The important people in your life – your parents, teachers, etc. – they want the best for you, right? They probably have specific ideas about what “the best” means and how you’re going to get it.
But what do you want? Success and fulfillment in life come from discovering and following your own path, rather than plodding down the one someone else determined for you. But planning your whole entire life? Well, that’s a massive load of pressure.
When you’re faced with an enormous project or problem – like plotting a course for the next 80% of your life – the best approach is to break it down into little, manageable tasks. Then just focus on one at a time.
Here are some steps to help you “carpe futurum” – seize your own future:
Step 1 – Start with a Good Attitude
It’s easy to get down on yourself. But a little confidence – even if you have to fake it at first – goes a long way. When you’re thinking about your future, it’s imperative that you approach it with a sense of optimism and positivity.
You’re already a step ahead – you live in a land of opportunity. With a little work, almost anything is possible. Remind yourself that you deserve to accomplish everything you want to accomplish.
As former President Barack Obama said in a Back-to-School speech to students on September 8, 2009: “No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny.”
Step 2 – Listen to Your Heart
If you’re like most people, there’s a constant stream of babble in your head, and some of it doesn’t always make sense. But amidst the chatter there are dreams and aspirations and ideas. There’s also a deep intuition that’s often called “your gut.” The trick is to create a filter that lets you drain off some of the clutter and focus in on the kernels of genius, passion and inspiration that can ultimately guide your major life decisions.
Block out periods of 10 minutes, a few times a week (maybe right before bed) to slow down and quiet your mind. Ask yourself what inspired you that day. Where were your successes? What made you happy? What ideas would you like to follow up on?
Step 3 – Find the Perfect Combo
Your ideal future career might be a fusion of what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. Finding that perfect combo might take a little experimentation. Even if your schoolwork doesn’t always seem pertinent to “real life,” it can help you zero in on your strengths.
As President Obama said in that same speech, “Maybe you could be a good writer… but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.”
As you tackle your school subjects, don’t just focus on getting decent grades. Focus on what you found interesting about what you learned. What sparked your curiosity? What did you have a knack for? What gave you a sense of accomplishment? Somewhere in your day-to-day experiences you’ll find indicators for your future. Even a passion for computer games – or sketching, or animals, or anything – may help direct you toward a promising career.
Step 4 – Try It Out
“Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
~ Thomas Jefferson
Once you’ve identified some of your strengths and passions, pursue them. Dig deeper. Seek out people with similar interests. Find mentors. Perhaps you can volunteer in the field, or find an internship. Or you can try a summer program that enables you to get hands-on as you “test-drive” your potential career.
Don’t be afraid to change direction along the way, as you discover new things. Remember this is your course, and you aren’t chained to any one specific outcome. Don’t resist new impulses, just because they don’t seem to jive with your pre-determined plan.
Also, don’t be afraid to fail. As President Obama mentioned in his speech, “JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team… But he once said, ‘I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’”
Step 5 – Paint a Picture
Once you’ve discovered your strengths and passions, start to fill in the fuzzy lines with colors and details. Those “colors” include your priorities and values, as well as your goals. Paint a clear picture of what you want your life to be, and understand what it entails.
Then make little, everyday decisions that fit with and enable that perfect life. Again, you’ll be breaking the bigger project down into littler steps. If your day-to-day decisions complement and advance the attainment of your perfect life, you’ll find that life starting to develop, almost by magic.
If you think luck plays a bigger role in success than anything else, contemplate these words from President Jefferson, “The harder I work, the more luck I have.”
Don’t Give Up!
There are bound to be set-backs or course-corrections along the way. Just remember to keep that positive attitude, and don’t give up on yourself. Find your passion, and then develop the skills and experience that can turn passion into a gratifying and rewarding life of accomplishment.
- To read: What Color Is Your Parachute? for Teens, by Carol Christen and Richard N. Bolles, designed to help you discover your passions, skills, potential college majors, and dream jobs.
- To explore: The Own Your Own Future website, with specific tips on making your college dream a reality.