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How to know what you want and love what you do…
Knowing what you want, you’d think it would be easy, you’d think it would make sense. I’m me so of course, I know what I want, I’m me so of course, I know myself. Though, unfortunately for us, knowing what we want has become far more difficult and complicated in this current age, as we lose touch with ourselves and our inner workings. So, how do we answer a question that we shouldn’t have to ask in the first place? How can we know what we really want in life? Hopefully, through sharing my own experiences, troubles and triumphs of this dilemma, I can help you to find your own answers to that vital question.
I started off my life wanting to be a footballer, at the age of about 8 or 9, that is the earliest desire I can remember. I dreamt of emanating David Beckham, captaining the England football team and scoring for my country in a big game. Anyone who knows me now would probably laugh at that, let’s just say I’ve not turned into the sportiest of people.
Next, for a brief year or so, around the age of 12, came the athlete dream. Despite not being very sporty now, I was as a child and was a talented athlete especially. My events were the 100 and 200m, long jump and triple jump, hurdles and 400m. The first goals I ever set myself came in this sport and this was the first time that I really dreamed of achieving something. I set myself a target, wanted it and worked for it. The goal was a set of year 7 sports day records, the 100m that stood at 12.6 seconds (I think? It was a long time ago), the 200m (which I definitely can’t remember) and the long jump which stood at exactly 5.00m. I achieved two of those records (100m and Long Jump) after 2 months of mental hard work, of visualising and believing that I would attain those goals. My hard work had paid off and it looked like I could have a real future in the sport. Yet despite how happy I was, with what was my biggest and proudest achievement in my 12 years of life, athletics didn’t stick either, it didn’t even see out the year before it was forgotten and moved on from. Dropped, just like that.
What came after was about 4 years of not knowing what I wanted to do. Poor timing really, as this is the period in a young persons life when they start to get those dreaded questions, “so, what do you want to do when you grow up?”, “What do you want to do after you finish school?” It was also the time when I started to ask myself this posts title question, “how do I know what I want to do?” Each time I would come up short, with no answers. I felt lost, adrift at sea with no rudder, floating towards…nothing.
This was a particularly low time for me, between years 9 and 11 especially. I hated school, had no social life and spent a large amount of time alone, stuck in my bedroom, all of my own doing. I say this here because these circumstances I had made for myself caused me to become lost, in mind and in soul, stuck in my own head. I believe this, as well as other factors that were damaging my mental well-being, led me to lose touch with myself, with who I was and therefore, what I wanted to do in my life. Truth is, at the time, I wanted to do nothing. There was literally nothing that appealed to me for those 3 years and if we combine this not knowing, this lack of self-awareness with a second factor, we can begin to get a clearer idea of why so many of us do not love what we do and don’t enjoy our jobs.
That second factor is societal pressure. Pressure from parents, pressure from school, pressure from friends, pressure from family. All asking that damn question, “what do you want to do in life?” At first, I would answer with the truth, “I don’t know”, but that would be swiftly met with disbelief and a surety that I “must have something that I want to do”, “must have something that I enjoy?” I didn’t, and while yes there were precious few things that I enjoyed, I wanted none of them as a career. At the age of 14 – 16, believe it or not, I didn’t know what I wanted to commit the rest of my life too.
The truth quickly became harder to maintain as it just led me to more uncomfortable questions and disbelief, so I began to implement what was, looking back on it now, a series of lies. Not knowing what I truly wanted to do, combined with constant societal pressure telling me that I should know, forced me to take the best thing I could think of and cram it into that space in my head, labelled “life long career”. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a good fit, if it was a square peg in a round hole, so to speak, it was going in.
It’s this combination of unknowing and pressure to know, that creates a lot of unhappiness in young people today and leads so many of us, young and old, to be in careers that we don’t like and don’t enjoy. Imagine that we have this gap in us, that I just mentioned. This place in body and mind that we fill with our dreams and goals, that you fill with what you want to do. Maybe we are born with something in there, maybe not, but I’d wager that by the age of 16 most of us have got something, a little spark, a tiny flame lighting up that space, that one thing (or several) that we truly want to do. Some unexplainable inner desire or our life experience has planted that seed within our “this is what I want to do” locker. Though, because of the first factor I spoke of, that lack of self-awareness, we can’t feel it. This desire that is longing to be brought to life is so deep down, buried under years of life and losing touch, that we cannot hear it’s cries, it’s yearning for the light. We know this dream only in fleeting moments, thoughts that pass before we can recognise their deeper origin. We, therefore, believe that space in us to be empty and consciously, we don’t know what we want to do.
Then that pressure kicks in, which of course helps in no way, in fact, it hinders us, pushing us further away from being able to answer those questions. The pressure ends up delaying us from knowing what we truly want. Best case scenario, we end up taking something that we think we like, that we think could be good and stuffing it into that space that decides where our career and our whole life is going. Worst case scenario, we are under pressure to put a specific occupation into our locker, the pressure is overwhelming and we give in to it, despite having no desire for that job. In both scenarios, that little spark, that small flame is crushed. Flattened and buried by this false desire we have forced into our minds, in order to stop the pressure, stop the questions and not appear as some lost failure.
This false ambition then completely takes over that “career” space and that little flame of passion is never seen again. But though we can’t see it, it remains, though we can’t hear it, it remains and though we can’t always feel it, we know it’s there, somewhere, buried deep down.
Sorting through the crap in order to re-find that lost passion can be a long process, it took me 7 years to fully rediscover mine.
After 3 or 4 lost years at school, I went from studying adventure sports instruction at college to auditioning for modelling roles in London, to auditioning for acting roles in London and eventually after a 3-year break from education, to university to study drama. 2 years into that degree and it finally clicked in my mind that none of these things were what I wanted to do, be or even should be doing with my life.
I suppose that this realisation began to form around the age of 16 when I first started to focus on really developing my mind and my life. I began to read self-help books, watch inspiring videos online and more importantly began to practice meditation. These things started to build a solid and healthy, mental foundation within me. Admittedly, I did this in on and off phases over the years and was teaching myself. This no doubt held back my development but I was slowly making mental progress, my mind becoming healthier and clearer through the years.
It took me until I was 22 to really begin to commit to my own self-development. I was already mental healthy and much improved from my 16 year old self, but knowing I had only begun to scratch the surface, I wanted more. August 2017 to January 2018 was a key time in developing the realisation I would have only a few months later. In this time I was meditating at least once a day, for the most part, and had also begun to practice mindfulness in my day to day. I was reading a couple of pages every morning from The Little Book of Mindfulness and focusing on the present moment as much as I could. Effectively what this did, the mindfulness especially, was get me out of my own head. Which in turn gave my mind the peace it needed to calm and to clear. Without all that junk I previously had spinning around in my mind, my head became quieter and more aware, of both my surroundings and myself. I was beginning to develop my self-awareness and was starting to hear and to feel all the subtle goings-on in my being. Sparks and flames included.
You see, for me personally, that little flame that I had been snuffing since about 16 years of age, with sport, adventure sport, acting or anything else, was actually helping people. Specifically, helping people with mental health issues. This dream had been subtly existing in me for 5, 6, 7 years or so, coming in little longings, small moments of goosebumps as I imagined myself on stage, talking to a crowd of thousands about the mind. Two things held me back from it, the lack of self-awareness I have been talking about and a seeming impossibility. When I started to become more aware of this deep longing, I would at first, end up suppressing it, because I had no idea how to achieve it, it seemed scary and impossible to me. “I can’t go and study self-help at university and just launch into a career.” There seemed to be this huge void between me and that subtle dream, so I didn’t give it much conscious thought and struggled on with the acting.
Though, as my self-awareness increased and my mind continued to clear, that little flame began to grow in my heart until I could not ignore it. By Christmas 2017, I knew that I wanted to do something with regards to mental health, even if I wasn’t ready to drop my other pursuits just yet. I was talking to my brother about this over Christmas and he suggested I write it all it down, write a book on mental health. I wasn’t keen at first, I’d never been much of a writer, I’d never enjoyed it at school and assumed I wouldn’t be any good at it. Though, the idea grew on me as a sort of therapeutic exercise, getting all my thoughts and ponderings out of my head and onto the page might feel good. So come January 2018, I began writing.
This quickly became one of my favourite things to do, it felt good, it felt right. I couldn’t really believe it myself but I was actually excited to sit down and write. By the time I had written 2 pages, I knew I wanted to write a book. It was no longer a therapeutic exercise, I wanted to write about mental health. That was my way in, my bridge over that void. Everything began to make sense and click into place. I continued to write, meditate and practice mindfulness for the next few months until I hit April.
Despite this newfound love, I was still carrying on as if I wanted to be an actor, I was applying for jobs and going to the odd audition, all the while hating it. Though, I was still developing my self-awareness, still unravelling my mind which eventually, after 7 years, led me to a very sudden realisation. I stopped walking in the middle of the hallway as everything fell into place in my mind. I said out loud to myself, “what the hell am I doing?” What I was doing, was an acting project at uni. About 30 minutes before this realisation, I had received some bad feedback on my personal performance which was enough to get me thinking and get the dominoes falling into place. I was acting poorly because I wasn’t committed to it, I wasn’t putting in the effort, giving myself over to it because I didn’t want it, acting wasn’t that thing in my life that sparked my passion, gave me joy and got me up in the morning. What was I committed to I asked myself? My writing.
Like that, I dropped acting. I stopped going to any auditions and stopped holding any notions that I was going to be or wanted to be an actor. University became more of a hobby to me, something that I still enjoyed but something I knew would be left behind after my graduation.
Since then that little flame has grown even more and evolved into this blog. I have put more time and effort into this blog and my book than I put into all my other pursuits combined. I have remained dedicated to this pursuit for a year and a half now, which is impressive for me. I enjoy each hour of work I put into this passion and truly do love what I do. Each bit of progress, each milestone is full of more joy and reward than I got from anything else. The best job I ever got in the acting business paid me £200 per day, yet last month, when this blog made its first 50p after 7 months of work I was far happier, it felt far more rewarding and wholesome.
So hopefully that gives some valuable advice on how to know what you want and love what you do. It may have taken me 7 years but I had no one telling me how. My advice to you would be to develop your own self-awareness. Meditate, practice mindfulness, be open, listen and try things. Make that small commitment to yourself and before long you will be able to feel that spark, light that flame and hear the cries of those deep-down dreams.
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