by Megan McDonough
The dreaded question of What should I do with my life? is a common one. From childhood to adulthood, we ask it of ourselves and others ask it of us. The decision can be tortuous. To find the answer, we read books, take personality assessments, talk to our therapists, coaches, and anyone else who will listen. We pray, meditate in silence, journal our secret inner dreams, visualize, exercise, and hypnotize. With angst and sincere, heartfelt yearning, we ask again and again, What is my calling? What will give me meaning and purpose?
You’re asking the wrong question. What do I want to do? is a future-oriented question, used in the context of finding the right work that is fulfilling. The underlying assumption is that there is an “ideal” job for you. Once found, you can breathe and relax, knowing that where you are is perfect and that the work matters to you and others. And hopefully, as you follow your calling–your heartfelt desire–it also pays the bills. There are a very few lucky ones who knew since they we were children what they wanted to do when they grew up. But for the rest of us, deciding what we want to do brings more discomfort and uneasiness than motivation and excitement.
The correct question is How do I want to be? This is a present-focused question that builds on qualities we wish to cultivate and grow in our life, no matter what work (or play) we are engaged in. These qualities could include: loving, curious, engaged, creative, patient, compassionate, generous, steadfast, grounded, brave, playful, lighthearted, or connected. What are some qualities of being (versus doing) that fill you up?
You don’t have to change a thing. Whatever you are doing in this moment can be a moment to explore the qualities you find more life-affirming. And here’s the best part–you don’t even have to figure out what quality you should be consciously cultivating. Research tells us that by developing and focusing on our existing, natural strengths, we can become happier, build better relationships, improve health, boost performance, and accomplish goals.
This How do I want to be? approach helps not only ourselves, but also others that are important to us. Imagine leading, managing, teaching, or coaching by identifying and supporting strengths rather than picking at problems. Using a strengths-based approach professionally makes your job easier, and creates a virtuous cycle.
Forget trying to figure out what you want to do when you grow up. Instead, simply live the strengths that exist in you now.
—This post was originally published in The Huffington Post.
Megan McDonough is CEO of Wholebeing Institute, an educational organization co-founded with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. WBI is committed to spreading ideas and practices that can help individuals and groups live life to its fullest.
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