Have you been thinking to yourself, “I don’t know what to do with my life?” Are you feeling stuck in a rut or like you’re simply going through the motions as time flies by? You aren’t alone. A desire for a greater purpose in a world that often feels meaningless is perhaps the most human of emotions. Since the dawn of human consciousness, that desire has both driven people to staggering achievements and caused existential despair. For guys today, it tends to be more frequently the latter.
The world is in a constant state of flux. To a certain extent, this has always been true, but recent rapid technological evolution is intensifying that reality. Alongside those tech advances are social and cultural changes that are redefining traditional gender roles. The result for many men is feelings of listlessness, even a sense that there is no purpose to their lives. If the world of yesteryear was barbaric, cruel, and dirty, at least a man had a clearly defined role. There was comfort in purpose.
Modern life is often less cut and dry. There are more career path options than ever, but at the same time, work is generally less fulfilling. Similarly, people aren’t finding as much purpose in religion or family life as they once did. The result is a generation of men who don’t know what to do with their lives. With this article, I aim to provide some well-needed perspectives. This is for any man who feels stuck in his life, or that he has no life goals. Give it a read and you’ll hopefully start to understand how to find greater purpose in life.
“I Don’t Know What to Do with My Life”
It’s clear that many men in the world today feel out of place and bitter. There’s a rising tide of anger within male spaces, especially among young men. They’re seeing a world that offers them less clear-cut options than in generations past. It doesn’t help that economic prospects seem increasingly dire. Wages are in decline globally, and the concept of “skilled labor” is being eroded by technology. It feels more and more like “office drone” is the only viable career path available to most guys.
Even for men with satisfying jobs, other societal shifts have left many feeling adrift. One major shift is in so-called “gender roles.” The rigid gender roles of the past have been discarded. In their place, more fluid ideas of what men and women “should” do are evolving. This offers more opportunities to women and allows men to pursue career paths that were traditionally considered womanly. But it’s also disrupting the working environments that once offered a sense of worth to many men.
As a result of these shifts, and numerous others, many men are displaced in modern life. They feel stuck, without any direction. When your most viable career option is being a cog in a corporate machine, it’s hard to be passionate. About anything. The idea of finding a “dream job” doesn’t just seem daunting, it’s basically a foreign concept. Sure, some men find meaning in owning their own business. But being the boss, especially of a small business, makes maintaining a healthy work-life balance nearly impossible. It can seem like there are no decent options.
So, what does that mean for a modern man? Should he just abandon all hope that his career will ever be fulfilling? Should he put all his focus on his relationships? Or is his only hope for meaning in life is some sort of spiritual awakening? These are difficult questions, not least of which because political, religious, and social biases play a major role. No single path is right for every life.
So, rather than regurgitating platitudes, let’s assess where you are in life and consider some easy changes you can make.
Do you feel stuck?
How are you feeling about your life right now? Do you wake up in the morning excited about the day? Or do you feel defeated before even getting out of bed? Do you struggle to tackle day-to-day tasks, let alone pursue life goals? Are you weighed down by depression and finding it difficult to motivate yourself to do, well, anything? You’re not alone. Far too many of us feel like bugs stuck to a flytrap.
A general malaise has fallen over recent generations, especially as it relates to our jobs. Even before the pandemic, we hated going to work. Sure, people have always hated their jobs, but there was a time when people could find fulfillment in their careers. That’s rarer these days. As a result, people are more likely to feel stuck in their jobs and want to escape. We recently saw the so-called “Great Resignation,” where thousands (perhaps millions) of disillusioned workers suddenly sought a new career path. Unfortunately, most of them were no more satisfied after the change.
Possibly, you’re in that camp. Working a job you hate, wanting to make a change, but worried if you do, nothing will really change. Or it’ll be worse. That fear can be paralyzing, and it’s the reason so many people never make a change. The truth is, switching jobs isn’t likely to instantly make your life better. But taking a leap isn’t as much about where you land as it is about knowing you can leap. Inertia is a killer. So, even if a big change doesn’t fix everything, at least it gets the ball rolling.
Don’t wait for your dream job
Everyone has a dream job. Your ideal profession might not be a “job” in the traditional sense. Maybe it’s a creative endeavor, like making music, acting, or writing novels. Maybe it’s more adventurous, like deep-sea diving or space exploration. Perhaps it’s practical, like being your own boss and owning your own business. Whatever your dream job is, I encourage you to take the steps to attain it. Go back to school. Work on your art in your free time. Get extra certifications. Whatever it takes.
In the meantime, though, don’t stay in a bad situation just because your dream job isn’t available right now. There’s a common expression: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” What this means is that, far too often, people forfeit something good because it doesn’t check all their boxes. If you have a bad job in a toxic working environment, you don’t have to wait for a perfect opportunity. Take the leap and get out. Getting out from a bad situation can often energize you to seek out even better opportunities.
Of course, there are risks involved in switching jobs. Maybe a new boss will be worse. Maybe your coworkers will be jerks. Maybe a million other things. Those maybes will always exist, but I’ve always believed in taking risks. If the job you have is terrible, then you know with 100% certainty it’s terrible. Until you’ve started the new job, it’s Schrödinger’s job: there’s an even chance of it being good or bad. Those are much better odds than 100%, aren’t they?
As I suggested above, a big reason I recommend making a change is because it lets you know you can. The longer you stay in a bad situation, the harder it is to imagine yourself getting out of it. Once you’ve escaped one bad situation, even if you land in another, you know you’re capable of escaping it too. So much of overcoming life’s obstacles is believing that you can. Giving yourself a reason to believe is an invaluable gift.
Do You Know What Your Passion Is?
Maybe you’re thinking, “There’s nothing I could do that would be a dream job. I don’t want to own my own business or be an artist. There’s no career I really want to do.”
So much of our society, especially in the United States, is built around work. A person’s self-worth and social status are so often linked to what they do and how much they earn. From a young age, we’re trained to think in terms of career development. We must get good grades in school to get into the right college and eventually land a great job. While that chain of progress is essentially unavoidable (until someone implements universal basic income, at least), it’s a flawed system.
I believe in higher education; I’m a college graduate. I also believe in hard work and putting in an honest day’s work (though maybe not the 40-hour workweek). I just also happen to believe the traditional Western system of work leaves a lot to be desired. Because of it, millions of people don’t have the time and resources to pursue a passion. So many people never figure out what they’re passionate about because they must focus on making money to survive. To me, that’s a tragedy.
I was 11 years old when I first found the thing I’ve been passionate about my whole life: writing. The pursuit of that passion hasn’t always been a happy one for me. I’ve had to take a lot of crappy jobs and produce a lot of terrible “content” to get by. I still haven’t achieved all I want to with my writing (I probably never will). But in my darkest days, writing has sustained me. It’s my direction when I’m feeling aimless and my motivation when I’m depressed.
Your passion can be anything. It doesn’t have to be your job. In fact, for most people, it won’t be. If you can somehow find a way to monetize your passion, then you’re a lucky dude. For the majority of us, the thing we care most deeply about won’t be our 9 to 5. I can’t state highly enough how important it is to have a hobby or interest outside of your work. Especially if your job sucks.
Most likely, if you’re lamenting “I don’t know what to do with my life,” it’s because work doesn’t satisfy you. It’s possible finding a new job could be the solution you need. On the other hand, it’s totally fine if your job is just something you do to pay the bills. Find those things you’re passionate about and do everything you can to pursue them. That may cut into your sitting around time, but you’ll be much happier for it.
Find a Purpose for Your Life
Feelings of purposelessness are not unique to men, nor are they solely bred of our modern age. People have been seeking the “Meaning of Life” since primitive man looked up in awe at the beautiful, terrifying Sun. Every religion that has ever existed has sought to provide a narrative framework for the bewildering chaos of life. As religion has become less prominent in our lives, though, the easy answers it provides have slipped away.
If you feel like you have no purpose in life, you aren’t alone. The literature and pop culture of the 20th century was filled with characters who hated their job and felt lost. As a species, we crave purpose, and modern society doesn’t provide that like it used to. I’d argue that’s largely because things are simply much better than they used to be. When child mortality rates were astronomical and barbarians were at the gate, merely surviving was purpose enough. Now, we have to (or get to) seek out purpose.
Get involved in your community
There are plenty of people who find purpose in faith or work or political activism. Those can all be worthy causes to devote yourself to, but they aren’t for everyone. I can’t tell you what your purpose in life should be; that’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself. What I can tell you is that a life’s purpose will generally involve other people. Whether it’s helping others, teaching, supporting someone, or something else, being a part of a community gives us meaning.
If you’re feeling directionless and like your life has no meaning, make the effort to get involved in your community. Maybe you already do it by attending church. For generations, a church or synagogue wasn’t just a place to worship, it was the social network. It’s where you met friends, potential mates, and even business associates. That’s on the decline these days.
If you’re like me and don’t practice religion, you can (and should) find companionship elsewhere. A sports team, a book club, a cooking class, whatever. Those feelings of purposelessness are generally bred out of social isolation. Men, far more than women, tend to grow socially isolated as they age. That’s a dangerous trend for individual men and for society as a whole. Getting involved in your community is an excellent way to feel less lonely. It will also give you a reason to get up every day.
Build the right work-life balance
There are jobs that demand heavy toil from a person. If you have one of those, hopefully, it’s something you’re passionate about. If, on the other hand, you just work to pay the bills, establishing a proper work-life balance is essential.
When you can’t sufficiently break from the work environment, you feel worn down and unmotivated in your off time. No job is worth being an empty shell of a person all of the time. You need to have the freedom to spend time with family members, friends, and significant others. You also need time for your hobbies, or just to unwind alone. There might be periods in your life when work must be a priority. That’s okay, but if work is always a priority, the balance is off.
That can mean setting firmer boundaries with your boss—especially if you’re your own boss. I’m well aware that might be easier said than done. Certain jobs are particularly demanding, and there are bosses who expect their employees to live, breathe, and sleep their job. Unless your job provides you with a sense of personal fulfillment, though, you should never give your all to it. No amount of career success means anything if you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor in your own life.
Make New Life Goals
Even if you’re happy with your work (or just not miserable because of it), you can still feel aimless. Having a decent job, a loving significant other, and a nice home won’t necessarily preclude you from feeling lost. It’s likely why people tend to get more religious as they age. Religion promises a sense of purpose and meaning that accumulating stuff usually doesn’t. On the other hand, plenty of people have grown disillusioned with the promises of religion, too. So where does that leave us? Is life inherently meaningless?
I’m of the opinion that it is our own responsibility to give our lives meaning. You can do that by determining what matters above all else in your life and then prioritizing it. It could be supporting a political cause or working in some form of social activism. It could be mastering an artistic expression or another kind of unique skill. Maybe it’ll be attaining some form of physical perfection or gaining intellectual superiority.
The point is you can find purpose in whatever you like. It should be something that allows you to set goals and work toward them. Having goals is essential to gaining a sense of purpose in your life. Without goals, hurdles to leap, or mountains to climb, life can become dull, even depressing. Not every goal has to be as dramatic as scaling Mt. Everest. In fact, most people’s life goals are relatively modest. But they find meaning in them because working to achieve them is fulfilling.
Are there any goals you can set for yourself? It could be a major feat, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start small: read a lengthy book like War and Peace or beat a particularly difficult video game. They don’t have to be “life goals,” just goals to test yourself and help you feel like you’ve achieved something. Once completed, make a new, harder goal. And then again. Complete enough of these smaller goals, and they can add up to something meaningful and impressive. Or you can set out to climb Mt. Everest.
It's not so important what your goals are; it’s important that you have them. As I said earlier about changing jobs, so much of life is proving to yourself that you can do something. That belief in and of itself can be an amazingly powerful motivator. It will drive you to try new things and go farther than you ever thought you could. You just have to keep pushing yourself.
Break out of your comfort zone
We all enjoy being around like-minded people and spending time in places where we can relax and be ourselves. By definition, our “comfort zones” are the places we feel most at home. And while it’s good to have places to feel comfortable, you can’t spend your whole life in unchallenging situations. You’ll never grow as a person. You’ll become stagnant and lazy, unable to take chances or accomplish anything meaningful. You’ll be a townie in your own life.
Living a meaningful life requires setting life goals that push you beyond your comfortable life sphere. If you’re going through life without ever feeling anxious or out of place, you’re just coasting. That’s probably why you feel like you don’t know what to do with your life. People who have direction in life have gained it by experiencing new things and meeting new people. People without direction in life generally live a sheltered, unremarkable existence.
That might sound harsh, but you need to hear it. Have you read this entire article but still feel like there’s nothing you can do? It’s because you’re scared of leaving your bubble. There’s a voice in your head saying, “I can’t quit my job, I can’t make a move, I can’t change.” That is the voice of a coward. That is the voice of someone who lacks direction because they refuse to even get on the road.
There are a million reasons why you might feel aimless in your life. You could be in the wrong job. You could be in the wrong relationship. You could be struggling with mental or physical health issues. There are legitimate hurdles in life, and some people face more than others. I’m sympathetic to people who are struggling and miserable because of it. I don’t know the pain you’ve dealt with, the trauma you’ve experienced.
But I do know that you, and only you, are the agent for change in your life. If you want a better life, a life with meaning and direction, you have to take control of it. If you’re waiting for a winning lottery ticket or a Deus ex machina, you’ll be waiting a long time.
So, stop saying, “I don't know what to do with my life.” Instead, start saying, “I’m going to figure out what I’m doing with my life.” And then figure it out.