When in Doubt... Do Something

I’ve been organizing my Evernote content over the past few weeks, which has been TONS of fun. My blog notebook was in the worst shape: picture over 150 notes, from one-sentence ideas to complete drafts just lacking a final edit, all buried in the same pile with no method to the madness. It was inevitable that some content I really wanted to share would get buried and forgotten, and this is one of those posts (better late than never!) 

In 2017, one of my goals for the year was to read 50 books. Although I read a mixture of fiction and nonfiction last year, one particular concept was alluded to, mentioned, explained and reiterated in so much of what I read that I figured it was important enough to deserve its own blog post:

When in Doubt, Take Action.

From Mark Manson's "Do Something" principle to Chris Gillebeau's "Bias Toward Action", many of the bloggers, podcasts hosts, podcast guests and authors I read and listened to this past year shared some version of this particular idea. No matter where they were from, how much money they had or what they did for a living, these content creators had something in common while they were figuring things out: 

They did things.

They tried a lot of different options, and they failed sometimes. They may have even failed a lot.

When they didn't know enough to even know what to try, they just went places. They moved around. They learned about a lot of different cultures, people, languages, religions, and ways of doing business.

While it's certainly interesting to see how people ultimately decide to structure their lives, I think it’s more interesting to see what people have in common during the process of figuring things out. 

And it seems that the creators of much of the content I read and listened to in 2017 had one particular thing in common: none of them got to where they are now by sitting on their couch.

Learning From Experience

One of my favorite books from last year was Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. This particular book was written for people who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives (which let's be honest is all of us at some point). While it's written from the perspective of designers, their take on figuring out what to do with your life is surprisingly simple: 

Do stuff and see if it works.

We may be able to learn history from a lecture or a textbook, but learning what type of career and lifestyle will fit our personality and preferences exactly and also make us happy isn't something that we will ever be able to learn from someone else's point of view. Figuring out your answer to the question, "What do I want to do with my life?" is inherently personal. 

But that doesn't mean it is as complicated as we think it is.

Sometimes when we are facing a BIG question or problem with far-reaching consequences, it is easy to be so overwhelmed by the problem that we don't know where to begin.... so we don't begin. And figuring out what to do with your life is arguably the biggest and most consequential problem you'll ever have to solve in your entire life. 

No pressure, right?

Ultimately, there is a lot less pressure than we think there is: all you have to do is something. Anything. Really. It doesn't matter what order you try things in, and it doesn't matter if you don't see how they will ever fit together or help you figure things out. Just break this huge question into very small, bite-sized actions, and take one action.

Try something you've always wanted to try, and see if you like it. Love it? Great! Don't like it? Great, you made progress, because you crossed something off your list. Now on to the next one. 

Easier said than done? Actually, easier done than said.

For some reason, I think that most of us have established this belief that we need to have things figured out before we start doing things. This idea is so common that I’m not sure we question it enough to realize it doesn’t make sense. How, while sitting at a desk at some point during high school or college, are we supposed to make a decision about what we want to do with the rest of our lives? At the age when we have to make our first big career decision or choose a college major, most of us don’t know what half the jobs in the world even are. Without having tried things, how could we ever know what fits our talents and personality? 

Obviously, we have to choose something… but I think reframing this particular question takes a lot of the pressure off. We shouldn’t be asking ourselves what we want to do with the rest of our lives. 

We should only be asking what we want to do with our lives first. 

So what about you? What are you planning to do first?