How do I deal with not having any sort of life plan?
May 14, 2015 5:43 PM   Subscribe

I have no direction in life and I find it hard to do anything useful as a result, because it feels very pointless otherwise. Should I try to generate one ASAP or just go with the flow, and if it's the latter, how do I reconcile that?

I have a very difficult time trying to think of anything I'd want to do in the future, which makes constructing a life plan impossible, but I also feel like I need an overarching plan in order to feel like doing anything--otherwise I just envision myself plodding along pointlessly til death. I also don't want to turn around in 10 years and realize that I was just aimless the whole time. Is it better to just pick an arbitrary-but-achievable goal (not even sure what it would be) and commit to it until/unless I find something else (but then I worry about it being too late to do that "something else" if that path takes too long) or should I learn to roll with the punches? I really don't know how to be OK with the latter, especially since I find it difficult to subscribe to the life is a journey not a race~ school of thought even though I know it's true.

When I was younger I was really prestige obsessed and had a ridiculous set of life goals that I generated when I was 10 and half-heartedly tried to stick to until they fell apart. Now my bleak academic record has rendered those impossible. That is what it is, but I still find it difficult to deal with not knowing what to do with myself. Logically I know that I will probably have to change careers several times, and that all sorts of uncontrollable negative things could happen to me in the future that could fully derail any plans that I have, but emotionally I'm not really sure how to cope with feeling drifty in life. Additional detail: I am graduating at the end of this year (for real this time) with a poor GPA and kind of a random major, and also my parents are definitely asking me about my long-term goals a lot.

tl;dr--what's the best course of action in absence of a life plan?
posted by hejrat to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe start with the next year and two years. Lots of people don't know what they'll be doing 40 years from now, but having shorter-term goals will give you a direction in life for now. And when new opportunities and interests present themselves, you'll be able to put them up beside those previous goals and decide which you think is better: old plan or new idea.

Maybe just start with figuring out how to get yourself employed when you graduate.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:53 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Some of the advice from my recent similar-ish question might be helpful for you.
posted by atruesock at 6:18 PM on May 14, 2015

Pick a thing you like, something that you want to get better at. Then do that thing. Find people who can show you how to do it better. Learn to recognize your mistakes. Be humble and work hard. Make friends with people who are doing the same thing. Ideally do this with several things, not just one. Repeat until death.
posted by deathpanels at 6:19 PM on May 14, 2015 [10 favorites]

no one has a life plan. :) however most people know if they prefer working with people, or working on solo projects; and most people know whether they prefer working on the analytical side or the more qualitative side. So that's a piece of information you can share. For example:

"Long term I'm looking to develop my (analytical OR communication) skills. But for short term I'm just trying to set myself up so that I can take care of myself financially in (city), and that means being open to lots of opportunities."
posted by samthemander at 6:39 PM on May 14, 2015

Life plans are a joke. Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans. God laughs at your life plans.

"that all sorts of uncontrollable negative things could happen to me in the future that could fully derail any plans that I have, "

Yup. Especially in these days of the Great Recession, it's pretty easy for "plans" to go by the wayside.

Here's your life plan: get some kind of job, any kind of job, after graduation. Hopefully get a job at some point that allows you to live somewhere that isn't your parents' house. Maybe eventually shoot for a job that pays more money and that you don't hate, if possible. And as deathpanels said so well: "Pick a thing you like, something that you want to get better at. Then do that thing." That thing may or may not be a work thing or a goal thing. It may be your side activity. If you get lucky, you may fall in love and it might last and in that case, your life "plans" will probably change anyway. But never expect love to happen--"plan" your life as if it won't and function from that assumption until/unless something changes. If the thing you love can eventually turn into a job, great! If it can't or won't, then that's life for ya and you'll just have to live for your free time, like most of us do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:40 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Now my bleak academic record has rendered those impossible.

life has shown me, much too late for me to benefit from it, how wrong you are. please don't assume your record forecloses you from anything.
posted by jayder at 7:19 PM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm 32, and I've met all of the goals that I've set for myself so far. I consider myself a fairly successful and happy person. I do not have any "life goals" - to me such a thing is sort of ridiculous, unless you're talking about an aspirational bucket list type of thing. If anything my only "life goal" is to save enough money by the time my husband and I are 65-ish so that we can stop working; other than that, I don't really care what specifically happens along the way so long as we're happy.

Maybe some super successful people set goals of "I want to be a billionaire!" and ruthlessly chase that enormous goal every day until they reach it, but clearly that doesn't work for many people. For the vast majority of people it is much more realistic to set obtainable short- and medium-term goals that keep your confidence up and move you along week to week and year to year. I believe in making a firm goal to run a 5k before making a firm goal of running a marathon, even if the marathon is the ultimate goal thats floating around in my head. I just don't see the point in making myself feel bad by setting an enormous scary goal when I could simply chop that giant goal up into smaller, obtainable mini-goals. Don't make a goal to lose 100 lbs, just make a goal to lose 5. Don't make a goal to clean your entire house, just make a goal to clean out this one drawer of your dresser. Don't make a life goal, just make a goal to get you to the end of the semester. Don't make straight A's your goal, just make a goal to do better than your average to bring your overall GPA up. Don't make a career goal, just make a goal of finding a first post-college job that interests you. Etc. If you plod along you'll figure out new goals as you go. Plodding through life is very underrated!
posted by gatorae at 7:19 PM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

Most of the people I know didn't have a plan or didn't follow a plan. Find some people 5, 10, and 20 years older than you who have a life/career that they seem to be happy with. Ask them what their career plan was at your age, and whether they have any advice. You could do this through informational interviews (research how to do these properly).

Take a few years to very deliberately learn more about yourself and about different types of work. This should be intentional, not aimless. Your "plan" can be to get work/volunteer experience in certain sectors, develop certain skills, learn what you dis/like about certain types of work. Analyze the job/volunteer experience you already have. What did you dis/like? What did you do well and what did you do poorly? Write it down.

Finally, do not be obsessed with searching for a job title. There are many great jobs out there that you've never heard of. Don't think "I want to be a _____________,. What's a "business analyst" or "program coordinator" or "communications specialist"? All can be great or terrible jobs. Instead think about what kinds of things you like doing or maybe what sector you'd like to be involved in.

It's normal for this transition to be really hard. Try to be patient. Your college probably has a careers office that can help.
posted by Frenchy67 at 7:23 PM on May 14, 2015

An arbitrary goal would be hard to stick to. A goal you can connect with is worth fighting for, if you can - you have to connect with it to make it against odds. Ideally, it would call on your strengths, motivations, and interests, and suggest a reasonable livelihood, based on your best information. If you really have no idea what to do, take the best job you can get (i.e. one that taps things you're good at) and figure it out.

That said - you're young. If ever you were going to go for broke on something unlikely, now'd be the moment, because you have time to risk it and recover if it doesn't work out. But you have to be decisive and really go for it, though, you can't be half-assed, that's the trick of it. Like if you know for sure you want to do X, you can find a way to fix that GPA.

I think you'll get more specific advice if you can tell us - what's the thing you let go because of this GPA? Was it just prestige that motivated you? What are you good at? Where do you live/what are your financial options (because loans are a different thing in the US than other places)?
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:44 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't know that my GPA can be fixed now since I only have one semester left in college (and it will be my most difficult semester by far). What I let go because of GPA was medical school (I wanted to go into a specific residency ultimately, at a very specific school and prestige was definitely a factor in that school selection). I don't think it was only prestige that motivated me but I don't know at all that it's what I want to do anymore.

I unfortunately don't have a good idea of my strengths and weaknesses as weird as that sounds. Well, weaknesses I do know, but I'm not sure what I'm good at

I'm not super worried about post-graduate employment because there's a good chance I can stay on at my current job/internship if I do well

I live in the middle of nowhere right now; my college is in a major Northeast city in the US. I'm trying to save money now so I can be independent post-graduation. I will not have any student loans.
posted by hejrat at 8:10 PM on May 14, 2015

When I was younger I was really prestige obsessed and had a ridiculous set of life goals that I generated when I was 10 and half-heartedly tried to stick to until they fell apart.

I've been there. Really, this describes many overachievers.

Now my bleak academic record has rendered those impossible.

There are almost always other ways to get what you want, but only if you enjoy it for its own sake. Just get better at it, one side project, class, or job at a time, for the enjoyment of getting better.

So, become a doctor, and find a different path to work at [prestigious university], but again you have to enjoy the path, not the destination.

I have no direction in life and I find it hard to do anything useful as a result

You're free. Do anything.
posted by sninctown at 8:13 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

As soon as you graduate college there is a lot of pressure to find the ideal career and secure a great income. I remember it as being stressful and a let down. A great resume does not mean that you will have a great life. Life is about self discovery. You shouldn't feel that bad. As a young graduate there is no reason to have a life plan or even a five year plan. Really, avoid comparing your's to the careers of others.

Is there anything more aimless that appeals to you. Maybe there is some kind of work, that has always seemed okay to you somehow, that you just disregarded when you went to college.

Alternatively if you have no plan there is the option of doing something that would probably allow you to at least build character. For instance, the Peace Corps. That is a two year commitment. There are many volunteer organizations that are similar that involve less time.
posted by ksaklingon at 8:25 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with some other responders here. The question is impossible to answer because it's so all-encompassing. It's almost like you're asking for someone to tell you how to live your life. After you've been at this life thing for a while you will realize that a) your plans are almost certainly deeply flawed and you are chasing the wrong thing, and b) nothing you want to do is going to work out exactly the way you planned anyway, so there's really no point in laying out these elaborate ten-year plans for exactly how you want you life to be. A rough sketch is good, but don't get too caught up on adhering perfectly to your Plan.

I've known people who would openly discuss their plans like,"Okay, I'm going to major in biology and get into X medical school and I want to marry ideally by the time I turn 28 and I want our wedding to be at Y venue and I want to have two kids.. no, three kids.. and I would prefer to live somewhere in the vicinity of Manhattan and I want a dog and two cats." And then this person ends up failing an organic chemistry course and thinking their entire life is hopelessly fucked up because step 2 in a 10,000 step process to their perfect life went wrong. And then six months later they end up changing their major to journalism anyway because it turned out they didn't really want to be a doctor.

It's stuff like that. I think what people (eventually, hopefully, maybe) figure out is that the real stuff of life comes from the changes inside yourself, not from external goals. The external goals can help with the internal stuff, but they are less important in and of themselves. It sounds like you were raised in a way that placed a lot of emphasis on thinking of life in terms of tangible, concrete career aspirations. Well, that's one aspect of life, but it's not the really interesting part. The real growth you will have as a human being comes from failure. Failing is very important. Learning to cope with things not going your way is what makes a person strong. That doesn't mean you should go out and try to fail in some career aspiration, but it means that you need not feel this overwhelming sense of dread at the prospect of doing it wrong. It's supposed to be uncomfortable and scary, otherwise you aren't going to learn anything.
posted by deathpanels at 5:07 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Decide where you want to live after graduation. Do you want to stay at your current job, if it entails being "in the middle of nowhere"? Or is your current work portable? Do you want to be in a big city? Someplace medium-sized? Try a new place altogether?
posted by yarntheory at 9:52 AM on May 15, 2015

So it's a hard question to answer because life plans are so personal and hard to define in exact terms a lot of the time. So I'll tell you how my experience with this kind of feeling went.

I graduated with a degree in psychology at 22, with plans to go to grad school for a lot of the same reasons you had for your residency. Prestige and family expectations and so on. I talked myself into a year off and found a job that utilized my degree and looked good but was definitely one of those "I can't support a family on this" sorts of jobs. And then I stalled out. For three years. But through those years I realized exactly what my life goals were not. That was the most helpful for me to acknowledge. Once I had that figured out I felt better taking risks and trying things out just to see if they fit. Now I'm a formwork carpenter. My life as it makes me happy turned out to be in a completely different direction than I was looking.

You can't really force the next active step your life takes. Drifting is okay. Especially if you're exiting the education structure for the first time. Post-school life essentially is floating in the ether because you're no longer subscribed to an academic timeline. You do you on your terms and success becomes subjective.
posted by teslacoilswoah at 10:01 AM on May 15, 2015

People often seem to try and pick goals based on their feelings at only one, very specific point in time, or things they think they SHOULD want, but don't really. And then try and hold themselves to that perhaps, in the moment list, despite the brief spark of enthusiasm having been well blown out.

So, tend the sparks for awhile, without pressuring any of them. See which sparks are strongest. Just write down everyday, 10 projects or goals that you are enthusiastic about, in that moment. If you are really struggling, think of things you dislike at the moment, and write about what the opposite would be.

Earlier post on this topic
Just keep doing it for awhile, until the things you really enjoy start coming out, and you start feeling the security of knowing that this is something you really want. Avoid starting on a new project until you have had it come up repeatedly, both so that you know it isn't just a whim, and also so you don't prematurely crush it with a sense of procrastination.
posted by Elysum at 5:43 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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