisions, too. You can’t keep changing every other day – sometimes you have to try something for a while before you learn that it’s not for you.
  • Get an opinion. Don’t be a lemming and do what everyone else around you is doing or thinking. We are all unique, and that makes like more interesting. 
  • Learn to take a risk. You can have 5 days of hot dogs, 1 day of tacos, and throw in some Thai curry on the 7th day. Spice things up a little (literally)!

But how do you start to realize what you actually like?

Honestly, get quiet and think about it. Close your eyes and conjure up an image of when you were last happy; what were you doing? Or journal in private to clear the chatter in your head. Some may want to try meditation. If others are constantly telling you what you should be doing, then how do you know what you like? Why don’t you try doing something different? Be a rebel, and try a different menu option instead of what is “good” or recommended for you. It takes time and practice, but you’ll start to like the new you once you get to know yourself.

So how about these examples?

  • Person D came from a family of engineers, and even though it was a comfortable field to dabble in, her parents always encouraged her to try out various courses and extracurricular activities to see where her passion and skills truly lie. She instead decided to paint with watercolors, and even though it started as a hobby, it ended up becoming a steady stream of income. She wasn’t paid as much as her family members, but she also wasn’t as tired as they were – and possibly even smiled more because her work didn’t feel like “work.”
  • Person E came from a family where no one was motivated to study or work. He, however, had a dream to build airplanes, and so he did what he could to get good grades and get scholarships for school. He didn’t have anyone cheering him on, but he made it to a good school and a good engineering company where he worked on engines for airplanes.
  • Person F has a helicopter mom who worries about everything he could or should be doing. After years of being encouraged (“forced”) to attend football practice, play well, and get a football scholarship in high school and college, he finally told his mom that he doesn’t want to play football and instead wants to focus on his schoolwork. It wasn’t easy, and his mom worried not only that it was too late to change focus in college but also that he was missing out on a lucrative career, she eventually started to see that her son was unhappy playing football and accepted his plans. He went on to excel in his studies and became a more confident and content adult.

Don’t do what you don’t want to do. Eliminate those things you don’t like to do. Then start adding some new things into your life to see if you like them or not. If no, eliminate and start over. Eventually you will find something you like. It could take a few years, or it could be quicker. The key is to subtract things you don’t enjoy, and add those that you do. Apply this way of thinking to easier things like food, hobbies and fashion, and you’ll naturally get to the bigger things like your career.

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

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