The “What Do I Want to Do?” Question Is a Trap

Auriane Alix
Here’s what your life compass should rather be.
Photo by Anthony Intraversato on Unsplash
“The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom” — Viktor Frankl

The opposite of happiness is not sadness. It is boredom. This feeling of emptiness permeates every cell of your being and destroys every trace of energy and will. Everything seems useless. Purposeless.

When I was a child, I used to spend the summer months at my grandparents’ house by the sea. On some hot afternoons, when the atmosphere was filled with a damp calm and the song of the cicadas, I would go to see my grandmother and, idle, tell her that I was bored. Invariably, she would reply, “Boredom is very healthy! Go on.”

It took me a long time to understand what she meant by that. It was only later when I realized that I wasn’t bored enough that it became clear. Boredom brings emptiness, and emptiness brings space to think. And that space is vital.

But there is one subtlety. The “unhealthy” boredom must be differentiated from the “healthy” one. The latter is previous.

The “unhealthy” boredom happens when you are bored in your life. When you wake up in the morning without much motivation. When everything seems meaningless and uninteresting, but you keep going anyway, because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. After all, life is not meant to be pleasant every day.

That’s not what we want. But that’s exactly where you’ll end up if you ask yourself the wrong question.

What do you want for dinner?

How many times have you had trouble answering this question? Yet it’s a simple one. Then imagine how difficult — impossible, in fact — it is to answer the following “What do you want to do with your life?” question. Anyway, who cares? That’s the wrong one.

It’s too vague. It doesn’t mean anything. Let’s drop this sacrosanct question that our elementary school teachers are the first to ask us, and take a different approach to the problem.

This wrong question is actually an attempt to intellectualize the matter when it should be measured in feelings. Like many things in life. We have reached a point where we think and reflect more than we feel. Except that we are animals first. We still have bits and pieces of instinct left. Don’t you feel it when something is wrong? That’s what I’m talking about.

Your brain is supposed to solve problems. Your feelings are supposed to be your compass. It’s as simple as that. The only problem is that we’ve learned to suppress our feelings, for many reasons, including tolerating a lifestyle that doesn’t suit us but is imposed on us.

When you reconnect with your feelings, you feel “directed” by your inner self. Towards that decision or not. Towards this person or not. Towards that activity, that project, that book, that idea, and so on. Just silence your thoughts and listen to what comes from deep inside you.

Your gut is better at communicating than your brain. That’s why the real question is “What excites me?”.

“If I’m not saying ‘Hell Yeah!’ to something, then I say no.” — Derek Sivers

Feel the fizz in your stomach

“Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your ‘passion’ or your ‘bliss’, I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.” — Tim Ferriss

Here’s what excites me right now: my very next change in lifestyle, from sedentary to the full-time traveler; my change in writing pace, I decided to go back to something slower when I realized that I was rushing through the process each morning and no longer taking any pleasure in what was my passion and to resume photography after a 6-month break.

These 3 things are raw shots of energy and motivation every time I think about them. It’s my gut talking. It makes me feel alive. That’s why they make up my current compass.

These 3 things may seem trivial. They are far removed from the great ambitions that are advocated today. But the truth is: it’s impossible to know what you want to do with your whole life. It’s too distant a goal. The only thing you can know, on the other hand, is what you want to do with your next 6 months. Or the next 2 years at the limit. Beyond that, it’s useless. We will have changed before we reach these milestones. We are creatures of perpetual transition.

And those things should be the things that fill you with energy and joy.

Sit down quietly, ask yourself the question “What excites me?”, and wait. Soon the first answers will come from deep inside you, bubbles popping at the surface of your consciousness, without you having to think about it. Write them down. Once you have a handful, choose a few and make them your compass for the next 6 months.

Final Thoughts

Drop the “making something of your life” thing. Instead, try to do something with your time. Something you genuinely enjoy. Something that makes your heartbeat. Something that excites you. Something that makes you want to wake up in the morning. That’s where much of happiness lies.

You don’t have to plan your whole life. Just find a useful way to use your 6 months to 2 years ahead. That’s all you need to do. We change. Circumstances change too. What you plan today for the rest of your life will inevitably change. So don’t bother. Instead, focus on the near future, it will be much more specific.

And exciting.

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