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The Devil You Don’t: What if I have no idea what I want next?

Where do I start if I have no idea what I want next? I’ve run into this question a few times over the past several weeks. I’ve talked to a couple of people who are feeling completely overwhelmed at not only the prospect of being motivated to do something (find a new job, get out of a terrible relationship), but also of the idea of having to create whatever it is that happens next.

We are not dummies. We know when our jobs stink or our relationships need fixing or ending. But we stay stuck in bad situations out of fear. Fear of being alone, fear of not being able to pay the bills, but mostly fear of being in charge of designing what happens next. What if you have no idea what you want, but you only know it isn’t THIS?

Ah, I’m glad you asked! Fear of transitions is completely normal. Hence the expression about the devil you know and the devil you don’t. But the truth is that with a little soul searching you don’t have to face a devil you don’t know. You canĀ figure out what you want next. It doesn’t have to be a devil you don’t know, and it doesn’t have to be a devil at all.

My experience tells me that while many people need help getting over hurdles to goals that they’ve clearly articulated and really want (without self-sabotaging emotional baggage about why you shouldn’t or can’t have it) once they are at that point, they are 85% of the way there. (OK, I completely made up that statistic, but you get my point). It’s not that the major thing that holds us back is lack of motivation, know how, and the like. It’s that we don’t know what it is we truly want.

Imagine being in the situation of hating your job. (Maybe you don’t have to imagine very hard). You know what to expect: the boss you hate, too much work that is no longer fun, and a steady pay check. The idea of finding something you love may seem impossible, frivolous, and terrifying when you don’t know where to start. Here’s what I suggest:

  • Start keeping a journal of any interactions or situations that give you a little zap of feeling alive. Was it when you were out at a nice dinner, helping someone solve a problem, or handing in a completed project? No matter how small that feeling, write it down and see if you can start to put together a theme of when you feel at your best.
  • Look at your skills. I’m not talking about the latest web technology you learned. Don’t recreate your resume. I’m talking about your innate skills. If you are great at learning web technology because you love it, then that should go on your list. Or if you want someone in your life who will appreciate your ability to listen, write it down. Chances are, you are really good at certain things because you love to do them, and if you love to do them they somehow fit into the puzzle of what is next.
  • Get some help. Whether it’s professional coaching or a good friend, having someone listen and offer another perspective can be helpful. You may gain insights into yourself that will help you write the next chapter.

It’s both scary and empowering to think that we get to choose what happens next in our lives. But if you can push into the fear of change knowing that there is hope, that you can figure out and create what you want, then hopefully that will outweigh the fear (and downright hopelessness) of staying stuck forever in a situation you hate. You are the only person with the power to make a change. Otherwise you will stay stuck in this same situation, or one equally difficult. But if you can find the courage to take a look, my guess is that you will figure it out and you’ll be too excited about the change to even have time to feel afraid.

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