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Be Mindful Of Your Path

I have a friend who really, really likes going to our apartment pool during the summers. He likes it so much that, during this past summer, whenever he’d walk in our door we’d all immediately say, “Pool?”

Flashback to a weekday during this past July. In typical fashion, my friend has proved persuasive and we’re all headed to the pool.

Now, on most days, you’d share the pool space with the usual suspects: normal people, girls complaining to each other about how much they drank last weekend, and bros telling other bros that, “Dude, I’m gonna drink so much this weekend.”

Occasionally, you’d find an exceptionally stupid bro doing something like trying to pour shitty beer into another bro’s mouth, missing completely, and pouring said shitty beer into the pool.

I tended not to talk to this particular variety of pool patron, as my civilized upbringing can only do so much to stifle the urge to throw a grown man over a fence.

Fortunately, this particular July day did not bring me into contact with plebians of the inaccurate beer-pouring variety. However, I did end up talking to another guy who happened to be visiting friends who lived here.

The dude seemed cool enough. I mean, he probably doesn’t even watch 進撃の巨人, and he probably doesn’t even lift. But still, pretty cool guy.

Like me, he was a recent college grad. Unlike me, however, he’d accepted a full-time job offer straight out of college. And this, friends, is where you should choose to pay attention if you haven’t already.

This is what he told me about his life after college:

“I majored in Mechanical Engineering and got a pretty good job after graduating. The pay is really good – but I had to move to a small town about two hours away from here. There really aren’t many people around that are my age, and it’s pretty boring there so I try to come back here on the weekends.”

I’m telling you this story to illustrate a very important point:

Your goals should cover more than just the job you want!

Or, more simply, Be mindful of your path. What does this mean?

It means taking the time to sit and down think about what you really want from life. From all aspects of life. Not just your job, not just the amount of money you want to make… all of it.

Here are a few primer questions to get you thinking about this:

  • Where do you want to live after graduation? Do you want to stay close to home, or live in a really cool place?
  • What sort of work/life balance do you want to have? Are you ok with working super-long hours?
  • What kind of environment do you like to work in? Team sizes, organizational structures, work locations – these all factor in.
  • Are there specific goals you’d like to achieve that factor into your overall life choices? Speaking a new language, traveling, or being an athlete?
  • Do you have a significant other who you want to stay with? Do you want to start a family soon after college?

The guy I talked to at the pool got a well-paying job in his field, but it forced him to move to small town that he didn’t want to be in. Are you ok with that?

What if you had the ability to work from wherever you wanted instead? Over 2/3 of the team at 37signals works remotely – maybe you should check out this video and see if that’s a work arrangement you’d like to strive for as well:

Working remotely is becoming more and more common as time goes on, but it’s still not the norm. Most college grads that go to work for big companies won’t have that option, so if you want it, you’ve got some groundwork to start doing now. 

This is just one small example to illustrate a larger concept. The more planning you do now, the easier it will be for you to achieve the lifestyle you want later. It’s as simple as that.

Now, you might be thinking:

“I don’t even know what I want to do when I grow up! How am I supposed to set specific goals for my life?”

Not knowing what you want to do is common, especially if you’re just starting college or are still in high school. Don’t worry about it; while I thought I knew what I wanted to do when I started college, I ended up doing something completely different.

Not many people create a concrete plan from the start and then stick to it 100%. Things will change.

However, it’s still essential that you ask yourself, “What do I want from life? What do I want to be able to do?” Your answers to these questions might be shaky or vague at this point, but formally asking them – and writing down the answers – will help to give you a more solid starting point for further actions.

Getting Started

Often the hardest part of an endeavor is simply getting started. This is true of something as small as writing a blog post, and it’s true of things as huge and life-spanning as figuring out your passions and goals.

You might not know what you want to do at all. Or, if you’re like me, you simply want to learn, see, and do everything, and you don’t know where to put the first dent in that monster of an ideal.

Here I’ve detailed a relatively simple process you should go through to determine at least some of the goals that will form the foundation for the next actions you should take. While going through this process won’t give you all the answers, it should at least give you some clarity and a starting point.

Do a Brain Dump

Take 20 minutes and try to write out a list of as many things you’d like to do as possible. This can cover anything from your ideal future lifestyle to specific things you’d like to accomplish.

A few examples that might help get you thinking:

  • Live in San Francisco
  • Only work 4 days a week (the four 10’s schedule)
  • Travel to Japan
  • Learn to speak Spanish
  • Be able to visit family often
  • Become debt-free within one year of graduation
  • Make $X per year, and save $X of that

Don’t filter yourself or rule out things that seem too hard just yet. By definition, a brain dump is an exercise meant to get as many ideas out of your head as possible.

Do a “Typical Day/Week” Writing Exercise

Another helpful thing you can do is to try and write 500 words on what you’d like a typical day or week to be like in your future.

This will help you to focus on each aspect of your life, from where you’re living, to how long your working, and even to whether or not you have a family at this point.

Doing this, along with the brain dump, should give you a pretty good picture of what you at least think you’d like to get out of life.

Create an Impossible List

Now that you’ve got a big, unorganized list of goals, the next step is to organize them into a list. The list I’ve created for myself is called my Impossible List.

Joel Runyon, a blogger I’ve been following for a long time, created the concept of the Impossible List. Here’s what he has to say about it:

“The Impossible List is not a bucket list.

There’s a difference. Not just in the name, but in the entire concept.

Lots of people have a bucket list. They’re static things made up at one point in time that most people don’t end up actually incorporating into their lives and discard when things get tough.

The impossible list is different. It’s fluid, updating status of what’s coming, what’s next and where you’ve come from. It’s always changing, always updating and always evolving. The impossible list isn’t just a piece of paper, it’s a commentary to yourself on how you’re living.”

I highly recommend his full blog post on the Impossible List concept to get a better picture of what we’re going for here.

Basically, the concept of the Impossible List is this:

  • It’s active. Unlike a bucket list, your Impossible List is filled with things you’re actively striving to do.
  • It’s ever-evolving, because you’re always crossing things off, adding new things, and updating it as you grow.
  • It’s about the journey – it’s not just a highlight reel of one-off events.

I’ve split my Impossible List into different categories that pertain to my life – fitness goals, professional goals, travel goals, life goals, etc.

Now that it’s up, I constantly evaluate it, work on different goals, and keep it fluid. However, even though it’s always changing, it forms the basis of the actions I take in my life. It keeps me grounded and focused.

Final Thoughts

Doing these exercises and creating a list of goals probably won’t help you automatically “find your passion” or slap you with insight into exactly what you’re going to do when you graduate. That isn’t really the point.

My main goal here is to try to make you consider all the aspects of the life you’re creating. I want to help you move past the narrow-minded view that many students have, that only focuses on job titles and income. I want you to take the initiative to shape the rest of your life deliberately as well.

As for what you’ll end up doing specifically… that’s for you to find out! However, I can tell you with certainty that it isn’t just about “finding a passion”. Finding your life’s work will more likely come from gaining experience and getting really, really good at something.

So once you have your list of goals, the next step is to simply get out there and do things. Seize opportunities even if they scare the crap out of you. Join clubs, take on jobs, and volunteer your time. Learn things on your own. Find out what you like to do, and what makes you dread waking up in the morning.

Through it all, make sure to keep your goals in mind and continuously evaluate them. Let them change as you change, but keep them front and center in your mind.

Be mindful of your path.