5 Tips to Help You Figure Out What to Do With Your Life
By Tim Herrera
Welcome to the Smarter Living newsletter. The Smarter Living team emails readers once a week with tips and advice for living a better, more fulfilling life.
This week I’ve invited my friend and co-worker Millie Tran of our Global team to share some of her wisdom about figuring out her answer to that question we all grapple with at some point: What am I going to do with my life?
Take it away, Millie!
To figure out what I wanted to do, I did what I know best: I read everything, found the most useful tips and frameworks and started putting a plan into action. I had been quietly sharing this presentation with all the women I know, but at the behest of a friend and colleague, I’m sharing it publicly in hopes that it’ll be useful for you — if you, too, have been thinking about what to do with your life.
Start by looking backward
It may feel impossible to predict what exactly you’ll be doing next, but what you can do is connect the dots looking backward. Find the common thread. What did you do? What did you learn? What are the themes? Let that be the compass for how to make future decisions.
“Your career is defined by your skills and how you’ve used them, not by any external measure of your progress,” wrote Julie Zhuo, vice president for product design at Facebook, on Medium, where she often writes about leadership and design.
Titles, salaries and affiliations are fleeting, but your skills and experiences stay with you forever. Careers are long, so think long term. It’s not about what job you want next, but what life you want. Answer the immediate questions of what you’ll do next in the context of your longer and larger career — and life — goals.
Define what ‘meaningful’ means to you
One framework I’ve found useful is thinking about it in four categories: legacy, mastery, freedom and alignment.
Legacy and mastery are about the body of work and what you want to achieve and the skills you want to cultivate and strengthen. Freedom is about the conditions you need to have the lifestyle you want, like salary, benefits, flexibility. Finally, alignment is about belonging, in terms of the culture and values of whatever organization you may be working with. You can read more about each here.
Do these three things right now
1. Form a “personal board of directors” by picking four or five people you trust to help you test hypotheses and make decisions. This can be informal. The main point is to not go it alone.
2. Begin building a financial cushion by saving where you can and making a budget if you don’t have one. “Having a financial buffer will make it more likely that when you find something meaningful, you’ll be able to act on it,” wrote Amy Gallo in the Harvard Business Review. Here are a few simple tips for saving a few extra bucks.
3. Take time to reflect. Schedule it in your calendar and give yourself the space to think. You’ll make progress even if it’s just a few hours every other week.
Find a sponsor, not just a mentor
High-potential women are overmentored and undersponsored. Sponsoring is a much more specific function of mentoring and connects mentoring to advancement and getting the promotion. An important distinction is that a sponsor has to be highly placed, so she’s able to pull someone up. You can read more about what sponsorship looks like here.
Collect experiences and be generous
If you take one thing away from this, I hope it’s that your career and life are long, but not linear. You may have one or many callings, and there will be multiple pathways. Explore them all or not. It could be one or some combination of all of them. As a good friend and mentor told me: collect experiences and be generous.
Best of Smarter Living
So You Bought a Smartphone Without a Headphone Jack. Now What? No wired headphone jack on your new phone? Here’s how to figure out whether wireless is best for you, and which headphones to buy.
How to Build a Skin Care Routine Caring for your skin is simply personal. Here’s what you should keep in mind to sort through all the noise.
The Best TV Shows New to Netflix, Amazon and More New movies and TV shows are added to streaming platforms each month. Here are the titles we think are most interesting in October.
How to Get and Keep a Bartender’s Attention How should you tip? What’s the best way to order a drink? How can you get the bartender’s attention without being obnoxious?
To Save Money on Flights, Look to Smaller Airports Smaller and sometimes more out-of-the-way airports can save you a decent chunk of change and a fair amount of grief.
How Would That Couch Look at Home? Check Your Phone New apps and online programs have features that help you see what furniture looks like in your space.
What We’re Reading
• Still unsure which new iPhone to buy? This should help.
• These are the best frequent flyer programs to strive for.
• Here’s a simple money idea I’m in love with: creating a basic human decency fund.
• Watch and learn how stress affects your brain.
• Have a terrible roommate? Try to resolve things without involving the courts.