Tuesday, January 21, 2014

3 Tips to Find Happiness & Purpose After Graduation

This post was originally published on Josh is a friend of mine and asked me to contribute a guest piece on finding purpose after graduation. 

Seven years ago I graduated from college completely overwhelmed by the fact that I had almost no idea what to do with my life. Older friends told me, “Don’t worry, you have plenty of time,” but this advice was little comfort. I felt useless and without a compass; knowing I might be happy and fulfilled one day was not helping me be happy now. 

After many years of post-graduation wandering, here’s the advice I would give, which you can feel free to take with a generous pinch of salt: 

1. Keep moving. 

As the saying goes, it’s hard to direct a parked car. Even if you don’t know where you are going, just go somewhere. Most of my 20s I said, “I don’t know what else to do, so I guess I’ll do X.” I accepted the job or experience that I felt least likely to regret and that opened the most doors. It wasn’t the most fulfilling life philosophy, but it kept me learning about myself and the world. Place yourself in dynamic environments or what I call “moving waters.” This might be grad school, a job with a career path, or professional and interest clubs. Sometimes we need the energy and direction of other people and institutions to keep us going and to show us new ideas that we might never consider on our own.

2. Take periodic sabbaticals where you stop moving.

It’s useful to coast on the energy and direction of others, but it’s equally important to pause and look within to consolidate your learning and discover your own passions. At first, all you may find is a scary blank slate. “I don’t know my passion!” you say. It doesn’t matter, just start brainstorming. 

Get a whiteboard and write down anything that sounds remotely interesting to you, even if you have no related skills or experience. Create a vision board with magazine cut-outs of your wildest dreams, which might be as crazy as inventing time-travel. Then for each idea start making little steps toward it. Research it online, talk to a friend in a similar field.  I began this exercise a couple years ago, and as a result I quit my job and am now teaching myself how to build an iPhone app. I have no idea if my app will be a success, but I’m the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve felt in a long time.

3. Bloom where you’re planted.

In our quest to search for a purpose “somewhere out there,” we can easily miss the many needs and opportunities all around us. You have purpose right where you are – to be a good neighbor, to make your community a better place, even just to smile at the person sitting next to you. You may think, “I’ll only be living here a year, so there’s no point in meeting my neighbors” or “This job really isn’t for me so I won’t invest too much of myself.” But in holding out for your ideal life, you miss the life and purpose given to you in this moment. As you move from place to place and from job to job in search of purpose, remember to bloom where you are planted. Sometimes the most fleeting blooms are the most beautiful.