How do you decide what to do with your life?

Most people struggle to answer this question for two main reasons:

1) They have no idea what they want to do


2) They want to do too many things and can’t decide

I struggle with #2. So that’s what I want to talk about today.

So how do you decide what to do with your life when you want to do everything?

First let’s break this question down because there are really four parts to it:

  1. The decision making process (How do I decide)
  2. Career, calling, vocation, job (What to do)
  3. The time you have left on earth (My life)
  4. Too many desires (I want to do everything)

So to properly answer this question we need to take a closer look at each part.

1. The Decision Making Process (“How do I decide…”)

How do you make big life decisions right now? And how has that worked out for you?

For example, some people make a “pros and cons list” when faced with a big decision. They list all the positives and negatives about a certain course of action.

Others simply choose to do whatever they’re most excited about. To them it’s 100% emotional.

And there are those who look outside themselves for guidance. Either from people: mentors, advisors, coaches, God, etc.

So really the decision making process is either primary internally motivated or externally motivated. Of course you can have a combination of both.

I’m not going to tell you how you should make life decisions. That’s a deeply personal question and what’s right for one person will be wrong for someone else. Plus, it also depends on your stage in life.

For example, when I was 20 years old and only had three months of sobriety from my cocaine addiction I was in desperate need for more external guidance because I had developed a very bad decision making process that required years of rewiring.

Fast forward 12 years to today and I no longer consult with a sponsor or mentor about every choice I need to make. I’ve been married for 7 years so now I mainly talk to my wife about big decisions because it’s not all about me anymore.

So it depends. But it’s important to reflect on how you currently make decisions and if you think there are steps you can take to improve it.


2. Career, Calling, Vocation, Job (“…what to do…”)

Another reason why it’s so hard to answer, “How do I decide what to do with my life?” is because most of us don’t understand the difference between a job, a career and a calling.

If you know you’re called to be a minister then your “call” may be easy for you to figure out. However for the other 99% of us who aren’t in full-time ministry, our calling is bit more complex and less obvious.

One reason is because we think a calling has to be lofty. You know, like a minister or a writer. But what if you’re called to do marketing? Or build houses? Or paint cars?

I don’t think there are any “proven formulas” that will help you figure out your calling. But I do believe there is wisdom to be gleaned from those who have figured out what their calling is. Here are some books I recommend on this:

48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller
The Art of Nonconformity by Chris Guillebeau
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport


3. The Time You Have Left (“…with my life…”)

Sometimes when your overwhelmed by a question it can help to consider the constraints.

For example, an overwhelming question to answer when you’re hungry and there are 20 restaurants within a five mile radius is, “Where should we go to eat?”

If there is someone in your group who can’t eat a certain kind of food then you can immediately take some of the options of the table. If some of the places are closed then you whittle down your list even more.

So you see, it’s a natural process to consider restraints when making other choices in life. So why don’t we do the same thing when it comes to this question?

I suspect it’s because we ignore a pretty big elephant in the room: death.

When we ignore death we start to think irrationally about our life. We assume we can do everything but in reality it would require about five lifetimes to do all the things we say we want to do.

We do the same thing when we ignore the fact that a day eventually ends. No matter how many tasks you put on your to-do list today you will not stop the sun from setting (believe me, I’ve tried this repeatedly).

So let’s not ignore death. If you’re afraid of death and don’t like to think about it you can always take Jesus up on his offer for eternal life. One of the benefits of this is that you can think about how much time you have left on earth without letting fear mess with you.

Once you have a more realistic perspective on how many days you have left before you die then it can help you answer the question, “How do I decide what to do with my life?”

For example, if you want to be a grandmaster at chess you know you’ll need to spend about 10,000 hours of serious training to do this. So if you spent three hours a day, seven days a week training you may reach your goal in about nine years.

Now let’s say you also want to be a bestselling author. Again, it may take you about 10,000 hours to master the craft of writing. So let’s say another 9 years.

You’re at 18 years if you decide to be a grandmaster and a great writer.

Depending on how much time you have left this could be possible (but you’ll probably need to quit Facebook and TV). The point is to count the costs and understand that a big chunk of time is going to be needed to accomplish these big goals.

So be wise and “number your days” as you seek to answer the “what should I do with my life” question.


4. Too Many Desires (“I want to do everything”)

This can be hard to grapple with. First of all it’s important to understand the anatomy of a “desire.”

Like thoughts, we have them all the time but we don’t take much time to think about how they work or even where they come from.

I don’t want to get too “mystical” here but we must acknowledge the fact that desires come from the “invisible” realm. Whether you call that your heart, soul or spirit doesn’t really matter for our discussion here.

What does matter is that you gain a better understanding of the nature of desire.

For example, does a thought or a desire come first? Or are they the same?

I propose to you they are not. And that fact alone will help you better discern the difference between false desires (that are really thoughts masquerading as desires) and true desires that spring from your heart.

I believe many people who have “too many desires” have trouble living from their heart. Instead they are very logical and left-brained type. I’m like this so I understand.

I love to set goals I think are what I want. But I often discover that so many of my goals are just logical goals and not true desires of my heart.

For example, I thought one of my desires was to summit the top five peaks in the Cascade Mountain Range.

As of today, I’ve summited three of the five (Rainer, Adams and Shasta) and plan to summit the other two (Hood and Baker) in 2017.

But I have no “heart connection” to this goal if I’m honest. I simply want to complete the challenge so I can say I did it and to build confidence in my ability to do hard things that I commit to. So it’s more about discipline, commitment and accomplishment than fulfilling a true desire.

Figuring out what your true desires are may be the most difficult part to this whole exercise. But once we discover that, the calling/career question becomes easier to answer because of the new restraints you become aware of.


In Closing

So remember, if you want to answer the question, “How do I decide what to do with my life when I want to do everything?” you must answer four separate questions first, which are the building blocks to answering the Big Question:

  1. The decision making process (How do I decide)
  2. Career, calling, vocation, job (What to do)
  3. The time you have left on earth (my life)
  4. Too many desires (I want to do everything)

Hope this got you thinking and feeling better about this question.