What Are You Going to Do With Your Life?
By Gina DeLpa
February 8, 2013
Gina DeLapa is the director of Real-World Etiquette, LLC and an adjunct instructor in the University of San Diego graduate counseling program. She blogs at BrightYoungProfessionals.com and RealWorldEtiquette.com.
Do you know why adults always asked us when we were kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They were looking for ideas. And while I say that tongue-in-cheek, I think there’s some truth to it.
As we get older, the questions go something like this: Where are you going to school? What are you going to study? What are you going to do with your degree? And then as we graduate, we get the dreaded, “What are you going to do with your life?” It seems our culture is always wanting to know what we’re going to do next.
Yet I think the deepest and most profound questions are the ones that rise from the silence of our own hearts: Where is God calling me? How can I find meaning in the mundane? Or better yet, how can I trade in the mundane for something exciting: a grand mission that glorifies God, fulfills the deepest longings of my heart and sounds good at parties?
These questions seem to hit hardest when we’re just out of college. I won’t pretend I have all the answers—I don’t. But because I’ve been out of undergrad for (gasp) two decades, I can share some things I’ve learned about how to live a meaningful life, especially when it seems most difficult:
1. See your life as a mystery to be revealed, not as a problem to be solved. To put it more simply, “Take a breath.” This is so not my style, but I know it to be good advice.
It also helps to cut yourself some slack. Moving on from college is a huge transition. You have to find new ways to make friends, adjust to a new job and possibly a new city, and in many cases, you now have to be somewhere at 8 in the morning—wide awake, no less. It’s a whole different world, and it takes some getting used to.
It also helps to cut yourself some slack. Moving on from college is a huge transition.
As Christ-followers, we have the assurance that even when our lives don’t make sense, Christ does.
2. Figure out what role you want work to play in your life. I don’t mean, “Figure out what time you want to show up,” although if you can do that, go for it. But where does work fit in with your overall calling?We know God calls us to pay our bills, live responsibly, and further His Kingdom. But you may find work is not the only way to live out your calling—it may not even be the most important way. As one Gen Xer put it, “We were not put on Earth to work for United Glop. We work to do other things besides work.” If you’re not sure about where work fits in, pray about it. After all, we’re here to follow Him, not simply our own desires.
3. Upgrade your time management skills. One of the best books I’ve read on the subject: First Things First by Covey, Merrill and Merrill. The premise of the book is that we’re not meant to cram our days with activity, but to schedule our most important priorities. We can only benefit when we can identify our priorities—so write a mission statement for yourself, and start living it out.
4. Find a mentor. We could devote a whole column to this subject, but the idea is to find someone who can help you grow, and at the same time, offer encouragement. Your mentor doesn’t need to be a guru—in fact, it’s better if he or she helps you draw your own conclusions. But a mentor can serve as a sounding board, a guide and a trusted friend.
Please don’t think self-care is optional—or worse, selfish.
5. Pursue your grand vision, but don’t hinge your whole happiness on it. I believe in making my life as meaningful as possible. In fact, whenever I need a dose of inspiration, I watch this clip (called “Believing in Yourself”) from the movie Walk the Line. Dallas Roberts’ speech about “one song that would sum you up” reminds me of what kind of life I want to create, under God.
But I also know that that the “grand vision,” for one thing, lies beyond this world. Even our grandest visions for this world can take a long time to achieve—and once we attain them, they don’t always satisfy. So it’s crucial to enjoy the everyday blessings: a smile from a stranger. A cold drink on a hot day (or a hot drink on a cold day). Belting out your favorite song. Eating good food, and having someone to share it with. Dying laughing with an old friend over something only the two of you understand.
6. Be strategic about your activities outside of work. For example, if you’re a CPA, you may be asked to lend your accounting skills to a nonprofit. If that sounds rewarding to you, have at it. But you may find it even more rewarding to do something outdoors, or otherwise get a complete change of pace and scenery from your professional job.
Another lesson, from Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s book, Safe People: If you want to make new friends, choose activities where that’s the primary goal, not the secondary goal. For example, the primary goal of a relational Bible study is to connect with fellow believers and discuss the Word—the primary goal of serving at a soup kitchen is to feed the hungry. Both activities have value, but the first one is more likely to lead to friendships. So just be clear on your true motives.
7. Practice good self-care. I asked my grad students last night what helped them to transition out of undergrad. They mentioned things like eating well. Getting enough sleep. Taking time to pray, meditate and exercise. Writing in a journal. These things not only help us function and deal with stress, they can be rewarding in and of themselves.
Please don’t think self-care is optional—or worse, selfish. There’s a reason flight attendants tell us, “If you are traveling with small children, secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others … ” It’s pretty hard to help others if you can’t breathe. Or as one of my former professors used to say, “Nobody can protect you like you can protect yourself.”
Finally, when they ask you “What are you going to do with your life?”—and they will—smile and have a ready answer. It may be that this once-annoying question could turn into a springboard to a rich and meaningful dialogue.