Almost a quarter of people’s lives are being spent on work, and yet the vast majority of individuals never think about what they really like to do. On top of that, a significant percentage doesn’t even like the work they are undertaking. This is in stark contrast to one of the top 5 regrets of the dying:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
The question remains: why is it so hard to live your life the way you want without following what is expected from you? Why is it so hard when we know that if you don’t do so, you will regret it in the very end? Peter Thiel launched the Thiel Fellowship, where he encourages soon-to-be under-20 entrepreneurs not to embark on a traditional college education. Instead, he pushes them to start a company. Although the program’s intention might at first sight be misleading, one realizes that choosing a college degree can often limit what wants to be achieved in life. Both Franz and I have experienced these limitations: we decided to let go of our clinical careers and embark on a new, entrepreneurial journey, focusing on starting up our own companies. Nonetheless, we are being eyed suspiciously when we tell our story. Deciding not to follow what others want -including your family and friends- requires balls and strong self-confidence. Striving for your own battles is much more than some superficial career advice. It’s a choice, and it takes up a large part of our life, so choose wisely.
The dilemma, however, starts prior to “doing what you want to do”: you simply have no clue about what you want. You lack self-reflection and forget to listen. Finding out what really drives you is difficult. Many of us living in industrialized countries are being offered a plethora of opportunities. Nothing seems impossible, but “choice makes you unhappy” as Barry Schwartz famously said. We are becoming numb to all those career options and end up at the very beginning of our search for fulfillment.
Fortunately, there is a very simple and yet very effective method to get you going in trying to figure out where you want to go and what you want to do. Look at yourself, remember your teens, your childhood and think: what are your interests? What do you like doing in your spare time? Which books and magazines do you enjoy reading? What makes you curious? What do you find fascinating?
Those are all trivial questions, but we often do not see the forest for the trees. The answer is most likely right in front of us, but we are negligent and decide not to pay attention. Prestige, income and peer pressure are stronger than our core interests. This is not an “all or nothing” recommendation: instead, it should make us think and reconsider the career we are about to choose or already have chosen.
It’s never too late. The right choice results in freedom, and freedom results in happiness. Think about it.