Why the Answer Matters

For many people, the question “What should I do with my life?” is accompanied with an internal dialogue along these lines: “It all went so fast; I had all these ideas about myself and what I wanted to do with my life.  Then woooooosssshhhh… time flew by.  Here I am now at age X.  It all went so fast. What happened?”

To find out what happened, we’ll go back in time on a fascinating journey into your own history — your past experiences and the mental states you used to be in.  We will take you back to your childhood to see how you became the person you are today.  And we will take you back to the time when you embarked into the world to form the person you have become.  After that, we are going to work on your future.  We will change the question “What should I do with my life?” to “What do I want to do with my life?”  Then we’ll develop some concrete
answers you can relate to.   We will address topics such as the important difference between your professional career choice and your life plan.

To start, let’s look at your professional identity.  This is your answer to “What do you do for a living?”  Now think back to the time when you ventured out and formed your professional identity.  Perhaps it was when you first settled into your profession as “a teacher,” “a carpenter,” “a lawyer,” “a doctor,” etc.  If you have yet to create your professional identity, rest assured that it will happen sooner than you think.

Your professional identity talks a lot about your life plan.  But your identity is not something you need, so much as it is something society and the world at large needs.  Society and the world needs to put you in a box — a place to make relations with you uncomplicated and safe.

Do you sometimes feel that you got to where you are way too fast?  At one point you were full of options, hopes, ideas, aspirations — and suddenly you ended up where you are right now.  So you ask yourself, “How did this happen?”  Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret.  This is what society wanted to happen to you.   And yes, it happened very fast, but you were only a small part of the process.  The worst thing is, no one prepared you for it.

Your role in society can be seen in two dimensions.  One is your internal dimension.  This is how you look at yourself, how you look at the world, who you think you are, and where you are now.

The second dimension is the external dimension.  This is how the world looks at you.  It needs to relate to you somehow.  The world is constantly moving quickly.  It needs to put everything and everyone into concepts as soon as possible so that business can resume smoothly and efficiently.

When we are young, we are given the benefit of the doubt.   We are not sure as to what we will be and what we will do later in life.  The benefit of the doubt can be recognized in certain roles and institutions.  For example, school is a benefit of the doubt institution.  When we are at school, people put us in a box called “at school.”  This is considered safe for society.

Once you are out of school, you can become anything.  Right now, however, you are in school and this is easy and safe for others to relate to.  But when you are grown up, society does not have time for your questions about yourself or your doubt about what you want to do in life.  Nor does society care.

Society has allowed a few people to enter into “unsettled” roles; like being an artist, writer, musician, eternal student, playboy, wanderer, etc.  And in modern times, we have created semi-professional roles.  Such is the case when you go, “I am re-educating myself.  I used to be a taxi driver, but now I’m going back to school to become a doctor.”

People will then tell you, “Oh, that’s great.” And for them, it is great because now they can put you in a new box. They think to themselves, “He is re-educating himself to become a doctor.”  They evaluate you according to their value standards for this particular role.  However, if you were to say, “I have been re-educating myself for five years, but I won’t tell anyone what my new profession will be until I am finished,” people would be scared of you.  If you don’t believe me, try it.  Your peers would most likely give each other a look of doubt.  People and society need to put us into boxes.  You can’t blame the world for acting this way.  The world has billions of agendas, and you are only one tiny part of it.  Therefore, the world does this in order to rationalize everything and everyone.  After all, if you could not rely on the baker to be a baker tomorrow, or the dentist to be a dentist, then the world would be in chaos.

The problem is that we are not ready to be put into boxes.  We are still in the midst of figuring out an answer to The Question.  And suddenly BAM — the world demands An Answer right there, right now.  We then give whatever answer we happen to be trying out, and we become locked in a box according to that answer.

It requires a lot of effort to reopen the box and climb out.  People will want to throw you back in the box because this is the most convenient for them.  Why?

The bank wants you to keep your job so that they can lend you money.  Your family wants you to be stable so you can continue providing them safety.  Your friends don’t want you to venture out of your comfort zone since there is a risk that you might make a fool of yourself and ridicule them as well.

I have tried a number of professions and been in a number of industries in my life.  For a year, I was the president of a gold exploration company in the Philippines.  When I got back to Norway, I started Runbox.com; a successful email company.

While raising money for Runbox.com, I encountered people who said, “You are the gold guy.  You are not an IT guy.  We would fund you if you had a gold venture, but not an IT venture.”

They identified me as a “gold guy” — they put me in that box and thus, were unable to see that I am capable of doing more than one thing.  It would take a great deal of effort to convince them to pull me out of the gold box and into the IT box.  I did not have the time do it, so I raised the money elsewhere.

Think about it.  When we meet a stranger, how do we react?  We often want to know something personal about that individual.  Suppose we are told that we will spend considerable time with a person at work next year. Naturally, we are very curious about this person.  We wonder what the person is like and who he or she is.

As we start getting answers to our questions, we form a picture of him or her.  If we are told that the person is a 32-year-old man with a wife and two daughters, and that he used to be a professional football player who now wants to change careers, we can immediately start placing him in a box so we can more easily relate to him.

When we meet him our impression is already colored by what we know.  As we grow up, we are all unsure to some degree about what we want to do with our life.  This is perfectly natural.  When we are young, society allows us time to think about The Answer to The Question.  We all ask little children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  When kids start going to school, they are slowly asked to make some decisions about their lives.

At some time, you went from having the benefit of the doubt to being thrown into a box.  This often happens very quickly, sometimes by just one word.  Imagine yourself at the Christmas family party, someone asks you “I hear you are going to college.  What will you be studying?”.  You might respond “I will be studying Law.”  You are then thrown from everyone giving you the benefit of the doubt, to everyone placing you in a box called “law.”

This is the turning point.  This turning point happens to everyone, but it happens at different times.  For some it happens when they are born, as people assume the child will do whatever the parent does, like working in the family farm.  For others it happens when they have a defining moment, like receiving an award for excellence in some field at school, or becoming a parent at a young age.  For most of us in the modern Western society, it happens sometime around when we leave school and start on our professional career.

One person who had his role staked out early was the Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon.  His professional role was decided the moment he was born — one day he will be The King of Norway.  No one ever asked him “What will you be when you grow up?” or “What do you want to do with your life?”  Everyone knew.

He gave a TV interview where this subject came up.  He said that as he grew up and became aware of the “What do I want to do with my life” question, he had to decide on the one alternative that was handed to him at birth. Although his career was staked out for him, and deciding otherwise would be almost impossible, he still had to decide to come to terms with it in order to gain peace of mind.

Essentially, Prince Haakon moved himself back to an imaginary point before the turning point, even though this imaginary point never existed.  By going back before the turning point and making a decision on The Alternative, he made his destiny his own decision.  Thus, he came to terms with it.

This workbook is designed to take you back to the state you were in before the turning point.  You will look at your life with fresh eyes, as if the turning point had not occurred yet.  You will give yourself the benefit of the doubt again.  You will be able to ask yourself, “Who am I really?” and “What do I want to do with my life?”

You’ll see that there is a big difference between the question “What do I want to do with my life?” before and after the turning point.  Before the turning point, the question is full of promise and positive expectations.  After the turning point, it easily becomes full of doubt.  It is sometimes full of regret.  You wonder what happened and how it happened so fast.

This workbook will help you whether you are before or after the turning point. If you are still before the turning point, you will benefit greatly from knowing that it will come and that you can prepare for it.

If you are after the turning point, we will travel together back to the time before your turning point.  This is so that you can place yourself in the state of mind where the whole world is full of exciting alternatives you can explore and choose from.

See my YouTube channel for more materials.
You can also buy a hardcopy of the book here on Lulu.com.

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Free Workbook: “what do you want to do with your life?”
Allowing Ourselves to Ask the Question

Table of Contents


I. Chapter One: Introduction to Life Planning


II. Chapter Two: Your Past



III. Chapter Three: The Influence Of Generations



IV. Chapter Four: Your Present



V. Chapter Five: Your Future



VI. Chapter Six: Your Alternatives



VII. Chapter Seven: Making The Decision

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