How To Know What You Want To Do In Life


Hi Celes, I have no idea what I want to do. I wish I am strong enough to concentrate on one single thing and do everything to be the best at it. I believe it is the only way of attaining something. My problem is that the variety of decisions make my head spin. I envy those who from their early days know what they’ll be and what they’ll do. Please help. – M

Getting clarity on what to do is one of the most common questions I get from readers and clients alike. For some of my clients, they feel they are entering a period of their life where they should have clarity in what they want to do. Hence, not knowing what they want to do makes them feel frustrated. They feel that if they can quickly discover what they want to do, they can get started on it right away, rather than waste time doing seemingly unrelated things.

Here’s the thing though. To get an idea of what you want to do, you have to first base it off a reference point. This reference point is based on your past experiences. If you have not accumulated a set amount of experiences, you can’t possibly generate a meaningful answer in that regard.

For example, let’s say you want to buy a mobile phone. However, you have never used a mobile phone in your life. You don’t know how a mobile phone is like or what kind of functions it has, much less all the brands out there and the differences between the models.

What gives?

Will you:

  1. Sit at home and mull over what mobile phone you should buy, waiting for the answer would pop in at some point. Maybe an eureka will strike, maybe it won’t ever, but either way you don’t plan to do anything until the answer comes. OR
  2. Get to know what a mobile phone is. Go out there and explore the different mobile phones available. If possible, you want to try them out too, say by using your friends’ mobiles and visiting the phone shops.

Which option will help you make progress in your dilemma? Which option will give you new insights, new information, and new data points for you to base your decision on? Which option is a more reliable method to get you what you want?

If you are thinking option 2, we are thinking the same thing.

You see where I’m getting at with this?

The fog in your mind

For you to know what you want to do, you have to have some kind of experience you can refer to. Now, if you have never been out there getting into the thick of things, there’s not going to be a lot of things to reference with in your mind. There’s a fog in your mind, and the fog exists because you have never ventured much beyond your current point.

It’s like asking what’s your favorite sport when you’ve never exercised in your life. Or what’s your favorite book when you only read less than a book a year. Or what’s your favorite restaurant when you don’t eat out at all.

The fog will remain as long as you stay still. It’ll still be uncertain, hazy, possibly confusing and disempowering. To clear out the fog, you need to explore. You need to get out there and start trying out different things. You need to gain experience, to pick up new knowledge, to get into new situations. By building up as many of these experiences as possible, you create a baseline reference point in your mind. The more experiences you get, the more knowledgeable you become, the clearer you are of what you don’t like and what you do like, and the more you discover what you don’t want to do and what you DO want to do.

How I discovered what I truly want to do in life

One of the key things that helped me discover my purpose back in 2006 was because I went all out in all my goal pursuits and in pursuing my interests before that. It wasn’t like I had complete clarity of what I wanted to do in life previously. All I knew (as a kid) was I wanted to make the best out of my life and be a person of value to the society, and that meant doing my best and achieving my highest potential.

And that was what I did. I went all out to pursue my goals. I would put my heart and soul in everything I did. Whatever my goals were, from achievement goals, to academia goals, to business goals (I had a graphic design business last time, and ran a network of successful internet sites back when I was in secondary school), I would set my eyes on the top prize and go all out for them. Whatever my interests were, from making desktop wallpapers, to computer skins, to web/graphic design, to fashion/cosmetics, to gaming, I pursued them fervently. I never held back.

The whole process of setting goals, strategizing, planning, taking action, reviewing the results and readjusting my plans, and finally achieving the results, was very eye opening. Every step of the journey, I learned something new about the world and myself. I grew as a person, and I became more self-aware. Discovered myself more, my strengths, blind spots, my values, what I liked, what I didn’t like. I realized that things I thought were important to me were actually not what I wanted. I came to realizations I never saw coming.

I would never have realized any single one of these things if I had never been fervent in pursuing my growth, my goals and interests. With the kind of energy I was putting in my pursuits, it exposed me to a good spectrum of different contexts and experiences. It was then a matter of time before I finally realized what I wanted to do.

Gaining Experience: Breadth and Depth

Hence, the key to know what you want to do is to get out there and gain as much experience as you can – both (1) Breadth of experiences (2) Depth of experiences.

  1. Breadth of experiences refers to the variety of things you do. Say if you have only studied engineering and worked as an engineer all your life, it’s time to start something new, that’s different from engineering. It can be anything – from dancing, drawing, finance, marketing, business, food & beverage, music, painting, etc. The more new things you try, the greater the breadth of experiences you build up.
  2. Depth of experiences refers to the intensity of how much you have done something. If you have always viewed engineering with a lackluster attitude, never putting in the extra time to know it better, and just doing what’s necessary to scrap by in the subject, you’d be building an average level of experience with it. Whereas if you have intensely strove to be the top engineer, studying top engineers, taking on all new projects that emerge and reading the best engineering texts, your depth of experience is going to be way more in comparison. The depth of your experiences in the subject can increase by an increased time spent on it, as well as just increasing your focus and energy when you are doing it.

Where to start off?

At this point you must be wondering where to start first, since there are so many different possibilities. My recommendation will be to start off by doing the things you already have some interest in. (whether it’s interest to try or interest to pursue further). Here’s a 5-step process to get you started on finding what you want to do.

  1. Take out a piece of pen and paper. For the next 30 minutes, please write out a list of all the things you have always wanted to try, but have never tried. Also, write down the things you would want to try today. Don’t overthink it. Don’t think about the feasibility. Don’t think about how you are going to act on it. The point of this step is to know your WHAT first before devising your HOW. Just write.
  2. After you are done, look back at the list. What are the things you are interested to try today? Circle them. It can be a few, it can be some, it can even be all.
  3. Now, rank them. What is the thing you want to try out first? Label that as number 1. Then, move on to the thing you want to try next. Label that as number 2. And so on and so forth, until you get to the very last item you circled.
  4. Now, it’s time to think about the HOW. How can you start trying the first few items you circled? Some of you may experience fear trying new things. That’s because you overcomplicate the process in your mind. You don’t have to quit your job, stop your studies, or denounce whatever you are doing. You can continue what you are currently doing and try out something new, all at the same time. Just start off with little steps. Taking a course. Volunteering at a related organization. Consulting someone who is experienced in this area. Reading up on it. Draw up a plan to get working on the items on your list. Get up close with personal.
  5. As you gain an increase breadth and depth of experiences, you will start getting a clearer idea of what you don’t want to do, and what you do want to do.

Key Step: Take action

At the end of the day, it’s all about taking action to gain new experiences. Go ahead and try everything you want. Seek externally. Regroup periodically by introspecting and checking if you are moving in the right track. And as you gain a critical mass of experiences – both the breadth and the depth, the answer will be clear to you.

The most important thing of all is to maximize every experience you are in, give yourself fully to every moment and  not to forget to live life to the fullest every step of the way. I gather the reason why you want to know what to do in life is because you want to make the most out of life, so it’ll be ironic to miss out on living in the process of trying to find what you want to do. Knowing the answer wouldn’t make a difference if you are not even living in the present. Soak in the life you have now and appreciate everything you get to experience, good or bad, ups or downs. That’s when you truly live life to the fullest.

Be sure to read Meaning of Life: Discover Your Purpose, 7-part series on how to discover your purpose.

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  • Tony Teegarden

    Wonderful post Celestine.

    it’s so important to align ourselves with our purpose because It serves as such a cure all for many peoples “suffering.” Like as said in the book Man’s Search for Meaning:

    “Nothing is likely to help a person overcome or endure troubles than the consciousness of having a task in life.” -Victor Frankl

    I love this series and believe it’s so timely and required.

    Aligning our thoughts, words and actions through our purpose is not as hard as many would believe. Thank you for taking the time to outline this work and sharing it with them.

    • Celes

      Thanks Tony! I love the quote of Victor Frankl you shared. I’m going to tweet it out now in fact.

  • Hun Boon

    The hard part is finding out our purpose.

    It might be misleading to ask “what is our purpose in life?” because it assumes that there is only one single unchanging purpose.

    I think it changes according to where we are at the moment, and where we wish to go next.

    • Celes

      I think questioning ourselves on what our purpose helps give us alignment in life. Purpose might be too “heavy” a word for some to acquaint with, so “direction” or “vision” are other ways to think about it. Ultimately they give the same desired effect, which is clarity in what one wants to do and living life in a meaningful manner.

      And I agree that our purpose can change over time. I see it as a “best case” answer we generate, given our level of self-awareness at the time. Since we literally grow and become more aware over time, that means at some point our renewed levels of self-awareness awakens us to a different direction/purpose. Hence, reviewing our purpose/direction/vision from time to time is important.

  • Clearly Composed

    This is such a great post! I sent the link to some friends because there is so much great information all here in just one post. I have discovered my life purpose but I so remember when I struggled and struggled with it and wish I had an article like this back then. Well done! :)

  • Dipal

    The best thing about you Celes is the simplicity in your thought process. Your answer seems to sort things out with some simple steps. Something that I always look to do when I’m stuck as well.

    Keep writing!

  • Dawn

    Hi Celes,
    The last paragraph of your article sums it up perfectly.
    When I left school I wanted to be a photographer or work behind the scenes in film. A couple of months later I got pregnant, so with no support my dreams flew out of the window.
    There followed several years of depression and feeling worthless because I wasn’t doing what I thought I “should” be doing. I have managed to go through life having no purpose, no goals, no ambition because I was always looking for something else instead of appreciating what I had.
    Fast forward 25 years, I am still a full time mum as I have a 2 year old but in the last 18 months I have totally changed my outlook, thanks in part to you :)
    I have taken up a few new hobbies, pottery, jewellery making and gone back to some old ones, painting, jigsaws. I started evening classes in art and pottery. Things like this helped me to realise how much time I had wasted moping around feeling sorry for myself.
    Now I have a goal, next September I am going to enrol in college and do a full time art course, after that I may do another year of art or switch to the jewellery making course the college also offers.
    I will be 43 this year and finally I have purpose in my life. Looking back I realise that just because my situation changed didn’t mean my life was pointless. Things like that happen, it’s how we look at them that is important. Our lives change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. We need to be able to change and adapt too, our goals at 18 or 20 may not be the same as our goals at 30, 40 or beyond.

    • Hun Boon

      Hi Dawn,

      Thanks for sharing your story in such detail. It’s great to know that it’s never too late to have goals in life. I’m sure your experience will be a valuable lesson for your children next time.

      It’s amazing how this article by Celestine has resonated with so many people, it must be an universal need to have purpose and goals.

      Hun Boon

    • Celes

      Dawn, I feel very inspired reading your story :D You’re one clear example that there’s nothing impossible, and life is what we make it out to be. I love how you are vivaciously living life even as a mom with a child, whereas others in your shoes probably will bind themselves down with mental restrictions.

      You’re triggering my interest to pursue new hobbies right now in fact :D Possibly pottery, skating, and reacquainting myself with frisbee. I’m thinking of going back to study in the (distant) future, though it’s just a random thought for now.

    • Niki

      I am glad that I’ve accidentally come again to this page, and read your reply.
      Your reply has truly touched my innermost heart,…and again re-confirm the forever-important lesson in life: “there’s *NEVER* too late in Life. it’s just how you look at it, and what you DO about it!”

      I am 28 yrs old, and honestly, even though still quite ‘young’, have gone a major series of depressions, mostly because of the parents’ expectations & society’s notions (ie: especially Chinese society) of how at such age, I am *supposed* to already be SUCCESFUL at several things, ie: have stable job with great big $$$ income, got married, have kids, etc etc” ,…while here I am, with my inborn “dreamy imaginative wanderer” mind, that keeps thinking about doing & pursing a less-than-travelled-path of being a Musician.
      ‘mainstream society’ around me kept telling me of how I’m already “too OLD” for “playing around” with music,….and THAT seriously is hurting me, & very detrimental in causing me those years of depressions (even still sometimes now!).

      But reading story like yours (& also Celes’ excellent article on this!)..I’ve realized that EVEN if I have to take that ‘less-than-travelled’ path, or EVEN if it’ll take such a LOOONG time, or very difficult to realize it,……eventually, it all doesn’t really matter,…’cuz I know *THAT* is what I want to do in Life! sort of like my “Purpose” when i’m still breathing on this planet Earth.
      ….by denying this, and letting even those many people to take ‘it’ away from me,..I’ll probably experience what you’ve experienced,..and I’ll become a “living zombie” ….and I’d rather be physically dead rather than being a living zombie!

      once again, thank you for sharing ur personal story…it is really touching & inspiring me! :)

    • Bharat Malla

      Thank you for sharing you inspired me as well.

    • jackie

      Thanks a lot for the wonderful inspiration.:-)

  • Rose

    Brilliant, brilliant post- this really chimes with my own experiences, too. I spent years at university pondering what I wanted to do- but it wasn’t until I got out and travelled and worked in the world that I finally realised. It’s all about getting that experience :)

    • Celes

      Fantastic, I’m really happy for who you’ve come to be Rose :D You sound like you’ve come a long way and I’m glad to acquaint with you here.

  • Leisa | Wealth, Wisdom and Success

    Great advice. I have tried to expose my children to a variety of things at a young age to assist them in in finding their passion. With my son it led to a wide variety of things he loves to do and wants to do. With one daughter it led to almost an obsession with one thing. Sure they may change their mind before all is said and done but basically the “Breadth of experiences” as you called it is one key I believe to finding your passion.

    I love to do so many things and I used to get a little discouraged that I wasn’t able to spend time pursuing all my passions. But I learned that so many of those passions had one thing in common. I learned that my ultimate passion was to live a full rich life and to ultimately help other people do it to. My passion became helping people create richer, magical and meaningful lives.

    So when I am teaching art I am helping people create richer, magical and meaningful lives. When I am teaching a personal development seminar I am still helping create richer, magical, and meaningful lives. By focusing on the larger picture I know that when I may set my art aside I am still fulfilling my mission.

    • Stephen Borgman

      Leisa, it’s nice to know that in all of this, your passion of teaching and mentoring was able to take the different forms of your other loves and interests in life.

  • Joshua Noerr

    Celes, thank you for making it clear that only action will make this happen. Massive change is only possible through massive action, and I try to help people understand this every day. Great post.

  • Anastasiya

    Celes, this is a very helpful article. I know that I had to try a lot of things in life before I finally found my purpose. Some things worked out for me, some things didn’t but I am glad that I have tried all of them.
    I think that sometimes the difficult part might be to choose just one thing out of 2, 5, 10 … I had a few interests that I absolutely loved and that made me happy and following one would have meant forgetting about the other ones.
    It took some time for me to set priorities and figure out which goal will make me happy for the longest period of time. I have also managed to combine a few of my interests and now I am absolutely happy living my life.

    • Celes

      Hi Anastasiya, I think the most beautiful thing about life is there are all these things out there for us to do, like an unlimited menu, and it’s up to us to select and choose what we want to, including the permutations and combinations we conjure up. Thanks for sharing your experience with us and look forward to connecting with you more here :D

  • Niluka Weerasinghe

    I am still planing how to create my future life,
    This superb lesson will help me defiantly


  • edwin

    Wondering from website to website I found this site. I’m very happy to learn this site. I bookmarked it and starting today, I will read and meditate about me.

    This topic is specially written for me. As of now I’m still in crossroads. I don’t know where I’m heading.

    Reading your article enlighten me.

    Thank you very much. Please keep on writing.



  • Skymoon

    Brilliant! It’s what I need know. Think too much, but do little. Soak in every trying – experience – that’s the point. Tks!

  • Sandy

    Thank-you so much for this post. I just did steps 1 to 3 and I’ve narrowed down to 14 paths I want to try and the first 3 are different but also very similar as they fall in the same field and that has given me more confidence in where I want to go. I’ll make sure to start on Step 4 when I reach home this evening.

    • Celestine Chua

      You are very welcome, Sandy! I’m so glad that you have come up with a list of paths to pursue from the steps! It’s always better to have more ideas than few/none; some may feel overwhelmed by a bombardment of possible paths to pursue but I say it’s a good thing.

      Chances are, your various paths have similar undercurrent themes going through them. Try to identify what they are and this will help you to craft your path ahead. These articles will help too:

  • Bharat Malla

    Such a interesting article! It inspired me.
    I wanted to help my country, from IT and Tourism, but I was getting distracted. But this nice article again take me back to the track. Thank you for the article.

    I usually get motivated from anything I see around. I don’t understand how sometimes later I realize that I am too away from the track. The real me is really wants to be something, but now I got that; I wanted to become huge but what I want to be was unclear. Initially I have to set the visible goal.

  • ihsan_ahmadi

    hmmm truly and want you cant appreciate without going from the fact that want is limitless and what u are trying to always do in life though based on wants is some where either limited in time or want and desire itself and by that i mean the said person can not think of extending his wish for the thing beyond a certain point invariably because of his lack of trust on the completion of his task and fulfuilment of his desire

  • venktesh kaushal

    i am confused ……….. i don’t know what i want from life……….. i don’t know what things make me happier … ?? i have no interest of anything… even when i am typing i am not sure that i am gonna hit the post button …i am 19.
    my life is always have been good , but still there is no spark??