An Open Letter to People Who Don’t Know What They Want to Do

An Open Letter to People Who Don't Know What They Want to Do

Do you ever feel your heart drop whenever someone asks you what you want to do with your life?

You’re surrounded by people who seem so sure of where they want to be in the future, but not you. No, you feel all alone because you’re the only one who answers with, “I don’t know yet.”

You don’t want to think about the pain of not knowing. Don’t worry for now, you tell yourself. So you go off and find distractions, anything to get away from that sinking feeling when you remember that you have no plans for the future.

It’s okay to feel this way.

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing what you want to be in the future. You’re no lesser than your peers who want to be writers or travel the world.

The truth is, no one really figures out what they want to do. Not even the successful entrepreneurs at age 60 who you would think have it all figured out by now. We all play it by ear and that’s okay.

Getting Closer

Just one year ago I had that sinking feeling on a daily basis. I was in my second year of college and had to figure out a general direction soon because I was nearly complete with my general education requirements, which meant I’d have to choose a major to focus my specialized classes on.

I was tired of telling people I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I’d just tell people I’m majoring in Business. It was a vague answer that was enough to satisfy most people’s curiosity.

But I knew I had to do some exploration to see what’s out there, so I figured I’d take a stab at Public Relations. I talked to some people who were doing just that as their own career and even had one mentor me.

Then I started looking into internships. One with a local SEO company where I worked as a marketing intern who wrote press releases and did basic website stuff, another as the social media guy for a collaborative workspace, and finally a sort of jack-of-all-trades for a CrossFit gym. Different roles that kept me busy and added to my resume, but nothing that made me feel like I found just what I wanted to be yet.

What it did for me, though, was launch me into my the period of my life where I explored different options through trial and error. Before, I did nothing that brought me closer, but at least now I have a direction.

I’m a hell lot closer to finding where I want to be than I was last year.

Calls to Action

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Some nights you’ll cry yourself to sleep and some nights you won’t be able to fall to sleep at all. You’re going to feel judged. Trust me when I say it doesn’t matter what they think.

What you can do now is take action. Let’s take a look at things you can do today to get closer to where you want to be in the future.

Plan your ideal lifestyle

The most important discovery was figuring out the lifestyle I’d want.

I can’t imagine having to work fixed hours, show up in an office with a suit every day, and being micromanaged. What I want is to be able to work whenever I want, from wherever I want, and I need to be surrounded by entrepreneurs.

That’s where I am now, but I never would have figured out this is where I’d want to be without taking months to explore options.

Explore, read on what others are doing, and figure out the sort of lifestyle you want. Go from there. It’s better than nothing at all.

Reach out to dozens of people in different fields

Use LinkedIn if you have to. Email them with the subject line “Quick question” and ask for a phone call or two. Maybe buy them a coffee.

Ask them what they like and dislike about their job and see what it feels to be them on a day-to-day basis. Are they talking to interesting people with passion? Do they enjoy the bigger picture that their role provides to society? How driven are they by the actual work they do as opposed to the money they make?

Once you find several who seem like a good fit for you, ask them to mentor you or ask for an internship. Make sure their job fits into your ideal lifestyle.

Build a personal brand

This is what I did with Self Stairway and I credit this for getting me to where I am now with Empire Flippers. If you don’t want to go all in and start blogging regularly just yet you can take the first step in setting up some sort of online presence.

Start a Twitter and get in conversations with people you look up to. Setup a website with only one page that serves as an About Me. Use that page as a business card. Hell, start a blog! With Google at your fingertips, you can learn just about anything.

You can use your online presence as a tool to get the jobs you want.

Don’t settle

Never give up. Don’t let the frustration let you settle for anything less than what makes you happy.

I’m not saying “find your passion” because that’s a vague, optimistic cliche. Passion doesn’t have to mean loving every single second of every task you do. That joy comes with the territory and the lifestyle.

For example, I don’t wake up every morning excited for reaching out to prospect clients, but that’s one part of my job as a whole. What I do love is the remote lifestyle, flexible hours, and the conversations I get in with the people I work and socialize with.

Don’t lower your standards and conform to what others think you’d like. Find out for yourself.

What do you have to say about finding your direction? Leave a comment and let me know.

The inspiration for this post was the amazing Jon Morrow who wrote “An Open Letter to Writers Struggling to Find Their Courage.”

Photo Credit: Luke Montague – Flickr

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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40 responses to An Open Letter to People Who Don’t Know What They Want to Do

  1. Right now I trying to figure out what should i study , i am deciding between Computer Science an Marketing Management . I am interested in internet marketing (affiliate marketing, copywriting, email marketing) and webdesign and web development … and in future i want to be entrepreneur … I have also other dilemmas in my head related to my future.. it is so hard for me to decide… thanks for your post, I will try what you recommend.

  2. That’s great advice to reach out to people in the field you’re interested in. Like you, I was interested in Public Relations at one point. I reached out to people in the field too just to get an idea of what it was all about. I sent out letters asking to meet with them briefly – basically informational interviews, not job interviews – I made that perfectly clear. From that I got to meet a VP in a huge PR firm. He was involved in politics and was a lobbiest too so it was a huge opportunity. It was very informational and I got a good sense of what the job was all about. I was even considered for a job by him. But by that time, I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to go so I just moved on. Luckily I did it though so I didn’t go into it and find out the hard way that it wasn’t a good fit.

    • That’s really cool! It’s the sort of proactive approach that I wish I had thought of much sooner than I did. PR seemed a lot more interesting to me when I read about it and looked at the general overviews. Seeing it in action, however, didn’t live up to the image I built up in my head. Maybe that’s the same reaction you had?

  3. Thanks for writing this article as I’m still trying to figure things out myself. I graduated with a Journalism and Media Studies degree last year and I knew from my sophomore year, I didn’t want to be a reporter. The only reason I stayed is because I was too afraid to switch and my mother scared me with a horror story that her friend’s son switched majors like 7 times and didn’t finish college.

    After college, I was frozen. I was too scared to do anything because I did not know what I wanted to with my life and I still don’t. But I’ve been more active trying to find what I want to do. Hopefully, I’ll find my path someway, somehow. I just have to start trying things out and stop being scared.

  4. I like writing and sports. That’s why I thought combining those two to become a sports reporter would be a fit for me, but I didn’t like it at all. With writing, though, I’m way too inconsistent. I’ll be motivated one week to write a lot of posts for my blog and then the next, I won’t do anything for a few weeks. It’s bad. :/

  5. I am working on my webdesign related product now. I am learning webdesign mostly from doing it and the results look pretty good. I have tried affiliate marketing before (using list building) and it wasn’t working. but since then i have learnt so much. My plan is to connect with buyers of my product with email and then upsell them some other products, Then I will put in use what I learnt about IM.

  6. The only way to do great work is to do what you love so don’t settle! 100% agree. And yes, passion doesn’t mean loving every single second. There’s bound to be some shit no matter the career path you choose. Perhaps something more appropriate would be to choose what feeds your soul? 🙂

    • Haha I don’t think there’s a perfect description for it. Our expectations need to be well-adjusted so we don’t disappoint ourselves and discount what we’re doing too soon.

  7. Somehow this topic doesn’t get old. I’m glad you got into self-help writing, Vincent, despite all the other people out there doing the same. :] These are some solid ideas. Thanks for that link. I’m going to try to do more informational interviews and try to ask for internships that way. And create a blog. I’ve been learning how to code, but the best way is to have a project, and I wasn’t feeling inspired to start anything of my own. So thanks for the nudge about online presence. These things always bear repeating.

    • Definitely get on that, Tisha. It’s so rewarding. It won’t be all sunshine though because there will be times where you ask yourself if it’s worth it. It’ll be easy to say you’ll start tomorrow but then that time never comes. Dive in with both feet.

  8. Vincent,

    Good and actionable advice. I’ve walked a similar path to you for the past couple of months, and I can definitely agree that it works well.

    “Reach out to dozens of people in different fields

    Use LinkedIn if you have to. Email them with the subject line “Quick question” and ask for a phone call or two.

    Maybe buy them a coffee.Once you find several who seem like a good fit for you, ask them to mentor you or ask for an internship. Make sure their job fits into your ideal lifestyle.”


    It seems so easy. Yet almost NO ONE does it. People aren’t putting in the tiny bit of extra effort. Or they are afraid and self-sabotage their networking attempts preemptively.

    Following up on interactions is such a small and easy thing to do, but it makes all the difference in the world.

    • I think the main reason it’s underutilized is because people think no one has time. It’s something that almost holds me back every time I shoot a guest post pitch, but I remind myself that almost everyone is accessible now.

  9. I like this article Vincent. I would add that no matter what you find yourself doing that you like it will probably change with time. The main thing is to just enjoy if you can and if you don’t move on. That’s one thing for sure, be around those who inspire, help, support, appreciate, teach, mentor and coax. Just make sure you feel like you’re spending your time on something worthwhile. You aren’t one of those who feel good being a slave.

    • You’re totally right. I feel like “what I want” changes all the time even though it’s always been vague and undefined to begin with. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the changes as they come. Flexibility is everything and no one should fixate on one thing for the rest of their lives.

  10. Complacency is probably the biggest killer of dreams. I remember settling for an unfulfilled daily life. Giving up on passions and hobbies and just playing the game I was addicted to at the time. Settling catches up to you in the most terrifying of ways. The what if’s become so overwhelming that you get paralyzed even further. It makes taking the first step towards unsettling that much harder. So don’t. do. it. Good stuff as always Vincent!

  11. Great Advice ….

    You really look like someone who knows what they are talking about ….
    I can assure you that i have every single experience you mentioned above ….


    • I definitely don’t know everything that I’m talking about. In fact, I can even take it one step further and say I know very little in the grand scheme of things. The best I can offer when I sit down to write is to share what has worked for me and hopefully inspire others to take action (regardless if it’s exactly what I wrote about.)

      Hope this has helped someone out there today.

  12. All great stuff, Vincent! Sometimes it’s enough to say I want to FEEL a certain way…the opportunities show up, sometimes in the strangest of places.

    Also, remember…the way we do things is going to change radically. The career you prepare for in college may evolve or cease to exist by the time you’re a couple of years into it. I finished college in the mid-1980’s when the economy was cruising along. Then things changed, and this beast called the Internet reared its head. New ballgame. Look for something similar to happen over the next few years.

  13. Very insightful. I wish I have known this before college. Right now, when I already graduated 2 years ago, I still keep on thinking what-if I took this field of study, what-if I started this business, a lot of what-ifs. It’s never late to start again though. 🙂

  14. Hi Vincent,

    Always enjoy reading your articles. I am an “oldster” and have been through this several times as well as having spent some years now helping executives and professionals move through exactly the same thing.

    Two things I would suggest that work extremely well: Do a values analysis and a strengths analysis. These two areas are your foundation stones – and you could do a lot worse that start there in building a career you love.

    By the way I am onto my third career and have been very successful in all of them. It has meant re-training twice (I have a sum total of 9 qualifications!) and it has been a great experience.

    • Excellent idea and I believe that’s something I sat down to do myself a few months prior to getting my current position with Empire Flippers. Glad to hear you’re enjoying your careers and that you’ve made a successful life out of them! Would love to hear more about what you’re doing these days. 🙂

  15. Vince you are insane.

    …OK maybe not clinically so, but this week, and especially last night I was re-reading the book Way of the Superior Man by David Deida (an absolute must read if you have not checked it out). In short, about how a man’s most important thing in life is his mission, or direction, or life purpose.

    After finishing grad school and my Master’s, I realized that type of work is not what I want to do. There are some hints and signs but I’m scared of the unknown.

    The only way to do something is to try. I am grateful for the fact that worst case if I’m rock bottom broke, I can fall back on my engineering degree for a job, which is something many people can’t say. And as well, travelling!

    Thanks for lifting my spirits! Now that I’m finished my thesis I’m back to blogging so we’ll be in touch soon 🙂

  16. When I was in college, I knew what I wanted to do when I graduated, and I did that. Then alter on when I was speaking, that was a career i started because I was asked to not because it was my dream life. But I loved it anyway.

    Now, i am beginning a new period in my life where I have started a bog and want to share what I have learned over the years. That was one of those things that was always in the back of my mind, but I just never did it until last November.

    Now I am thoroughly enjoying that and I want to do more.

    Thank you Vincent, you’ve got some excellent and very creative ideas for helping us to find what it is we really do want.

    • Yes! Congratulations on starting your blog. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, which, I’m sure you know, but you’ll love it. I’ll make sure to stop by your site and say hi. 🙂

      You’re going to help a lot of people by sharing your experiences, Steve.

  17. Don’t think what you want, FEEL what you want. Your feelings are your inner guidance system 😉

  18. I love this post, because it speaks so deeply to what a lot of people go through when trying to find meaningful work. Unfortunately, realizing you have no idea what you want doesn’t just happen when you’re in college: it can happen when you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s or later. The important things to note, as you point out, are that no bad situation is permanent, you DO know what will make you happy (even if it isn’t a “passion,” which some people try too hard to pursue), and that positive action moves you forward. Thanks for the reminders!

  19. Took me a year to find out I wanted to do WordPress site

  20. Currently a pending second year university student (pending because I failed a module in first year and am awaiting my results). This article has been my life for the past few years. My lack of direction has stripped the motivation from my life.

    Here in Europe, the schooling system isn’t as liberal. Changing majors isn’t quite as easy and if you do it is to something really rather specialised. So when people tell me to quit whining and just finish my degree I feel as though I should listen not because I have justified their reasoning, but because I don’t know what else I can do.

    I am thinking of starting my own blog though to self-reflect above all else.

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