'My parents tell me that I need to stop making career mistakes and sort myself out. I'm 21, but I still don't know what I want to do with my life. Should I settle for just anything to please them?' B.
Step 1 We should never underestimate the freedom that is made possible by the unknown. As soon as we know something, possibilities narrow. Thoughthis can be useful in helping us to determine our true path, when we are in a state of not knowing, we are truly open to exploring life. If we take the opportunity to see our life as an experiment, where we spontaneously try things out, rather than as something we have to get right, we see that we are not making mistakes, we are simply making progress. Mistakes are only mistakes if we keep repeating them. At 21, your brain is still highly plastic – developmentally it is still adolescent – and able to form innovative connections effortlessly and advantageously as you explore your experiences.
Step 2 Realistically, all of us need to take responsibility for our lives, and work is part of that responsibility. Identify in a journal all the things that inspire you. These can be people, events, creative and altruistic endeavours: anything, in fact, that you find intriguing, stimulating or challenging. Then identify what it is about those things that you value, that have meaning for you and which you want to emulate in your own life. Next, identify ways in which you can connect with employment opportunities where the things that you value most occur. Pragmatically evaluate your strengths and play to them. Remember that very few experiences in life are meaningless; they teach us about our responses to the world and the feedback we receive can help us shape the life we want to create for ourselves.
Step 3 Your parents naturally want you to have a stable and successful life. However, a life lived for them is unlikely to make you happy. It is not a problem that you are exploring your life – it is essential. The more we are open to the reality of "not knowing" and the more we can be in touch with the possibility of discovery, the more likely we are to find our niche in life.
Cecilia is Mind journalist of the year. If you would like her to answer your problems email her at firstname.lastname@example.org