If you feel like you are changing your passion and career paths multiple times and still did not make a thing out of it, this is the article for you. I will tell you exactly why you feel lost or demotivated again and again, and how to tackle them, or more clearly, how to settle the problem once and for all. The first section is about the reasons you keep changing your decision. The second part is about the methodologies you can borrow to figure out your own solution. This article is quite long, but if you spend your time to take in what they really mean, your will know it worth the time at the end.
The test to find your direction (or why you keep changing?)
Disclaimer: there are a lot of external reasons (technology, family, policies, medical condition, etc) that you need to change your career or plan, but they are more obvious and common, I am going to only discuss the inside reasons which are harder to fathom for some of you.
1: What have you achieved in the past despite everyone else disagreed with you?
No matter what you do, if you have not built your muscles to believe in your own judgement and make things happen, whatever decision you made is easily to be shaken.
Whatever bold move you gonna take in your life, you will need some confidence. The problem is that, sometimes those confidence are ignorance. Until you really made things happen, everyone including yourself will think your confidence is from ignorance, which is probably true too. The only way to overcome this is to make small success happen and snowball your reputation and confidence.
2: What are you naturally good at and bad at?
About five years ago I didn’t know where I should go next. Naturally, I started trying many directions: statistics, computer science, philosophy, start-ups, drop-shipping, day trading, machine learning, mobile app development, cloud computing, personal trainer, content creation… anything that were suggested by Google. I dabbled into each of them, but when things get hard, I always found a reason to quit again. These repeated pattern made me almost believed that I will never have the personality or intelligence to be where I want, even though I did acknowledge that I can pick up learning materials very fast, but there has always been something missing, I just could not see what it is. Four years later, I finally saw what it was.
Everyone is born with different set of traits. Accept them so that you can be less constrained by it. Be careful, it takes a lot of self-doubts and regrets.
I have been doing OK in some area, but I have been terrible when it comes things like social cues, overthinking, self-discipline, ego management, state management among many other things. While, some of my friends are quite the opposite, they are extremely understanding people with pretty natural way to stay emotionally stable and act on their schedule, however, they tend to feel less confident when it comes to learning something new or exploring new ideas. We are just very different and we admire each other. Somehow, I always could not see what I was terrible at, because it was so much easier to build my confidence only on what I am good at. I hope you realized this too: you confidence also can be built on your acknowledgment on things you are not good at. For example, for so many years, I still did not build my persistence and I have been terrible at understanding and supporting people. That was the reason why I was not going anywhere even though my everyday seemed busy. After I realized this, I quit my PhD at the end of the fifth year and decided to focus on programming. I was telling myself, this probably is a stupid decision again, but that does not matter, my goal is to develop my perseverance and patience. I will keep in touch with friends so I can stay happy and confident when things get stressful. Surprisingly, I got a decent job offer as software engineer before I even finish my master’s defense, but I prepared myself for half-year unemployed after the graduation.
3: Are you taking life too seriously?
Don’t take me wrong, I am in the Type A group, I would get up early and listen to motivational speech just so I work hard as I possibly can. But most things don’t work linearly, it is not you fill more motivation into yourself, you will just be more productive. It is quite the opposite. If you are forcing yourself to do something, you will have burnout quite early. I know, it takes luck sometime to find what you really care or just learned about a better option. I have been into science for very long and was pursuing a PhD, but when things get hard, I realized that I was doing it more because quitting a PhD just sounds like a loser. That was so stupid, but I was in the race all the time and just did not have idea what I really want to do when no body else is judging. Once I put down all the judgement, I realized the reason I could not make a decision is because I have been scared by my own past decision and trapped myself in this very logical conclusion: if this person never did great in the past, he or she probably will do well in the future.
HR do that to filter out applicants quickly, but you cannot do that to yourself, because you do not any other option.
4: What are your most underlying drives?
If you keep changing your direction or career path, one possibility is that you are pursuing a feeling or a very general success but you cannot pinpoint what it is yet. For me, for very long, all my goals were driven by the feeling of “cool and smart”. I cannot say I am not motivated by those anymore, but my definition of being “cool and smart” keeps expanding. For example, initially, it means “I have more achievements than other people”, then it expands to “I can be honest with myself”, with more life experience, other ideas found their places: “understanding other people is both amazingly beautiful and useful”, “taking my time to be kind always gives me the best memory”, “compromising my beliefs because of pressure kills me” or “ability to make money is very deciding”. These are not easy to learn because they have to present themselves to you very emotionally to work internally with consistency and power. Your emotion and experience are simply too different than anyone else. This means you cannot learn it from science or mentor, you have to figure it out yourself and it is always hard. Now, I care much less about being smart or different, instead, I dedicate my energy to be positive to myself, supportive to people and consistent in my goal. BTW, I am very into social skills and money making, because I believe they are the leading causes to stress and happiness. If you master them, you master your life.
5: Are you tracking your own behavior?
Isn’t it funny that big companies try harder than yourself to predict your behavior? I mean, you should too, you never understand yourself enough. Your memory and perspective can mess with you without you ever noticed. One trick I use is to write down your weakness and check each of them when things don’t work out or you feel sad. Don’t be lazy, just analyze it and take action. Below are some “Frequently-Made-Mistakes” of mine:
- Let myself be mean, demotivated, distracted or give up.
- Not exhaustive in understanding the context or people.
- Expect shorter time to finish a task.
- (Ambition = belief + self-control.) Mistaken “desire” not “action” as ambition.
- Keep thinking things not controllable rather than acting on things controllable.
- Want validation from friends or not predict how they will behave. (if you cannot predict your friends, your friendship is not insured)
- Do small bad things to start the down spiral. (be aware you are already throwing away your diet plan when you are eating the first bite of cookie)
- Not realize or not know how to use the difference of people. (there is not optimized template for people, you must start from people not from your expectation)
- Think I know the best or think I can’t trust any of my judgement. (always ready to learn you are wrong from other people can make your day much more pleasant)
- Fail following my routine to lose the momentum. (similar to 7)
- Continue contemplating after 20 minutes of trying with no progress. (thinking itself does not give you the answer many times)
- Give up my excitement for secular reasons. (only your inner drives and excitement can get you through the hard times, not any outside reasons like being successful, making money or pleasing other people. If you are an injured poor kid, you may want to revenge and prove some people are wrong, that’s great, that emotion is an insurance to success, just don’t let those people to blind you in understanding other people)
- Let the shit from middle-level people contaminate the recognition of the top-level products.(sorta similar to 12)
- Take health, interest relationship or momentary environment problems as internal problems or mental health issues. (basically the common ways of self-sabotage)
How to act on this test
If you have not noticed, these questions themselves are the ways to answer your question and guide to your action. You cannot google other people’s answer for questions like this. You must gather your courage and patience to find the answer by yourself. As mentioned before, you can start by writing down mistakes you make again and again in your life. Remember, whenever you feel lost or discouraged, you probably are either focusing too much on the negative side or asking the wrong question, or you are just tired and need a better management on your energy. There are some sample questions always good to ask: “Am I focusing on the right question?”, “Is my brain or mood tricking me again?”, or “Am I worrying over things I cannot control?”.
OK, below is how I want you to take action for each of the questions in the test:
Inside 1: What have you achieved in the past despite everyone else disagreed with you? => fix small things in your life to build the momentum, then you will earn the determination and confidence you need to make a good decision.
Inside 2: What are you naturally good at and bad at? => this takes time and a lot of life experience, you have to reflect on your life events frequently to know yourself, but once you got it, it is extremely liberating.
Inside 3: Are you taking life too seriously? => working hard gives you the feeling of fulfillment, but it can also cause stress and tunnel vision. Whenever you don’t understand something, just sit back and try to zoom out from your focus.
Inside 4: What are your most underlying drives? => similar to point 2, this one takes courage, but different in that in that you cannot judge your inner drive as “weakness/strengths” or “good/bad”, they are just your engine. as long as it burns, you have to follow it until you change your mind or you made it.
Inside 5: Are you tracking your own data? => yes, just take the efforts to track yourself please.
Be yourself, but don’t be lazy.