One of the best ways to figure out what you want in life is to start by knowing what you don’t want. This is perhaps the most generic piece of advice that is applicable to any aspect of life.
I remember, about 12 years back, being utterly clueless and confused for many many months before joining Law School. You see, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a lawyer, in fact I always figured I would do something in fashion. I didn’t imagine Law as an option in my remotest thoughts. Yet, here I am, over a decade later, a practicing Corporate Lawyer. I am happy to be one, and at the end of a work day I feel like I have contributed to the world in a small way, and that is a great feeling.
This brings me to Education. I don’t remember being given any sort of relevant advice or inputs through the formal education process regarding career choices.
During my most clueless phase, my organizing skills helped me realize that law could be a very realistic option for me.
This was by no means a small exercise – it took me many days to really know for sure. Here’s what I did:
I started by listing out my interests, activities I liked; my skills – strengths and weaknesses; and finally jobs that I felt like I could see myself doing.
Who did I want to be? What were the possibilities?
I started toying with many ideas – did I want to work in a 9-5 kind of job, did I want to be an entrepreneur and set up my own business. What were my skills to do either of these things?
And every single thing was meticulously written down in a Book and constantly updated and modified as and when new information presented itself.
Once I had a vague idea of who I wanted to be or how I envisioned my life to be after 5 years, I figured, lets be realistic about the next step. What would I choose for my Undergraduate Study. In the Indian context, I knew there were 3 fields of study which were most recognized and respected:
- Medicine; and
Of course there are many many other areas of study, but these are what are known as “Professional degrees”.
Next came the process of elimination – I figured out that Engineering was out of the question because I was horrible at Math; Medicine was not an option because I am a germophobe, the only option left was Law.
For the first time through this exercise, I felt like I was on the right track. I could be a Lawyer. The planning process got more interesting after this – I had to now find out what the best law schools were in my city, prepare for the CLAT (which is the Indian equivalent of LSATs), start reading about the subjects I will be studying at Law School, etc.
I always enjoyed Legal fiction and legal drama on television, so of course I had a very funny and unrealistic idea of what Lawyers do (for the most part).
Then came Law School – stepping into my first class on the first day and then the 5 years that followed, filled with exams, attending classes etc. By the end of 5 years, I only knew 2 things for sure –
- that Litigation was NOT for me; and
- that I enjoyed Contract Law.
Even after 5 years of study, I was (for the most part) clueless.
Here’s the dirty little secret, there will always be moments of utter confusion and feeling like you are in over your head, because in life we are constantly leveling up and the rules by which we are meant to play is never given upfront, so my life hack for you is this –
Start with a Plan
On a BIG piece of paper (or a book), start by articulating your confusion, in words that you understand. It need not be fancy or neat or anything, it can even be key-words which you can relate to in your mind at a later time. Using your own words figure out the source of your confusion and turn that into a question. Once you have a question, try to divide it into a few different categories which require solutions.
Once you have a broad idea of what it is you need, you can gather information and add details to your plan. Split your findings by categories where possible. Try to be as detailed as possible.
Talk to your teachers, parents, friends, siblings, and even extended relatives. You will find that the inputs they give you is far beyond your own. If nothing else, it will help you get different perspectives, or even practical pros and cons by people who have faced them.
And if you find yourself feeling shy or embarrassed to ask for help or inputs, don’t be. Every single person loves to dole out advice, it makes us feel like we can add value to someone else. So don’t worry about appearing foolish or feel embarrassed, if you need help, there are always people who will rise to the occasion and help you. All you have to do is – Ask.
Process of Elimination
By this stage, the information you have gathered will look like a laundry list. So identify your strengths and weaknesses (and really be honest with yourself), your aptitude, etc. and narrow down on the option which most suits your parameters.
Pros and Cons
When you have narrowed your options to about 3 or 4 choices, make a list of Pros and Cons for each of the option and decide on what you can and cannot live with. Which should further narrow down your list to 1 or (maximum) 2 options.
At this stage, it is time to get practical, find out if your options require special education or training, if so, what are the requisite scores or find out what kind of tests you will need to take to be eligible. Find different schools, how much it would cost you, student loans, etc.
By now, you will have a workable plan, so the only thing left to do is, go ahead and execute it.
Truth be told, it will be challenging, and will turn out to be a lot more work than you originally thought, but keep persisting, and follow a systematic way to solve each problem that you encounter and you won’t really feel so overwhelmed. Before you know it, you will be helping someone else.
Have you’ve ever been at crossroads about what to do in life? what career to choose? What made you choose what you chose? I would love to hear about it.