Don’t Feel Pressured To Find Your Life’s Purpose At Age 21
I got an email from a reader who wrote in with a question I’ve heard many times in different ways. Here’s how Andrew, this reader in particular, phrased it:
“I just graduated from college, but still feel entirely lost on what I want to do and where I want to be. I’m only 21 and graduated high school and college a year early, but I just feel like I’m pushing my life along without learning what I want and enjoying the process of it all .
I’ve had my highs and lows throughout these years, and I’m starting to get nervous that I’m going to slip low again because I don’t know how to find what I truly want. I’m done with college, but feel more lost than when I started. I’ve been taking the steps to try to find my true passion, but I just get frustrated when I feel like I’m not getting any closer.
Do you have any advice? I know you hear this all the time, but I’m not afraid of hard work, I’m just struggling to find out what to pour my motivation and drive into.”
I’m no expert on life—your answers to his questions are just as valid as mine—but here’s what I said:
I don’t think most of us know our true passion or purpose right away. It tends to emerge as we embark on different paths.
It’s good that you’re feeling a bit frustrated—it shows that you understand the importance of the search. But I think the best thing you can do is be open and explore different paths. The truest one tends to appear as you go along, not before you start.
At least that’s how it was for me. From a young age I felt exactly what you describe: the idea that I was just pushing my life along with no north star.
Since I wasn’t sure what to do or where to turn, I just began to pursue challenges and “zones of learning” in whatever I was interested in. I learned to play a lot of different musical instruments. I learned about entrepreneurship, or at least how to make enough of a living that I didn’t have to work for someone else.
At some point I heard of an opportunity to volunteer in West Africa, and that changed everything. But I didn’t really seek any of these things out—I just followed paths as they opened. Later I became more intentional, moving back to the U.S. and starting this blog, but none of that could have happened without all that came before.
The classic Steve Jobs quote comes to mind:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
I’m not one to correct Steve Jobs, but I guess I’d add less of a deterministic bent to it: Where do you want the dots to connect? What steps can you take to best position yourself for the most well-connected dots? And so on.
If you’re not sure where to begin, consider these questions:
- Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do, but held back on for some reason?
- If the world was ending in 3 months, how would you spend your time?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
- What are you afraid of right now?
Finding your passion or purpose doesn’t have much to do with age, but experience matters. And because experience comes from active choices, go get some experience!
Do keep searching, but don’t feel so much pressure. It will come if you let it.