Don’t Know What You Want In Life? How To Find Out And Change

“what do I really want or love to do in life”? 

If you know exactly what you want and where your passion is. You are really really lucky. However, most of the college students or fresh graduates confront this question because they are lost. I used to be in this group — I don’t like what I am doing, but I don’t know what else I want either. Yup! Been there; done that.

Through this post, I hope the tips can help you escape the situation as I did. (Well but don’t expect the post to give you a clear answer like “Be a lawyer” at the end of the post.)

*This post is standing in the shoes of a college student, but most of the advice is still feasible if you are already working.

A Decision Of An 18-year-old

Here, we introduced a girl called Emily.

A girl called Emily is waving her hand

(I know she looks like Alice from my quitting Instagram post, but trust me, they are different.)

Before College

When she was 18, she was so excited about getting into a college. That was the first time she had a saying in her life! She could choose and study whatever she liked (or at least what she thought she liked), rather than followed through the curriculum school set up for her.

But honestly, how many people had a clear idea of what they would like back at that young age? So she chose something she was a bit good at or she thought would be useful in the future. Then her journey began.

In College

When she was a junior, something changed. There was an itch — she started doubting her choice. Maybe she found out the major was not as what she had expected or maybe she realized the major was not that useful.

Nevertheless, she didn’t know what else she liked and she already spent 3 years studying the subject, she decided to keep going down the road.

Emily found that there was an itch on her arm

The Scary Graduation

Then graduation comes! She is now holding the graduation certificate and just standing there. In front of her is the whole wild crazy world, and she is like a little lamb that escapes out of a farm without knowing how to survive. She is lost. She is now in the situation of “ugh…so what now.

Emily is at a split road, not knowing where to go

Happily Ever After?

So she decides to choose a job related to what she was studying(but didn’t like). Then to our expectation, she will probably end up living with this unsatisfying job and stick with it until she retires.

Are you Emily? Or are you having the itch that she was having too? Don’t live up with a decision made by the 18-year-old you if you really hate it now. Come on! We all knew how stupid and immature we were back at high school. How can you believe in that childish kid?

Afraid To Change? Think About “Sunk Cost”

In economics, a sunk cost refers to the cost that has been incurred and can’t be recovered. Based on the time and money we have invested, it often affects how we do things or make decisions.

In the example of Emily, she decided to ignore the itch because she had already invested 3 years in the subject. She felt like there was no way of turning back or the 3 years would be wasted. — It is the fallacy of sunk cost.

The invested time or money will never return, so don’t let the investment that has already sunk into the ocean affects your future decisions. What’s done is done. Putting more investment in it won’t make the sunk cost worthier than before either.

So don’t feel like the time you have spent on whatever you are studying will define who you are. Don’t make the sunk cost becomes the element you consider when doing future decisions. Make the change when you want to.

If you are in this situation — not liking what you are studying — the chance is that you are probably thinking about changing your path. If you already have a good alternative, good for you! But if you don’t, how are you going to find out what you want?

Find Out What You Want

There are 3 steps to have a more clear landscape of what your passion is at:

1. Find Out What You DON’T Want

There are too many possibilities in the world. Trying to find what you want within the possibilities is just as hard as locating a needle in the sea. (That is a Chinese proverb btw.) You probably don’t have a clue about what your passion is, but you definitely know what you can’t tolerate at all. So the first big step is to filter out what you don’t like.

2. Try Things Out

As Ira Glass puts it (See So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport):

I feel like your problem is that you’re trying to judge all things in the abstract before you do them. That’s a tragic mistake.

We are at a stage in life that we have the lowest opportunity cost to try different things. We don’t have that many responsibilities and our time is not as valuable as those CEOs in top corporations. They can use the wasted 10 minutes to earn 10 thousand dollars more. And us? Umm…you know the answer.

Just like reading a restaurant review on Foursquare — you never know whether you’ll like the food or not, even when the restaurant has a good rating until you try it out yourself. Maybe everyone likes it, but it’s just not right for you; maybe most of the people hate it, but you find it delicious.

3. Expand The Options

While limiting the options, you also need to explore more. There is always something that you have never heard of, so learn about them by reading either books, posts, or even do some Google search. At the same time, be aware that you shouldn’t fall into the trap of information overload.

Reading the post until this point, you are probably ready to quit what you’re studying and can’t wait to go after or explore what you truly want.


Not quite yet.

The Fallacy Of “Follow Your Passion”

I think this can be ranked as the number one phrase people give out as career advice. Finding out what you want and pursue it is good, but it can be dangerous too. Successful people usually think it through before taking any bold move, so why shouldn’t you? Let’s just say, you can do it, but there are some prerequisites. Otherwise, it can be a tragic move.

Enough Capital

Before you transit onto another path, make sure you have enough capital, which is similar to what career capital is — rare and valuable skills (See So Good They Can’t Ignore You). You need to build these up before leaving out.

To me, it can not only be a specific skill but also those more universal ones. For example, creativity, critical thinking, persuasion or self-disciplined. Make sure you have enough capital that people value, or you might end up having nothing. Not your old path, nor your new one.

Plan ABZ 

Here come your backup plans! If you are truly considering to change your career path or studying subject, make sure that you have your plan A, B and, Z.

  1. Plan A: plan A is the plan that you decide to do, which in this case will be going down another road.
  2. Plan B: as we all know, plan B is simply your backup plan for plan A if it doesn’t work out.
  3. Plan Z: Well, plan Z is the ULTIMATE backup plan! If all of your plans fail, make sure you still have a plan Z. Think about this: if the worst scenario happens, what can I do? The answer can be as simple as having a part-time job in a McDonald’s while looking for other opportunities.

Final Thoughts

Liberating, because I can literally do anything I want. Scary, because a world of possibility is open to me. — by Justin Mares (See his post)

It can be hella scary to just quit what you are doing now and to go down another path. But isn’t doing something you hate for the next 30 years scares you more? As long as you have a clear plan and a thorough backup plan, why not give it a try?

Finding out what you want is hard and it’s time-consuming. Nat Eliason spoke of a concept in his podcast, and it is something like this — “your 20s are for experimenting. Learn first, and money comes later.

If what you are studying is matching with your true nature, then you’re comparatively lucky. If you are having the itch, you need to dig into it. I am not telling you to quit everything right away, but instead, do some thinking, research, and preparations before you dive into new territory.

Here is a podcast from Indie Hackers with the story of Lynne Tye. She’s the founder of a successful startup. But before she gets there, she quit tons of stuff. As she said, “Giving up and quitting are two very different things.” This story may help you gain a bit of confidence.

TL;DR? Here Is The Takeaway

  1. Don’t blindly follow the decision made by the 18-year-old you
  2. Ignore the sunk cost
  3. Find out what you want
  4. Don’t simply listen to the “Follow your passion” BS
  5. Have enough career capital
  6. Have a PLAN Z
  7. Good luck! And don’t be like that when you’re 40↓
Emily found out that this is not she wants at the time she's 40

You can read the sequential post about how to get a job without a relevant degree or working experience. This will be helpful for the future career path of your new passion!