We're told to follow our dreams, pursue our passions and be extraordinary. But what if we haven't yet figured out what we're meant to do?
We millennials were told we can be anything we want. Unfortunately, that unlimited encouragement also can feel a lot like pressure. We attach a sort of failure stigma to ourselves if we're not 100 percent in love with our jobs or doing everything in our power to turn our dreams into reality. For the millions of people who don’t know what they want to do, this can be major source of embarrassment and shame.
Believe me when I write this simple but freeing statement: “It's OK if you don't know what your dreams look like. Few of us do."
It's crazy to expect we'll know our path when we enter college at 18 or graduate at 22. The human brain doesn't even fully develop until age 25, so cut yourself some slack. Understand these basic truths, and you'll find the pressure ease a bit as you naturally move in the direction you're meant to go.
We are terrible predictors of our own happiness.
In his book "Stumbling on Happiness," researcher Daniel Gilbert offers this example: When we're in the checkout line, we might believe buying and eating a candy bar will make us happier. Five minutes later, though, we usually regret the impulse purchase and feel guilty about indulging ourselves.
If we can’t predict what will make us happy five minutes from now, how can we possibly forecast what will make us happy in five years? Gilbert suggests we stop thinking we're so smart and unique. The best predictor? We should speak to other people who currently do what we're considering.
We should expose ourselves to diverse experiences.
How can we know we'll enjoy something if we've never tried it? Even if we think an activity or career isn't a fit, it could still be worth exploring. Studies have proved diversity in experiences and personal networks can foster creativity and innovative thinking. It also gives us the advantage of developing a wide range of skills and knowledge from which to pull inspiration in the future.
We must seek positive social interaction.
Social interaction is the second biggest influence on happiness, right after sleep. Even social interactions with the barista at the coffee shop or the cashier at the store will impact our well-being. We evolved as social animals. Ignoring that biological drive is like trying to ignore gravity. It's going to catch up with us.
It's important we choose our connections carefully. The people in our network influence us and our entire community. Negative emotions and habits are contagious, but so are positive ones. Researchers from Harvard University and the University of San Diego found that each positive or “happy” friend in person's network increases by 9 percent that individual's own chances of being happy. Can we have successful lives without people? Let's consider those closest to each of us. Are they adding or subtracting from our lives?
We can re-create the new-job phenomenon.
People starting a new job always seem to say the same things when they describe why they're enjoying the change. Here's one: "I'm learning a lot."
Research suggests human beings enter a state of optimal enjoyment when we're highly engaged in an activity. And we tend to be most engaged when we're doing something that lies just beyond our skill set. If it's too hard, we fail. If it's too easy, we're uninterested. The key is finding a balance and pursuing opportunities that offer consistent growth.
We admit that loving work is a myth.
Speaking of things people always say, here's an obnoxious quote I hear almost constantly: “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is beautifully inspirational but unrealistic. The idea that it never will feel like work is a myth for most of us. Maybe a handful of people in the world can achieve this zen, but any job comes with a few terrible aspects. For instance, we might admire people who travel for work but then find it's never what we expected if we end up on the road for a job.
I travel a lot for speaking engagements and to attend Influencers Dinner events. My schedule ramped up even more when I was researching "The 2 AM Principle: Discover The Science of Adventure." Although the stories were wild, many of my nights weren’t. There's nothing glamorous about spending time alone on planes and in hotels, living in a perpetual state of exhaustion and arguing with airport employees about lost luggage.
A famous pop star, a top-of-game CEO and a rising tech entrepreneur all can identify positives and negatives that are intrinsically linked to their careers. Once we're willing to accept this truth, two things happen:
- We stop holding ourselves to some unrealistic expectation.
- We gain the freedom to deal with the negatives in the career (or careers) we choose.
We must keep looking for the idea that will inspire us and seeking out environments where that spark can ignite. I encourage you to explore as many industries and opportunities as possible. In the process, you'll learn what engages you the most and helps you grow personally as well as professionally.
Jon Levy is a behavior scientist best known for his work in influence, networking and adventure. He is founder of the Influencers Dinner and author of a new book called The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure.