Being 25 is hard. When you look at the big truths that roll around the quarter century mark, it becomes easy to see why ‘quarter-life crisis’ has become a thing: Your happy, careless, worry-free, post-teenage phase is definitely over at this point. You’ve already spent 90% of the time you’ll ever spent with your parents and closest family.
However, you still have the majority of your own life ahead of you…but no idea what to do with it.
The land of opportunity has never been this big. If you own a laptop with an internet connection, you have more production power than a 200-person company had in 1970. This power is so great that it paralyzes us.
Petrified by the paradox of choice, we can’t decide whether we want to become a freelance Facebook ad designer, surf novel writer, or start a cupcake business – because we know all of it is possible, we think we want each choice equally as much. Like Buridan’s donkey, we’re just as hungry as we are thirsty, stuck between hay and water.
Or are we?
You Don’t Really Want Everything Equally
In a candy store, everything looks good. Plus, it’s all right in front of you. The licorice is just as easy to grab as the chocolate.
When it comes to our careers, the candy store is an illusion. It’s a picture the media paint for us. All we see are the end results achieved by hard-working people — those who’ve survived and came out on top.
Everything seems easy to grab, but it’s not. We know that in theory, but until our brain computes this on an elementary level, let’s turn to a better indicator of what we want: Fear.
Picking in a candy store is hard. What’s easier? Telling the waiter to take back the pizza because he brought you mushrooms instead of pepperoni. “No!” That’s not what you wanted.
Fear often hinders us because it keeps us from doing things. In the case of choosing a career, however, we can use it to systematically eliminate what we don’t want and then work with the elements that are left.
Instead of running towards something we don’t know, we can run away from what terrifies us.
Introducing: The No Game
As I’m trying to figure out what I want for myself, I’ve recently started playing a game. I call it “The No Game.” The goal of the game is to ask yourself questions about what you want, shooting for a no each time. Start with all the things you’ve done before. Use this template:
Do I want to [insert an activity you’ve done before]?
Here are some examples:
Do I want to be a freelancer? No.
Do I want to be a consultant? Maybe sometimes, but not full-time.
Do I want to work at a big company? No.
Do I want to work at an SME? No.
Do I want to work 1-on-1 with people? Sometimes, but not always.
Answer honestly, and if you have some conditions or exceptions, include them. For example, I like to consult with people, but not all the time, so it’s nothing I’d want to do as my main gig.
After you’ve run through everything you have done, start thinking about the things you could potentially do but haven’t tried. Use this template:
Do I want to [insert an activity you haven’t done]?
Here are some more personal examples:
Do I want to give talks to large groups? No.
Do I want to have a Youtube channel? Not if I have to film it.
Do I want to build a company? No, unless I can hire all my friends.
Do I want people to remember me for just one thing? Not necessarily.
Do I want to be a celebrity? No.
If something doesn’t excite you when you fantasize about it, reality will only be an even bigger disappointment. Think about it: Your imagination knows no limits in designing the experience, yet you still don’t like the thought of, for example, being recognized by everyone on the street — that’s a good signal pursuing celebrity status isn’t for you.
After you’ve played the No Game for a while, you’ll slowly realize only certain criteria and elements are left. Those will be the attributes of a career you can imagine yourself living with for a long time. Then and only then can you switch to playing the Yes Game, where you ask similar questions but now shoot for “Yes” as your desired answer, thus moving in the right direction.
Here are some Yes Game examples from me:
Do I want to create things? Yes.
Do I want to document my journey? Yes.
Do I want to keep switching projects? Yes.
Do I want people to remember me? Yes, but probably only the people I care about.
Do I want to write? Yes.
Do I want to write books? Maybe, I don’t know yet.
How To Figure Out What You Want
I love wrapping up my posts with a conclusion and saying “go do that!”
Unfortunately, in this case, I can’t – because I don’t know where the No Game will ultimately lead to. I only know it helps, and it helps me more the longer I play it.
Looking at my answers, it seems I should try being a writer. But that’s the thing: Unless I put some candy in the bag, wield the power of my laptop, and commit to it, I won’t know. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll be comfortable enough to do that. Until then, I’ll keep playing the No Game.
Right now, all I know is this: For me, being a writer is not a “No.” Therefore, I’ll just keep writing, whatever the format. That feels like it’s worth something. Maybe it’s worth even more than a “Yes.”
Try the No Game. It won’t be the last word, but it can be a useful tool in figuring out what you want.