How do I DO when I don’t know WHAT to do?

I had a lovely conversation recently with a musician who feels stuck.  He doesn’t quite know what the next step is and therefore doesn’t know what to do or where to begin. It is this conversation that inspired me to address this question: 
How do I DO when I don’t know WHAT to do?

Many of us have a fantasy-like idea that we will find the perfect life or the perfect career, and we will just know it when we see it.  Unfortunately this idea is most often not reality.  But when we look at people who are far into their careers, or have lifestyles that suit them, sometimes it might look like they ARE living our fantasy.  It is easy to think “they had it so easy”, or “they really have it all together”, when in actuality their life was not built overnight, but rather is the result of many little decisions along the way as well as much focused time spent.

Everything is built one piece, one step at a time.  I have been fortunate in life to have been raised building tangible things.  I built a deck with my Dad when I was 8 years old… yes, I really did help my dad build.  I was his right hand man.  I saw the project from plans to building materials, to effort and time put forward, to the finished product; a deck that is , 28 years later, still in great working order.  This was a wonderful education.  The catch phrase in my house was “make a plan, work the plan”.  It was simple, straight forward advice.

But what I did not learn or get much practice in was the process of deciding what to do. I was not always able to apply this sound family advice simply because I didn’t know what I wanted to build.

How do we decide what project (or goal) is worth planning and executing? 

We all have different challenges.  My challenge has often been my desire to build too many things, finding the multitude of choices overwhelming… and then most of the time not bothering to start.  Some others may have the challenge of wanting to build a skyscraper before learning to build a shack?  Others may be trying to build something for the wrong reasons; something that is not right for them?

We must begin by asking: How do I decide what to do? Once you answer this question, then (and only then) will you be able to “make a plan and work the plan”.

Step One:  Discover your motivation.

What do I have to do?  This can be “I have to in a metaphoric sense- like this is really important / exciting / meaningful – OR – “I have to in the practical sense- like I need to get a job that pays me $2000 per month.  Either way, what we decide to build needs to feel necessary. This is a BIG question. It may come with many answers.  It is possible to have several motivations and even to work toward several things at one time.  But quite often one or two motivations will feel most necessary now.  This does not mean you abandon the others, you simply decide to focus on one or two motivations for now.

Step Two:  Prioritize your time & schedule it.

Hold that which is necessary in your mind and decide how much time you can devote to it.  Assess if there is enough time, and if there isn’t make necessary adjustments.  The more you hold that which is necessary in your mind the less you will feel tempted to waste your time in social media or TV.  Rome wasn’t built by people who sat in front of an entertainment screen all day.  You know what is necessary, so it’s best to not make excuses or distractions to keep you from putting in the time and energy.

Step Three: Evaluate Expectations.

Realistically assess what you can accomplish in what amount of time.  If you feel you are not good at this, ask someone to help you. If you set your expectations too high, it will become easy to be discouraged.  For example if you decide that it is necessary to make $5000 per month but you don’t want to work full time, and haven’t developed the highest level of skills yet, you may be consuming too much stuff right now.  This does not mean that you won’t accomplish this someday, but for now you may need to reassess your expenses so that the necessary becomes attainable.  Another example has to do with the time needed.  Find someone who has what you want and ask them how long it took to get there.  This will help you create realistic expectations.

Step Four:  Get your head in the right place.

If you find yourself thinking of all the reasons why this is too hard, or you cannot do it, then this step will have the most impact on you. When you find yourself digressing into this pointless, whiny, defeated state of mind, do something.  Anything.  Anything other than thinking.  Negative, pointless, whiny, defeated thinking is simply a bad habit that only serves to perpetuate procrastination and misery.  Stop thinking and making excuses, instead just do.  For example write down a list of things and choose to do something on the list right now.  Yes, there is always an element of truth to our negative, pointless, whiny, defeated thinking, however, ruminating on that negative stuff is NOT AT ALL helpful, nor is it interesting to us or anyone else.

Step Five: Make a plan.

Sometimes we need help with this too!  But excitingly, once we KNOW what we want to build, all of a sudden as we begin to share it with others we find that there are people and situations all around us that seem to be conspiring to help us succeed.  It is the passion and clarity of purpose that inspires others to help us.  Until we know what we want to build, it seems impossible to find mentors and help.  Once we know, they show up on every corner!

Step Six: Work the plan.

Keep a written account of this process (steps 1-6) with you at all times.  Read it whenever you feel off track or during moments of doubt.  Seek outside inspiration to help you continue on this plan. Be willing to ask for help and advice from those who believe in you and can help you… BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, keep working the plan.

Step Seven: Congratulations, you’ve built it, now you can enjoy it. 

But guess what, it’s going to need continued maintenance…and hopefully you’ll find that you enjoy the maintenance too.

So what do you think you’ll need to build next?
Do you need a some guidance in a life transition?  Contact me to schedule a consultation.

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Filed under Career, Money, Motivation, Self Discovery