Conan, what is best in life?
January 19, 2009 4:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm at a loose end in life, have few real constraints... so what shall I do next? Go wild.

Life was all going so well (sort of?) but for one reason and another my life has slowly ground to a jobless living-back-with-parents-and-21-years-old halt. Now I'm festering in a quagmire of do-nothingness, and mixing all my metaphors. You know the phrase "If you want something done, give it to a busy man" - I am the non-busiest man ever.

I'm looking for:

* practical recommendations of stuff you did recently (or a while ago!) that you enjoyed, especially if you found it to be conducive to personal growth/happiness/or led on to even more exciting opportunities
* any random whimsical ideas of stuff to do, like maybe the other day you thought "ah if I didn't have to be in the office every day then i'd totally... [strap a jet engine to a kayak and see what happens]" I say this because at least 90% of cool stuff I've done has started out with a whim ("apply to be on gameshows!") but I think i've developed whimpotence, possibly because there's no constraints for them to exist in opposition to? Or not - ideally this sort of footloose and fancy-free approach should be able to exist independently and I should nurture it somehow?
* Also, your touchy-feely mental/mindset advice on how i should actually approach it all and slowly easy myself out of epic life paralysis (nb: already have therapist (nb: not that it's very helpful but that's for another AskMefi...)) I wonder if perhaps I am only one awesome spider-diagram / motto / quotation / analogy from insight and happiness...

Things I have:

* enough money, to, say, live cheaply without a job for a year, or travel around the world, although of course it's not necessary that I actually spend this money now now now, i could just keep it! although i worry it would be "frittered" were i to hang onto it for ages...
* vague career field ("internet stuff") and obvious cynicism/doubt of choice of career field / curiosity about the simple life of the radish farmer, etc
* some work experience that's not just nothingy
* friends! a girlfriend! (though obviously they're doing their own stuff)

Things I don't have right now (I mean obviously in general I have them, but these are the things that are missing)

* any commitments or things tying me to any particular place, etc
* on the other hand, any structure or particular sense of purpose, so it's very easy to, for e.g., spend days after days getting up at 4pm and watching DVD box sets until 8am and never really seeing sunlight
* sense of what the right time-scale is to think of (is it difficult to do something today if it isn't part of some larger plan or not, or what? i think i probably just need to get on with it.)
* any Clear Favourite option, in fact, nearly all ideas seem equally pretty good, although of course any given option is at the opportunity cost of all the others and hence induces anxiety that it is not The Best Choice
* any real strategy or criteria for even choosing broad areas or narrowing stuff down or knowing where to start, so even when people helpfully say "oh you should travel!" a large part of my brain goes "OH GOD SHALL I BUILD A SCHOOL IN GHANA OR RIDE THE TRANS-SIBERIAN EXPRESS OR GO AND FIND MYSELF/DRUGS IN BOLIVIA OR MAYBE I SHOULD JUST LIKE WORK IN A BAR IN GOA FOR A WHILE HOW CAN I DECIDE"
* confidence in What Is Most Important or my ability to predict what will make me happy (esp. vs. "what seems 'cool'")
* oh, a degree, i don't have one of those

So hopefully the tenor of this question is indicative of my current feeling that "What next?" is a colossal, ungrapplable predicament, and hopefully you'll be able to a) make it less colossal by coming up with a brilliant idea of exactly what i should do next, or b) make it more grapplable by, well, if I knew that I'd not be asking this question, eh? But imagine, if you come up with a great idea, I'll actually do it and send you a photo and a thankyou note. TBH I'll alphabetise your record collection or whatever if you pitch it well enough.

PS: I guess broadly i'm looking at "moving to the city" / "or staying with family cheaply for a while longer" / "or to other city, with friends but not until September and also less work available there" where I "do something careery" / "work in a [bookshop/cosy pub/something simple and nice]" or I *don't work* and instead / "do work experience in some different fields" / "do something charitable" / work on "projects" (although, see: whimpotence/inspiration-dearth, but then see: suggestions welcome) possibly as auto-didactic learning and "teach self some new skills" possibly even "do a course" and/or "earn a qualification" unless I "travel" "around the world" or "part of the world" or just go to one place in the world and stay there (Buenos Aires my friend says, for no apparent reason, other than the steak, but what would I do there and wouldn't I be terribly lonely and and and...) and do something there, whatever that would be, god knows.
posted by so_necessary to Human Relations (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Go camping. In a hiking tent if you're that kind of person (it's cold, so take warm clothes) or a cabin if not, or a cheap crappy motel if you don't want to leave the city. Make sure you have no tv (or electronic entertainment). Go for a week or more.

- a university course guide. Any university, just one that lists all the possible courses there are.
- an adult education/short course guide - like '3 hour intro to Picasso' night course stuff.
- a newspaper with job ads
- an atlas

- paper, some lined, some plain
- coloured pencils/crayons/paint
- a highlighter
- a pen

Now use the materials in section b to mark up the materials in section a. See something interesting in the atlas, like, um, Quito? (Wherever that is). Highlight it, and make a note on your paper. Highlight every course that looks interesting, or a possible option, even for a moment. You can always cross it out later, but you'll skip over everything you didn't highlight on your second reading. Do the same with the adult ed. guide and the job ads. Now play with all the ideas - what does being a veterinarian have in common with being a children's party organiser? If you see something that you think you could start doing immediately - do it.

The essential thing to remember is that it's easier to find a job if you've got one. Take a job/volunteer opportunity/night class doing ANYTHING, and the minute you clock on for the day's shift you'll remember all the things you'd rather be doing.
posted by jacalata at 4:43 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

As someone who is now 29, with a full time job, a soon to be fiance (Shhhhh!), and plenty tethering me to where I am, I regret that I didn't do more travelling when I was younger. I have a lot of friends who did programs where they taught english overseas after college, and made enough money after their work to bum around whatever part of the world they were in for however long. You don't need to speak the language wherever you're going to enroll in the program, though a lot of them require a bachelor's degree, and it's unclear to me from your post whether you have one.

The time away from everyone they knew, cared about, generally gave these people new direction as well. I found that some folks who had just barely graduated from college and/or were wasting away at their parents' house came back with a fresh outlook on where they wanted to go. There's nothing like a little time away from all of your comfortable, safe routines to give you a little inspiration.

Also, as someone who "moved to the city" at 25, I can assure you that you can run around and do your thing, and the city will remain largely the same when you decide to come by for a visit. My experience here, both good and bad, remains largely unchanged in the 4 years I've been here. I don't see it as
posted by orville sash at 4:55 AM on January 19, 2009

Seconding travel. Some like the woods, but for me, a walk through a great and strange city always fills me with enough energy for at least a month. The people you meet and things you learn are just icing.
posted by rokusan at 5:05 AM on January 19, 2009

First thing I'd start with is dumping your girlfriend, you're wasting her time....

Things I have:

* a girlfriend!

Things I don't have right now

* any commitments or things tying me to any particular place, etc

If it were me, I'd get a degree while I was still young and start working on a career but I'm boring and practical like that.
posted by missmagenta at 5:16 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whatever job or project you decide on, do it abroad. Complications can appear out of nowhere so get travelling early and often.
posted by fire&wings at 5:19 AM on January 19, 2009

You are in a Comfort Funk. I just made that label up but I reckon it's true. Exampled by your current comfy lifestyle and non-challenging small-print possibilities list. Ah yes, comfort funks are comfy, ay. Yet it's time to move 'off the couch'.
1. If you are choofing, stop that. Save it for special occasions. Same with beer and such-like.
2. Move away from comfort zones (physically) - a person with your resources (youth, wealth etc) should not be on the home teat.
3. Move toward places/people/situations/challenges that will force you to be active and grow (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually). It may help if you picture your old-age death bed scene - you know how your life is meant to flash before your eyes, well imagine that flashing. What life do you want to have led?

There isn't any right answer to your question unless you find it yourself. Go get uncomfortable and discover who you are beneath the your-comfort trained persona.
posted by Kerasia at 5:23 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

At about your age, I took a year off from college and supported myself. Of the things that I did during that time, the most rewarding and the most enduring in terms of who I am now, 21 years later, is working on a volunteer rescue squad. Every first aid course I took up to that point tells you not to move the victim. I got the training to be the person who does move the victim. I learned a lot about human nature, how to handle crises, how to handle crowds, and I helped save a few lives. To this day, when faced with medical emergencies, my training kicks in in about a femtosecond. It's awesome.
posted by plinth at 5:26 AM on January 19, 2009

I see that you are in the UK. It might be too late for you to apply this year, but if you're eligible to do this it is a great way to travel and get some different work experience.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 7:26 AM on January 19, 2009

Road Trip! And I second getting uncomfortable - do the things you wouldn't normally do, talk to strangers - there's a whole world out there waiting.

I did a lot of traveling and living in different places after college - seemed to satisfy my wanderlust and need to find myself (still working that out) but it did end up giving me direction (grad school) and a clear idea of what I was ready to commit to.

If you can telecommute your work, you can go anywhere and continue to make enough money to not have to dip too heavily into savings.
posted by HolyWood at 9:03 AM on January 19, 2009

I think you answered your own question there.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:39 AM on January 19, 2009

There are three ways through this world: Chance, Choice, and Oracle.

If you're having trouble with Choice, now may be time to consult the other two.

Oracle: Is there anything you've felt destined to do? Now is a good time to do it.

Chance: When I hit the road a few years ago, my stated purpose was to "see what the universe put in front of me." Go have a steak in Buenos Aires (no really, it's worth it) and see what happens to you along the way. Go visit Chimaros tower on Naxos.

I had a very rich and varied trip, and virtually none of the really good stuff was related to anything I had planned. Travel gives Chance an opportunity to work its magic.

But back to my main point: Choice isn't working out for you at the moment. Time to try a different approach.
posted by tkolar at 11:10 AM on January 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'll have to jump on the travel bandwagon here, but since you mentioned that you got overwhelmed thinking about where to travel and what to do, I'll be more specific and suggest a volunteer, or service, vacation where you spend time working on a worthwhile project.

There are many opportunities out there (just google "volunteer vacation") but since you want specifics, I'll suggest one I'm familiar with: Earthwatch.

You will work on a research project, most likely involving endangered species conservation or something like an archeological dig, and meet an international group of people among your fellow volunteers and researchers. Their ages will range from your age to much older which will give you an opportunity to gain insight and perspective from other adventurous, knowledge seeking, and interesting people with a wide range of life experiences to share.

You will come out of it with a feeling of satisfaction for donating your time and money to a worthy cause and more importantly (for you, maybe), an amazing sense of self that is hard to describe. (There is a good bit of free time as well, where you can enjoy the beach/surf and other cool stuff.)

And, to be even more specific, I'd particularly recommend the Costa Rican Sea Turtles expedition as most of your duties will take place on a spectacular beach at night (you appear to be a "night" person) when the turtles are laying eggs or when the eggs are hatching depending on the time of year you go. If you're used to being up all night, I can't think of a more beautiful and amazing place to be!

You'd best get on the stick, though, as there are only two more trips this season before they start back up in the Fall.

Good luck and say hi to BiBi for me when you get there! Looking forward to your photo & thank you note. ;)

(BTW, I do not work for Earthwatch; I'm just a lucky three-time volunteer.)
posted by ourroute at 11:10 AM on January 19, 2009

I went through a similar slump when I returned to my parent's home after a year of traveling. I had nothing tying me down to a single location, and had endless possibilities of what to do next. The problem was, I was completely overwhelmed with idea of infinite possibilities, so I chose none of them. I simply got comfortable and did nothing for months, trying to decide on moving to a bigger city, or traveling the US, etc.

The key was simply to make a decision, and not worry about if it was wrong or right. I suggest you choose something as opposed to nothing. As soon as you do, you'll be amazed how good it feels. And if that decision doesn't work out, you can always try something else.

As for a specific suggestion, how about trying to combine travel and learning? Spend a summer in Sydney learning to surf, a winter in Switzerland learning to ski, or any other combination you can think of.
posted by nbSean at 12:16 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a no-brainer: Surfing.

And get a job. Any job. A shitty job, where you get to know interesting people who have better things to do than watch DVD boxsets.

Please don't sit in a cabin highlighting courses, thinking 'seriously' about your future. You don't know your future yet. Live in the moment, but do live.
posted by up!Rock at 2:04 PM on January 19, 2009

Seconding the suggestion to do something - anything - rather than nothing at all. Travel being the obvious choice, combined with work if possible. Then at least you have a headstart on eliminating the things that you discover are NOT a good fit for you. Might sound like a negatively skewed strategy, but it's actually a wonderful motivator to keep on searching :-)
posted by Weng at 3:02 PM on January 19, 2009

Put yourself to good use. Join Americorps. Give unselfishly of your time, effort and love. Save enough money to get your own place and start the next phase of your life. Join Peacecorps and teach children in third world countries how to read or speak English.

This is a once in a lifetime situation to find yourself in. Hibernating should not be an option.
posted by big open mouth at 10:05 AM on January 20, 2009

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