Finding your next step when you don’t know the destination

Hiking from Oeschinensee to the Bluemlisalphütte

“to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Leo Rosten on the purpose of life

Is a life without a grand mission a failure? Is having multiple career paths a sign you can’t commit to anything? Is not knowing where you’re going a problem? No, of course not. If anything, it’s more interesting.

Your life doesn’t need a purpose or grand ambition. It’s enough to just wander along following your curiosity, finding interesting things, and sharing what you know until you die. Doing that – and aspiring to be a good creature along the way – makes for a pretty fantastic life, really.

What does matter is making yourself proud. That means living in a way you admire and valuing your time enough to not stay too long in a place you feel stuck.

Spending fifty hours a week doing work that sucks your spirit or clashes with the values you want to live by is too expensive.

This doesn’t mean you have to quit your job and backpack around Australia, but it does mean that there are a lot of other options that are easy to overlook.

There are many ways to work, and many ways to live. It all comes down to one cliche that is actually very true: life is much shorter than we think it is.

Over the last few years, I’ve made quite a few pivots without quite knowing what the destination is – leaving Switzerland after a magical four years, stepping away from most of my tech consulting work, and moving towards a life with Iain here in Copenhagen. Here are some of the tactics I’ve turned to often to help find my way:

  1. Make tiny pivots towards what makes you feel proud
  2. Aim for little victories
  3. Carry out experiments and ask “what if?” just to see what happens
  4. Ask yourself what it is you dream of doing every day
  5. Figure out how to make room for those things now
  6. Play around with the many options for your future
  7. Wonder what your future yous would nudge you towards
  8. Reduce the stresses and complications and amplify the little joys

To begin with, even if you don’t really know where you want to be, start making tiny pivots in a direction that feels good and makes you feel proud.

Instead of focusing on one huge goal, you can break it into little victories. Give yourself a hundred reasons to be proud. Do you dream of being a writer? Just write one page. That’s progress.

Carry out experiments just to see how they go, asking “what if?” along the way. What if you reduce your work hours and have more energy for your creative time? What if you make a simple product one weekend and sell it online? What if you leave your phone in a drawer for 48 hours? What if you try spending less so you need to earn less?

You can also ask yourself what it is you dream of being able to do every day. Drinking your coffee while watching the birds, enjoying leisurely mornings with nowhere to be, waking up with the sun, working on your writing, having a loving family, making art, walking your dog. Your job is to make room for these things.

Instead of preparing to live, actually figure out what all the work is for and do it now instead.

On the surface, you might think that a house overlooking the beach and plenty of money in the bank is everything you’ve wanted.

But what would you be enjoying if you had that house and savings? Maybe time, peace, slowness, connection, and creativity. 

You can make more room for those things now. Even if just in the smallest ways.

Cast your imagination to one version of you in two years’ time. Maybe in one version of your future you’ve moved to Singapore. In another, you’re living where you are now but have created the type of business that’s always intrigued you.

Let yourself just play around with these ideas in your head. Perhaps there are some things in particular that jump out. There might also be commonalities between the different futures you can imagine – maybe having more confidence, taking bigger leaps, and believing in your creativity.

Wonder what your future yous would nudge you towards to bridge that gap between the two of you.

What can you do more of and less of to get to where they are? How can you reduce the stresses and complications in your life and amplify the little joys?

Once you’ve made a few small changes, you might realise that you actually need to make a big pivot. Maybe it is the right time for a career shift or even moving countries. But even if that doesn’t happen right away, the small decisions will build up.

Even in the smallest way possible today, how can you make yourself proud?

This is inspired by a book I’m working on, provisionally called The Simple Living CEO. If you’re interested in the intersection between simple living and business, you can subscribe to my email updates about the book and be the first to read an advance copy.



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