What do you want to be when you grow up?
We pose this simple question to young kids all the time, and they always seem to come back with a simple answer: doctor; teacher; astronaut; race car driver; rock star.
But as you get older and your interests change, this question becomes tougher to answer. Suddenly, you’re graduating from high school and faced with decisions about which college to attend or which major to choose. It’s a lot of pressure — especially if you’re still unsure about what you want to do with your life.
So, what do you do? How do you figure out the right path to pursue — the one that will lead to a successful career and, more importantly, a fulfilling life?
How do you discover your story?
The Power of Story
“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” — Madeleine L’Engle, writer.
Stories are everywhere. They entertain and inspire us. They help us connect with one another and understand who we — and others — are. Stories are a fundamental part of the human experience.
Each of us has a story to tell — the story of our life. Within that story, there are hundreds of small stories — chapters, if you will — that help explain who you are, where you’ve been, where you hope to go, and why you’re important.
When you’re not sure what you want to do with your life, you may feel frustrated, lost, sometimes even hopeless. Believe it or not, this is all normal. Although there are people out there who seem to know exactly what they want to do and how to get there, many of us struggle with this basic question. Begin by embracing the fact that you — and many others in your position — are having difficulty discerning the next step.
In his book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” best-selling author and speaker Donald Miller says, “Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in.”
Your life is your story. And in your story, you’re going to experience ups and downs, victories and adversity. Everything you go through helps to shape you, and provides the material to craft a compelling story.
Stories Are About People
Plot and setting are important parts of any story, but when it comes down to it, stories are about people. They have characters — both heroes and villains — all of whom keep the story interesting and moving forward. Without this varied cast to affect the journey of the main character — positively, negatively, or both — there would be no growth or learning. The story would grow stagnant and dull.
When I was young, I was bored with school and had a difficult time paying attention. Fortunately, I had a teacher who recognized that I had a vivid imagination and a knack for writing. She became an important character in my story. She encouraged me to develop my writing skills, which, in turn, led to a fulfilling career.
Who are the main characters in your story? Which people in your life have had a major impact on who you are? What did you learn from them? How did they help you grow?
Thinking about the lessons you’ve learned from these people may help clarify what matters most in your academic and professional development. Talk to them about experiences you’ve shared, events that shaped their lives, or what they observed in yours. These conversations can point you in meaningful directions, especially if you feel stuck where you are.
Stories Stir Our Emotions
A good book or movie can be a welcome escape from the stress of everyday life. But good stories don’t just entertain; they move us and make us think. They inspire us to be better, to challenge ourselves, to look at our own lives and, if necessary, re-evaluate the path we’ve chosen.
There are particular books I read over and over, year after year because they have touched me in some profound way. They’ve made me laugh. They’ve made me cry. Most of all, they’ve inspired me to write books that have the same kind of lasting impact on others.
Think about your own life. What has affected you deeply? What experiences have moved and inspired you? If something had a profound impact on you, consider why that is and how it can guide your choices.
Stories Reveal Truths
Anthony de Mello, an Indian Jesuit priest and spiritualist once said, “The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story.”
One reason we’re drawn to stories is because they reveal basic truths about who we are as humans. Truths about love and hate. Truths about good and evil. Truths about life. As humans, we long for truth to help us understand who we are and why we’re here. And when we discover one of these basic truths, it can be enlightening and liberating.
Have you ever experienced a moment of truth in your life? An “Aha!” moment when suddenly everything made sense and just seemed right? Don’t overlook these moments; they offer guideposts to keep you pointed in the right direction.
Stories Begin and End
Mark Twain once wrote “That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.” We were all born into this life and one day we’ll leave it. The question is: What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to accomplish in life? Whom do you want to move and inspire with your story?
These are big-picture questions, of course, and no one expects you to know all the answers when you’re still in school and just beginning your adult life. That said, it’s important to take the time to consider them now so that you can make decisions about your academic and professional paths that are rewarding and will help you write the story you were meant to write.
As the famous writer Joseph Campbell once said, “If you’re going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all.”
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