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The Ultimate Guide To Figuring Your Life Out (Even If You’re Lost And Confused)

on November 28, 2011 | in Life in General, What the F Should You Do With Your Life?, Work | by

maze2

Out of all my posts, there’s one in particular that readers really love— one that people really seem to get. The subject of the post? Why it’s OK to be lost and confused.

“Against every bit of advice that’s ever been thrown at you,” I write in my post, “today I’ll propose a strange notion: that maybe it’s ok (in fact,maybe it’s more than ok) to not have it all figured out.

When people first read this, they throw up their arms in relief and shout, “Hallelujah! It’s OKAY to be lost and confused! I feel sooo much better now.”

Then they go back to sitting on their couches, watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and eating delicious Taco Bell.

About a month later, they send me an e-mail like this:

“Therese, at first I was relieved to find out that it’s OK to be lost and confused, and I’ve fully embraced my confusion like you suggested. But theres just one problem: I’ve been doing this for a whole month and I’M STILL SITTING ON MY COUCH FEELING LOST AND CONFUSED. How the f*** does this help me?

Sincerely,

Reader X.”

To which I reply,

“Dearest Reader X,

You’re right— this doesn’t help you one bit. If you just sit on your ass and eat bon bons, then in one month you’ll still be sitting on your ass eating bon bons.

I’m afraid, Reader X, that I’ve led you astray. Allowing yourself to be lost isn’t THE answer— it’s only one half of the answer.”

And so today I present to you “Why It’s OK To Be Lost And Confused (Part II): The Other Half of the Story.”

(If you haven’t read the first half yet, go do that now.)

WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT SIT DOWN IN THE MAZE

OK guys, so let me ask you a question. If you were lost in a maze, would you just sit down in the middle of it and expect to get someplace?

Of course not. That would be freaking redonkulous.

And yet when I say “embrace uncertainty” and “allow yourself to be exactly where you’re at,” most people think I’m saying that they should sit down in the maze and give up.

Public service announcement: I’M NOT SAYING YOU SHOULD SIT DOWN IN THE MAZE.

In fact, unless you want to stay exactly where you’re at, PLEASE DO NOT sit in the maze. For goshsake, PLEASE GET OFF YOUR ASS AND STOP EATING BON BONS.

“But Therese,” you say, “I don’t get it. You just told me to embrace my confusion. You just told me to allow myself to be lost. AND NOW you’re telling me to get off my ass and navigate my way through the maze? Which one am I supposed to do? You’re giving me conflicting advice.”

Guys. Stop for a second. QUESTION TIME:

Is it really a question of either/or?

I mean, do you absolutely, positively have to decide between (a) allowing your confusion to be or (b) getting off your ass and taking action?

Well, do you?

Or… could you maybe do both?

Like, at the very same time?

Is it possible, do you think, to allow yourself to be completely lost, WHILE AT THE VERY SAME TIME taking actionable steps toward finding your way?

I’d purport that the answer to this question is a resounding HELL MOTHER FREAKING YES.

And this, my friend, is the brilliance of the “and;” the genius of the “both;” the beauty of the paradox. This, my friend, is the sweet spot.

BUT HOWWW?

OK, so you get it now, but you still don’t really get it.

“But Therese,” you say, “HOW can I possibly take action if I don’t know where the heck I’m going?”

“How can I allow a paradoxical state of both resting in my confusion and of taking deliberate action toward an endpoint?”

This is a complex question with an amazingly simple answer: You just do the very best you can with the answers you have right now. And as you go along, you continue to strive to find better answers and you adjust your path accordingly.

Because when it comes down to it, what else can you really do?

Here’s the first step: Start right where you are. Go as far as you can see. When you get there you will see even further.

- Napoleon Hill

Here’s the thing: you’ve got to start somewhere— and even if you start off in the middle of a maze, the path will eventually become clearer. Sometimes it happens by trial and error; sometimes by a stroke of luck; other times it just naturally evolves with time. But if you actively shape your path and keep asking the right questions, and if you also allow yourself to rest in this grand mystery of life, then you’ll be amazed at how it’ll all come together with time. (Hint: that being said, some methods for finding your way are better than others— check out The Unlost Guide to Finding Your Truest Career & Life Path for more details.)

Five years ago, doing the best I could do with the answers I had at the time meant working as a cocktail waitress. I knew it wasn’t my “life’s path,” but I had no idea what WAS. Also, I had to make a living— so I did the best I could do at the time.

Four years ago, doing the best I could do meant taking off for Australia without an inkling of a plan.

Three years ago, it meant getting a “real job” in accounting and buying a house.

Eight months ago, it meant starting this blog.

And today here I am, working in my cubicle during the day and pursuing my passion (yes, this) on nights and weekends. Here I am, living in a house with my two little dogs and wondering where this path might take me. Here I am, fully surrendered to the unknown and yet taking step after step after step to move in the direction of my heart. And with each step I take, my path becomes a little bit clearer and my future unfolds in front of me a little bit more.

And THAT’s what I’ve come to see as “having my shit figured out.”

It doesn’t mean that I’ve got all the answers or that I have my whole life planned out. In fact, I’m pretty sure that would be impossible.

Instead, it simply means that every day I’m taking action to the very best of my ability and my current understanding, doing the very best I can do with the answers I have right now. It also means that every day I’m embracing the uncertainty of my path— and in doing so, I’m making space for possibility and for grand potential to unfold.

And the more I realize that I’ll never have it all figured out; the more I simply do my best and allow my life to fall into place piece by piece by piece, the more I ironically feel like— damn. I think I’ve got it all figured out.

# #  #

[Image by Tim Green]

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  • Marley W.

    Therese, I love this site so much. SO MUCH. Your insight and voice are so inspirational, and I’m deeply grateful for your writing. With that said, there is no need to use the word “retarded” to describe an unwise behavior. (Because if you want to be literal, “sitting down in a maze” is not part of the criteria for diagnosing mental retardation.) So please change it. And please consider why you used that word, describing a condition that a person does not acquire through any act of their own volition to describe something undesirable. You are too smart and cool to write this way!

    • therese

      Thanks for calling me out on that, Marley… I try to use the colloquial, informal language that my audience uses… but I didn’t think about the connotation here; it was more of a word that I used without thinking. I certainly didn’t intend to offend or to place a derogatory connotation on mental retardation! Changed to “redonkulous” ;-)

  • http://www.storywrought.wordpress.com Lizzie

    GREAT advice. I especially love the Napoleon Hill quote – it’s now scrawled out over index cards and hanging over my desk as a reminder. I REALLY REALLY needed this today :)

    • therese

      Yep, that one is a great quote, isn’t it Lizzie? *THANK YOU NAPOLEON!!*

  • http://afford-anything.com Paula @ Afford Anything

    Love the Napolean Hill quote and the awesome photo. You’re right … sitting down in the maze is the worst. That’s inertia; giving up on any progress. All of life is a maze … even people who seem like they have it figured out are actually still wandering. They key, like you said, is to KEEP ON wandering.

    • therese

      Thanks Paula… yep, just keep wandering– not aimlessly, but to the best of your ability and understanding and in the direction of your heart…

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  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com Vishnu

    Therese – great post. So one’s never really lost? The lost people are 1) people who don’t seek out a path to become unlost 2) people who don’t know they are lost and 3) people who watch the TRHNJ?

    • therese

      You could say that, I suppose… :-) I like to think of it as “One’s never really lost… and yet in a way, one is continually lost…” Hmm…. ;-)

  • http://www.nohelphere.com Sarah

    I love the maze analogy. Definitely good stuff, Therese. I think once you realize that it’s possible to move forward without having a clearly delineated path, things get really exciting… at least, they are for me! :-)

    • therese

      Completely agree, Sarah!

  • http://bellsbeautifulbooks.blogspot.com Bells

    Hi! I just started reading your blog within the past couple months and I’ve really enjoyed everything you’ve written. As I get closer and closer to graduating college this upcoming June, my life has become a series of “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!?” moments (yes, all caps!) and I actually feel more calm about having those moments when I read your blog.

    In the part one to this post, you talked about how you headed to Australia for a year on a work visa. Funny thing is, my roommate and I are deciding to do that after we graduate (still tentative and terrifying, but it’s what I really want to commit myself to). I was wondering if you had any advice for the trip… places to go, easy jobs to get, best airfare searches, did you miss being away for so long, etc. Absolutely anything will be wonderful. The more the better!

    Thank you and thank you for this blog. You’re helping to put an overly-cautious, worry wart to rest!

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Personally, I absolutely, 100% recommend doing something “crazy” like this. It’s absolutely freeing and it will be the adventure of a lifetime.

      If your heart is calling you toward it, then go! DO NOT listen to your fear! (And if your heart’s not calling you toward it, then… well, where is it calling you??). In the end, only you can make the decision– be sure to ask yourself whether it’s something you would regret not doing.

      … As far as *specific* advice goes, I suck at that and I suck at planning, so airfare and job searches are questions better left for others. I ended up doing some waitressing over there because I wanted to travel a lot (and not stay in the same place with one job for a year), but I think that once you get talking to people where you’re at, you’ll get a good idea of what’s available as far as jobs go. Just ask fellow travelers a lot of questions; they’ll have a lot of valuable advice to share with you :). There are a TON of great places to go and I honestly can’t list them all! Frasier Island and sailing the Whitsundays were a few of my favorites, but it really depends on your style and what you like to do. Those are both beachy-adventurer type spots. Look them up :)

      I missed being away from home a little bit, but I missed Mexican food more. IT’S SO HARD TO FIND MEXICAN RESTAURANTS OVER THERE!! Honestly though, it’s an experience of a lifetime. Even if you get a little homesick, I think that the experience absolutely makes up for it. Then again, that’s just me. I can’t speak for you or for anyone else– you know yourself best! (just make sure it’s really YOU and not just your fear that’s talking ;)

      Good luck with the decision!

      “You cannot discover new oceans until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

  • Nicole

    Therese (*clapping*)…Thank you… Thank you… Thank you. I turned 26 in October (or as like to say 25.1) and I have been terrified ever since. I think OMG what am I doing with my life. I work as an administrative assistant at a REIT and I just want to be doing more. What is more? IDK exactly… starting a non-profit for foster kids would be a dream but I want to be able to afford a good life for myself as well. After reading this I realize that the ABSOLUTE WORSE thing that could happen is that in 10 years I am still in the same position but making $15K more a year after my annual increase. That means I will have a job… a place to live and fewer student loans. I can live with that… FOR NOW. I am feeling so inspired from reading your post and realize that it’s ok… FOR NOW.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      You’re right, Nicole, you ARE ok, and your “absolute worse” really isn’t all that bad (it’s something you can live with”… BUT… you also have this feeling that “you want to be doing something more.”

      Here’s a question for you: since you aren’t ready to take a “big leap” (because you aren’t even exactly sure WHAT you want to do, you just know it isn’t THIS), what about taking a “small step?” Ask yourself what it is that might make you feel like you’re doing “something more,” and then ask yourself how you can incorporate it into your life NOW, without having to take a big leap or leave your current job.

      Could you do some volunteer work with foster kids or for foster organizations? Do you have an idea for an initiative that could help them? (Just a few examples). Then try just taking some initiative on these ideas, no matter how small.

      This is the “TAKE ACTION IN THE BEST WAY YOU KNOW HOW!” piece of the equation.

      The point is that you can start doing more NOW, without having to take a big leap or make a big decision. You can start doing in right where you’re at. (THIS might be your “doing the best you can do right now). In time, it could lead you somewhere bigger.

      :)

  • Eileencbennett

    I am 57 years old and I found you by googling “what to do when you are lost and confused?” – because I AM! Your wisdom and sound common sense is so refreshing and right on the money. I hope it doesn’t come as bad news to anybody that it’s possible to get to 57 and not have it all figured out but the reality is that the goalposts keep changing. Nothing is static – and that’s okay. In fact, that’s great because it means we’re growing. But it can be more than a bit unnerving to feel like a directionless teenager when you are at an age when you thought you would have all the answers! Thanks goodness for the internet and thank goodness for you!

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Hi Eileen!

      I think you’ve got things more “figured out” than you know…

      ;-)

  • Ashley Ward

    I might be a bit late on this whole blog but I must say it really has me thinking. You know maybe everything that I read was just what I needed to hear or maybe not but I am still in the same boat as all the other individuals who have stumbled upon your blog. Im looking up in the right hand corner and my google search reads ” confused about what you want to do with your life.” I am sitting on my porch at home and finally found time to google to find people who understand the way I feel. Its one of those things you couldn’t call up your best friend about or talk to your mom about because honestly how can you explain something you do not even understand yourself. I am just going with my feelings. I just got back to the States(Alabama)a few days ago from studying abroad in London for a month. To anyone who is reading this, whoever you are, I would highly recommend traveling across the world. I feel like I have grown so much as a person within this past month more then I have in a whole year. But that is just it. My knowledge and awareness has grown so fast its hard to handle. I am about to start my senior year of college and I know trust me I know that I am young and have so much time to figure things out, but that still doesn’t stop me from wondering. I have BIG dreams. Dreams that seem to big so I, for the most part, keep them to myself. When people ask me what I want to be when I grow up I can’t answer the question. Not just because I don’t know, but because I feel like that question is for a 3rd grader. Do any of us really know? and is it possible that a mid-life-crisis exists throughout your entire life? Making it a life crisis I guess you could say…. I feel like I am rambling on and not getting to the point I need to make. But I tell you, the things I read not in this blog but the one you said to read first sound like it was written just for my eyes. Especially the soul-mate part. I am an independent soul looking for my other half. Who will do anything but settle. But then again I wonder if my idea of the perfect one that I have created in my head is holding me back. And of course there is always the question of “When will you know?” I am an individual who believes in fate and destiny. I know that God has a plan. Often times I wonder what was the point of coming in contact with that random person you met by the pool, or who was waiting in the same line as you. Is there a point to it. Who is to say that one day you might come in contact with your destiny. If you could give me your e-mail address I would like to talk about things more in depth.

  • conrad jones

    Hi Therese

    I’ve had this situation my whole life, I also suffer from OCD. I’ve been unemployed for 2 years but I’ve been doing volunteer work such as Reception, Road Shows and Events. At the moment I’m getting involved in Filming and Photography this is only volunteering thou. I’m still confused of what to do. I claim Jobseekers Allowance at the moment so I’ve got to apply for jobs in my area, do you think it would be best if I just got a job and see what happens from there. Please could you reply to my email.

  • timus

    Hello Therese ! This is absolutely fabulous and I enjoyed every bit of reading .. But have just a small thought. Why do one need to self discover or get motivated to do something great in life .. if everyone is so motivated, will the balance on the earth be maintained .. I doubt it !! .. would love to know your opinion on it :)

    • therese

      Hmm… I don’t know that I understand your question 100%?!

  • meme

    “…And the more I realize that I’ll never have it all figured out” <– Those is the most reassuring words I've heard yet.

  • Mary

    Your words really helped me regain some perspective that i’ve been lacking these past few weeks. Your ideas are just what I needed tonight. Feels so good to read something so similar to the chaos that is my brain right now. Feeling a little[a lot] less lost :) Thanks Therese

  • Jeremy

    Hi Therese

    This was the best thing to read right now because I am feeling lost, I am 27. I often get thinking that “everyone else” my age has it figured out, has amazing families around and feel complete always. But I guess that’s not realistic. When I start to doubt my career path, I spiral and think “crap, it’s too late to start again, I should have it decided by now and have myself all figure out” but the truth is I don’t. I also don’t feel passionate or strongly capable in my current field of work (despit having a masters in it) and I feel a bit guilty for this… I know it’s ridiculous. Thankyou for the reminder that its ok to be lost…. Maybe, just maybe we never fully get there and figure it all out- but life changes and goals and purpose should too as your life unfolds..

    Cheers

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