I just don't know what to do with my life
October 28, 2007 9:52 AM   Subscribe

If you were 22, in good financial shape and completely aimless: What would you do with the next 2-3 years of your life?

I never went to college. I moved to San Francisco straight out of school to learn about the real world and build a business.. I got lucky with some of my projects and now live a very comfortable life without working too much. I am lazy, and this financial comfort makes it worse. Alas, I'm completely aimless.

My options:

- work harder
- school, but what do I need a piece of paper for?
- move back to europe, move in with old friends, get back together with an ex-girlfriend, take some random classes and play guitar
- pack a bag and hit the road until I make up my mind

I realize how pathetic I sound. I'm extremely fortunate, but can't seem to get anything out of it. Any ideas?

posted by mrunderhill to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer. Go to an animal shelter or a people shelter and make yourself useful. Perhaps getting exposed to a spectrum of the less fortunate will give you more direction or appreciation for what you have. Taking classes isn't a bad thing, either. The community colleges in California are ridiculously cheap and you don't have to be going for a degree, go for personal enrichment.
posted by 45moore45 at 9:55 AM on October 28, 2007

Pay off my student loans?

Go see the world, there's so much out there to explore. Pick up a language or two along the way.
posted by gramcracker at 9:57 AM on October 28, 2007

options 1 and 2 won't happen unless you're motivated, which you're not. in fact, if you go back to school now you'll end up with mediocre grades or flunk out, both of which are worse than not going at all.

I say option 4 (travelling) is the best. Go see the world. Go far and "exotic", not just another comfortable western country. You'll see amazing things, be inspired by the people you meet, and perhaps discover a cause to take up.
posted by randomstriker at 9:59 AM on October 28, 2007

Better yet: Find someone to pay you to go see the world. Teach a English in Asia. Move in on a commune farm in India with a bunch of hippies. Join the Peace Corps. Build a school in Africa.

There are many deeper meanings to live besides work and accomplishments. Very few people get to pursue them. Count yourself lucky.
posted by SpecialK at 11:12 AM on October 28, 2007

school, but what do I need a piece of paper for?

Puleez. Only people who truly do not appreciate education refer to college as a "piece of paper."

At 22 you can wing it. "Going back to school" (or in your case starting) is something that a lot of 20-somethings talk about. It's reasonably acceptable at your age to be ignorant (uneducated in the classic sense, despite your "real world" experiences) but there will come a time where that will get old.

Anyway, if you ever imagine yourself with a college degree now is the time at least start thinking of it. It's fine to goof around, travel, work, whatever... but if you're not careful you may look around ten years from now and realize that you blew a lot of good opportunities to go to school.

Your "real world" experiences are important, but if you have no "official" grounding in a good education they won't mean a lot to many people out there. Anyone can save up money, hop a plain for Bolivia or hitch hike across Europe...
posted by wfrgms at 11:17 AM on October 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think the financial independence you have is a bit of a mixed blessing. I mean, most of us would probably love to be in your shoes, but having too many choices, like you have, can be overwhelming. I can understand how you would feel aimless, especially if you think of yourself as 'lazy'. But, without knowing you, I'd bet your aimlessness might actually just be that you have no idea how to begin to choose, because your options aren't automatically narrowed down by your life circumstances the way that they are for most of us. (And the way they probably were for you, before you became successful.)

You don't say why you are looking to make a change in your life... A question that I ask myself when I get confused about what I want to do with myself (and, I often am, including right now), is "How can I live my life right now so that I don't have any regrets when I'm older?" It doesn't give me all the answers but sometimes it helps me parse out what is really important to me in the grand scheme of things.

Personally, if I were in your shoes, I'd be doing things that would help me learn about myself, and also things that would make me feel good about how I'm spending my time. It'd probably be a combination of classes (for personal development and intellectual/creative stimulation, not necessarily a 'piece of paper'), travel, and volunteerism. I'd just be looking for a way to feel happy and content in my life.
posted by inatizzy at 11:18 AM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

You may find this previous question and its answers interesting (more money, fewer friends, different country, but a similar problem).
posted by Partial Law at 11:20 AM on October 28, 2007

You don't sound pathetic at all, but you think you do. Solve that problem (by using your money to buy some high-quality psychotherapy, by starting a relationship with someone who makes you feel non-pathetic, or whatever) and you are likely to find out that you're not as lazy and aimless as you presently imagine.
posted by escabeche at 11:20 AM on October 28, 2007

Of course I envy you; I'll be honest about that. But the world has a lot lot more to teach you, and if you aren't involved in a cause or career, you get left by the wayside, particularly as your friends have to struggle to find themselves. People connect through shared experiences and struggle.

What do you need that peice of paper for? Well, not much. But college opened up whole new doors to me intellectually, and I made friends that have helped me through the last twenty years of my life. It's a really great experience that helps you decide what you're interested in.

You could even do this near your friends in Europe. Living (versus traveling) abroad is a great experience.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 11:27 AM on October 28, 2007

Start a band and go on tour. Just don't skimp on the van.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:34 AM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's a world of marijuana out there and it ain't just going to smoke itself.
posted by rhizome at 11:37 AM on October 28, 2007 [11 favorites]

Go to college in another country.

(College is NOT about the piece of paper.)
posted by Reggie Digest at 11:38 AM on October 28, 2007

Are you political? If so, go work on a political campaign or two. Hillary and Obama are hiring like crazy now and you'll have the time of your life if you're ok with working your ass of and not getting paid very much.
posted by willie11 at 12:13 PM on October 28, 2007

Best answer: Well, I may be stating the obvious here but you need to find something you want/love to do - your financial independence allows that kind of freedom. And if you don't know what that is, then option 4 sounds the best to me.

You can't work harder if you don't know what you're working for. And there's no point going back to school if you don't know what you want to study. Option 3 is valid as well, but I think option 4 is going to be much more fruitful and eye-opening for you,.
posted by kureshii at 12:30 PM on October 28, 2007

I would have sex with lots of girls. Seriously, now is the time to do it.
posted by mpls2 at 12:53 PM on October 28, 2007

Learn to play banjo. Learn some new sports like squash or Olympic weightlifting. Learn Middle English. Learn the history of philosophy and get back to us when you've figured out whether standards of aesthetics and/or morality can be rationally derived. Learn to cook.

Or: your third option of taking random classes in Europe and playing the guitar doesn't sound so shabby; depending on which classes and where in Europe.
posted by creasy boy at 12:55 PM on October 28, 2007

Travel, have fun, & date lots of women. Do things that you can look back on and smile about.

You have minimal responsibilities now, so take advantage of your freedom.

Later in life, travel and new women will be hard to come by, not due to cost, but due to responsibilities.
posted by Argyle at 12:56 PM on October 28, 2007

I was similarly cynical about going back to school before I did, but I ended up really loving it.

The key is to study something you really like. If you aren't sure what that is, take as many intro courses as possible. And shop around during the first week of class.

And if you really aren't sure about the whole university thing, just go to the first week of class at a good university near you (Stanford?). No one will notice that you aren't enrolled in the university. Short of enrolling, this will give you the best idea of what university is really like. Also, most universities give good tours for perspective students... go on a few of these too.

basically, don't knock it 'til you try it.

If you are going purely for personal enrichment, you can really make university into whatever you want it to be. Take one semester a year, take half a normal course load, make your own major, or don't even enter into a degree program (ie just take classes you are interested in - many good universities have special programs for doing this, often through continuing ed. programs).

Also, a university semester is 4 months long. That isn't a big time commitment. There is nothing wrong with going for one semester to test the waters.
posted by nazca at 1:16 PM on October 28, 2007

Buy a Landcruiser and cross Africa!
posted by Harald74 at 1:30 PM on October 28, 2007

First of all, you say "aimless" and "lazy" as if they're bad things. I've said the same of myself at times, but I'd like to know who decreed that monomaniacal ambition and "drive" are, by definition, virtuous while openness of spirit and an appreciation of leisure are character flaws. Do you genuinely feel this lack of direction, or are you just internalizing the (often senseless) competitive go-getter culture around you? You kind of have to trip over a sense of direction (and might change direction 27 times in life) rather than forcing yourself into one, but you can have a lot of grand adventures en route.

If you've made a comfortable living off of your projects to the point where you don't have to work much, then you are hardly inert but obviously have talent, organizational skill, and the ability to see things through when you're motivated to do so. Wise animals work just as hard as they need to for survival, and then they stop. So I'd say that what you should do is to figure out what seems most valuable and enriching and pleasurable right now and see where that leads you. As I've gotten to middle age, my formula for deciding what to do with a chunk of time is, "OK, Fellini, here are X number of minutes you will never get back. What are you going to do with them?"

If I could relive my 22nd year in your circumstances, I'd volunteer, read voraciously, listen to music, play music, take challenging classes in odd subjects, travel to places where I could take my dogs. And get lots of long good nights' sleep -- something that gets harder to do in your 40s!
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:57 PM on October 28, 2007

VSO? Geekcorps, if that's the area your skills are in? Spend some of that money sailing around the Atlantic and Europe (and send me a postcard!)?

Ok, you've had one big adventure already, but it's never too late to have another. You've learned a lot - can you teach some of that to other people to increase their chances of success, too? But however much you've learned, you can always learn more, and at this stage I'd say preferably not in an academic environment; like some people above, I'd recommend not going to college until you've found something you really want to do, or you'll get bored and risk dropping out. Good luck, and have fun!
posted by Lebannen at 3:18 PM on October 28, 2007

You're 22. If I were you I'd stop worrying about the future.

I wish I'd been "aimless" when I was 22 instead of heading straight to grad school. Having just witnessed la vie boheme in Berlin (for 9 days) at 43 makes me feel like I threw too much of my life away being aim-ful.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:41 PM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Puleez. Only people who truly do not appreciate education refer to college as a "piece of paper."

As someone going through university right now, I can say that I've learnt a hell of a lot more outside the university system than in it, so in essence it is just a "piece of paper". And I value education like nothing else.


If you're still interested in learning about business and project management, but in a creative, socially-conscious, hands-on way, the KaosPilots would be your thing. The Europeans on it keep banging about how it's expensive but it's actually not that bad pricewise, and you get to travel on that too.

What sort of things are you interested in? I'd highly recommend Up with People if you're into performance and community service. If you want to learn and travel the world at the same time, check out Semester at Sea or The Scholar Ship - the bonus is that you get a semester's worth of university credit on both programs so if you decide to go back to school you have some backup. The Peace Boat, while not quite as academic, is very socially-minded and gives you a GREAT exposure to other countries (It's Japan-based).

Delaying The Real World (more the book than the website), TakingITGlobal, and Idealist are all good resources for ideas. Also look through Facebook groups and join any that strike you as interesting.
posted by divabat at 3:43 PM on October 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Buy/invest in property.
Go to uni in Europe.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:45 PM on October 28, 2007

Best answer: I'd say sit down for ten minutes and casually think of all the things, from early in life until now, that have sparked your interest. Write them down. Try to rank them.

Then dig a little deeper. Are there professions associated with those things? Professors? If so, go to the library or jump on the web and try to find people whose work in those fields interests you. E-mail them, write them, and try to visit one or two. Ask them what it's like working in the field.

Then try to sketch out a plan. It doesn't have to be school, but nonetheless a plan.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:09 PM on October 28, 2007

Best answer: Jackaroo for a year in Australia, riding the boundaries of cattle stations the size of Belgium.

Go to Ireland and get a job pulling pints at some musty bar in a tiny town.

Move to Brazil and get excellent at salsa and portuguese.

Go to Nepal and do every three week long Himalayan hike you can.

*hint: none of these things are meant to be perfect for you. They're just meant to be new. You can do anything, anywhere, and even if it doesn't lead to a lifelong passion it will still be a new experience, still something that will have enriched your life.
posted by twirlypen at 4:17 PM on October 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

Perhaps you could write a book about your experiences? A lot of people would like to become rich at a younger age. Goodness knows, I would have been happy with that information. As it stands I'm o-kay at 30 with a bachelor's and a master's. Incidentally, I had a blast doing both. Perhaps that's part of the problem -- I was focused on enjoying learning rather than making a fortune out of it -- but there's still something to say for education for its own sake.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:36 PM on October 28, 2007

Best answer: Do something you can't really do at a later age. For most, that'd be things that are physically demanding (sure, some older folks get into heavy physical activity, but it's very dependent on your health).. so rock climbing, mountaineering, snowboarding, skateboarding, all that kinda stuff. You'll end up with a buff and healthy body to keep you trucking into your later years when you can focus more on the educational side of things.

It's reasonably acceptable at your age to be ignorant (uneducated in the classic sense, despite your "real world" experiences) but there will come a time where that will get old.

Generalist poppycock. I wonder when that time will come for the endless list of ultra interesting uneducated folk. Heck, most people who become a major or interesting success in one way or another mostly tended to have dropped out of university if they even bothered to attend in the first place.
posted by wackybrit at 5:47 PM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're 22 and in good financial shape? Take some time and enjoy yourself. You only live once.

If you want to have a goal to work towards: take the time to figure out what you like to do.
posted by davetill at 6:04 PM on October 28, 2007

Travel and write free lance journalism. Seriously try to sell it. Even if you never sell a thing, you can deduct at least some of the expenses and if/when you ever do try to re-enter the workforce, you will have something on your resume other than a large blank space.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:12 PM on October 28, 2007

If you like to write, or even think you might, I think Indigo Jones has it right. If I was in your shoes, I would ski tour and bike and travel and write. And if no one wanted to buy it, well, I'd just do what everyone else does when they have have something to say and no one really cares to listen: blog.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:14 PM on October 28, 2007

The correct answer is (d) pack a bag and hit the road until I make up my mind.
posted by robcorr at 10:45 PM on October 28, 2007

If I were in your shoes (would that I could be...sigh)...

I'd invest in a year or so worth of sailing lessons, get my captains license, some experience under my belt, then buy my own boat and do a circumnavigation.

Or two.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:02 AM on October 29, 2007

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