“I don’t know where I’m going in life,” “If I don’t get this job, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” “It is impossible to do exactly what I want.”
These, and thousands others, are common refrains from young people who have been overwhelmed with self-doubt. In a country with such a pessimistic outlook and persistently difficult job market, many young Americans have every reason to feel uncertain about what they believe are their dreams. I say it that way because many of us were sold a dream. I was born in 1990 and growing up, I was taught from every angle that my ticket to limitless success and all of my dreams was a college degree. I busted my butt through school, acquired large amounts of debt, and got that degree…..but the dreams never seemed to come. What came were new pieces of advice from mainstream media like “take that job as a waitress or front desk staffer and work your way up in the company” or “you can’t blame the economy, sometimes you have to take those unpaid internships to get your foot in the door.” Now I do not at all disagree with these statements, but the tone at which they are handed down bothers me deeply. After being told in our formative, naive, dream-filled years that finishing school was the “it” necessary, I am wary of trusting advice from the same sources and generation that locked my mind on simple education as a means to an end rather than self-reflection and actual dream-chasing as one. As a result, when my career plans (which I thought were my dreams) were interrupted, it felt as though the entire meaning behind my 22 years of life had left me. A traumatic experience, no doubt. Actually, plenty of doubt. I began to doubt myself in so many ways and this doubt felt debilitating. That was until I discovered the secrets that had been hidden from so many young, smart, successful school-kids throughout the 1990s.
- Try new and “scary” things and re-examine what makes you believe in yourself.
Of course, it sounds cliche. It IS cliche, but like most cliches, because they’re cliches, we don’t take them seriously. Take it seriously this time. Many people doubt themselves because they feel like their passions are no longer attainable. This can happen for a variety of reasons from injury, financial troubles, legal troubles, children, etc. The thing that many people fail to understand is that passions can’t become passions until you’ve experienced them at least a little bit. When I say experience, It doesn’t necessarily mean you need real-world experience. You might open your mind to performing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” in front of a crowd of thousands. Close your eyes, imagine yourself doing it, and examine how you feel. Is it something that you think you could be passionate about? If so, try it. Research what it takes to learn the guitar or to sing and go out and do it. See, the thing about a passion is that it is not fleeting. You can pick up that guitar and be completely awful at it, but still have the drive to get better. That is passion. This is why you must constantly try new things. Things that you’ve never done. Imagine yourself doing new things and then do them. This will help you find your passion. Once you’ve found that passion, you have to place your own self-confidence in that passion. Many people end up doubting themselves because someone told them they wouldn’t be something or that there seems to be no opportunity for them. That should not cause you to doubt yourself. As long as you have what you’re passionate about, what makes you believe in yourself, and what makes you want to endlessly progress and improve, tie your self-confidence. Then, you will have an endless supply of it. If it’s something that you “like” doing, but will only do it if you’re succeeding at it, it’s not your passion. Try something new and re-examine where everything else fits in your life. I’m absolutely passionate about baseball. When I began playing in high school, I would swing the bat until my hands bled, put some tape over the broken blisters, then swing some more. That is passion. I knew, before I graduated, that I would likely never be a professional baseball player, but to this day, I will go to the batting cages and swing until my hands bleed. As long as I’m able to do that, among other things (because you can have multiple passions), I’m fine and dandy.
- Separate “making a living” from “your passion.”
When I was growing up, before I was really able to identify passion, I thought that my “passion” was dictated by my career path. I figured I’d choose something that I liked, study it, get a degree in it, and then, once I got a job in that field, I would discover a true love for it. Now that that road is rocky, thanks to many forces out of my control, I struggled with finding something to drive me. It was then that I reflected upon the things that really made me happy. The things that I just loved doing with no preconditions. I know what you’re thinking. People always say “find out what you would do for free, and then make people pay you for it.” I agree with that sentiment, but I feel that even that places too much importance on the getting paid for it part. It eliminates a good number of passions simply because some of them have no legitimate way to make money. With that being said, I would suggest always thinking of the money third and the passion second…coming only behind the passion. Also, some people feel embarrassment and lingering doubt when they end up working jobs that weren’t in last year’s “where do you see yourself in 5 years” plan. Don’t let a boring or unfulfilling job get you down. Use the money that you’ll be making to support your passion and place your self-worth in your passion. You’ll be happier and that will make it much easier to find a better job.
- Create something
One of the easiest ways to provide meaning to your existence and get over pesky self-doubt is creation. Think about contemporary American society. We are consumers. We consume others’ food. We consume others’ entertainment. We consume others’ ideas. At any given time, everything that you see around you is belongs to someone else. It doesn’t matter if you bought it, it’s someone else’s. It’s extremely difficult to take pride in something that you had no significant hand in. This is why it is absolutely necessary that start creating something. In moments of doubt, it is helpful to have monuments of your success around you. It is paramount to have things that you can look upon and say “I created you, and you are good.” Whether it be poetry, music, literature, drawings, knittings, or anything else, once it is created, it will forever take a part of you, a positive part of you, and immortalize it as a commemoration of your success.
- Tell everyone your passions
Finally, once you’ve found out what your real passions are, tell others about them. This can be hard because it feels as though you are inviting more critics in to scrutinize and talk negatively about what you do, but it is also the only way that you will find like-minded people who may have the resources and knowledge to drastically assist you on your journey to passion perfection. And because we’ve re-examined what makes us believe in ourselves and have determined that our craft and passions do and not other people’s perceptions of them, we will be able to tease through the “haters” and focus on the helpers. There’s nothing more enlightening and inspiring than being around driven people, especially when they are driven in the same or similar direction as you. So, as you gleefully bring up your newfound love for cooking, a love that drives you to read endless cookbooks and watch hours of cooking shows and spend all of your available leisure time perfecting recipes and techniques, you might find a friend who feels the same way much longer and can help you along your ride. Remember as long as you love doing it, you’ll always have something you love.