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4 Lessons on How to Find the Right Direction in Life

“Life’s blows cannot break a person whose spirit is warmed by the fire of enthusiasm.” ~Norman Vincent Peale

“Something just doesn’t feel right,” I thought to myself as I walked into my house after a long commute from work, being greeted by my exhausted spouse who was trying to manage the kids after putting in a long day in her own job.

Work hard, save money, buy a house, and live happily ever after. The formula that I grew up with didn’t seem all that great anymore. Was it broken? I mean, I worked at a good job but felt as though I was meant to do more.

My stress and anxiety were heightened by the increasing uncertainty in my career, unpredictability of life events, and the complicated, fast nature of life, especially over the last few years.

I became stuck, frozen, and paralyzed by the chaos of life and work all around me.  

With no reasonable approach ahead, I stood still. Examining my life, over-thinking all the various life paths in front of me presented a scary picture. Each path looked worse than the other, inhibiting any possible action I would take.

Spinning down a spiral of anxiety, my life stagnated and I just felt hopeless.

Then one day, I took an unexpected trip that changed my life and led me down an unpredictable path, where I learned, adapted, and grew to understand myself better. It also led me toward a life purpose that is not grand nor perfect, but it seemed to fit. It just made sense and I discovered it by chance.

Or was it?

Breathing fresh air into a stagnant soul, I felt alive again, traveling on a road despite the uncertainty existing around me.  

In my journey over the last few years of trying to figure out which path to go on, I learned a lot about those factors that led me to ultimately discover what I think I’m meant to do.

As a result, I am currently in the middle of a major life change, going from a twenty-year corporate career to being an author, speaker, and a career counselor. While I am not sure how the next few years will be fare, I am at last open to new possibilities.

Here are 4 lessons that I learned on how to find the right direction in life:

1. Stop over-thinking.

So much of our stress and anxiety about the future stems from all the analysis and thinking we do as adults. We ask ourselves all sorts of questions. I recall countless nights lying awake, entertaining ideas and wrestling with my soul. I tried so hard to figure out where I would end up that I often felt defeated before I even began.

But all the over-analysis got me nowhere; it just burned more time.

The reality is that no matter how smart we may be, we cannot predict the future. Things are moving so fast and we’re so interconnected that it is impossible to predict where you’ll end up five years from now.

You just don’t know. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because you will not be basing your choice of direction based on a forecast that’s likely to be wrong.

You’ll be making your choice on what’s really important to you, right here and right now, not tomorrow.

By recognizing and ultimately accepting the unpredictable nature of life, we can stop over-thinking and over-analyzing and start living more in the present moment. This helps to open the mind up to the possibilities of today.

2. Try anything. Do something.

When you take action and start doing things, you begin to feel better almost immediately, because instead of thinking about some far off place in your head full of uncertainty, you will be working on something that is really certain: your actions.

So many times, I used to get caught up in the chaos of life and was consumed by it, until I realized that while I cannot control what will happen tomorrow, I can control the actions I take every single day.

That’s the real beauty of life—knowing that you have absolute control over each of your thoughts, words, and actions. 

And by trying, moving, asking, engaging, experimenting, and walking forward, it puts you one step further than where you were yesterday. And you just never know where that one step will lead you.

3. Follow your inner voice. 

I used to feel that if only I knew more, I would be able to make a better decision about the direction I wanted to take in life. But as I dug deeper trying to get more information, the hole got so deep that I found myself buried.

Confused and overwhelmed with so much information, at times conflicting, I just didn’t know what or whom to believe.

Then, I just let go. I let go of all evidence and started following my gut. 

I took chances; I took small steps walking forward in the dark. I stumbled, fell but got back up, and went in a different direction. Then again, and again, and again. As they say, the first step was the hardest but I eventually found my way, not because some data point on a career chart showed me which way to go, but because I started to trust my inner voice.

Sure, it was wrong often, but it got better eventually because I was out there doing and learning—not sitting and waiting.

4. Believe in yourself.

When I first started exploring new opportunities to find the right direction in my life, I found myself overwhelmed by the competition. There were so many others just like me trying and doing what I was doing.

And turning to my friends didn’t offer any respite, because instead of encouraging me to try new avenues, some of them brought me back to where I began. “Why don’t you be more pragmatic?”

Feeding me with seeds of self-doubt, it took me some time to recover my momentum. And it was in the positive voices of so many others in blogs such as this, videos, and social media that I found encouragement to keep at it. It felt like they were talking about me.

And in that positive lens, I found the light inside of me to bring forward the resiliency that lay dormant.

No longer suppressed by someone else’s ideas of the way things “ought to be,” I continued on my newly discovered path. The more I focused on my own voice and the voices of encouraging friends, the more I grew to believe in myself.

Although for some, finding the right direction might require the journey of a lifetime, I do believe that there is one direction that we are all meant to go: forward.

By taking small steps each and every day, putting aside over-thinking, and realizing that you have everything you need deep within, you can find the right direction in your life. And while it may not be the direction you expected, it will work out just fine.

Photo by katiaromanova

Avatar of Bob Miglani

About Bob Miglani

Bob Miglani writes about learning to move forward in uncertainty in life and work on his blog called http://www.EmbraceTheChaos.com.  He works in New York City, helps his wife run her business, his parents run their Dairy Queen store and adores raising his two young daughters.

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  • Jenny Szewiel

    Bob, as a lifelong overthinker, I loved this post. Thank you for being one of those positive voices which encourages the rest of us!

  • Lisa Ritchie

    While there are some truths to this post (esp overthinking).. I can’t help but feel that many of us are “stuck” because we have obligations. I’d love to chuck my job and be a public speaker, or writer. .but frankly I have to pay the rent, the medical bills, the car loan, put food on the table etc. It’s one thing to say “everything will work out.. ” but often times it doesn’t. Just look at all the homeless indigent people in the world (especially the U.S.)

  • Ryan Chase

    Thanks for this post. It’s seems a little vague though. I am one who is currently “paralyzed” and looking for change. So what happened with your kids when you made this life change? My family depends on the benefits my job provides. I can’t just up and walk out…even though I want to.

  • mroge

    I think both you and Lisa are missing his point. Ouote from the article:

    “By taking small steps each and every day, putting aside over-thinking, and realizing that you have everything you need deep within, you can find the right direction in your life”
    He is not saying to dump your resposibilities. He is talking about taking small steps towards something different, something more rewarding. Ironically you are overthinking it which is what he warns against. No insult intended, just an observation.

  • bobmiglani

    Hi Lisa, thanks for writing. I hear you. I go through the same inner conflict at times and for years that conflict kept me from even trying. I gave up before I even tried debilitated by my own thoughts. But when I started small actions, irrespective of what they were, I began feel the possibility of things. Balancing financial needs with life’s desires is the struggles of our modern times and what I’m suggesting is not that we ignore it (e.g. I too have a mortgage) but that whatever we desire to do…to pursue…that we start taking small actions towards that goal and see what happens. And it doesn’t necessarily mean quitting the job. Hope this is helpful. warm regards, -Bob

  • bobmiglani

    Hi – thanks for your question. I understand what you’re saying as I too have a mortgage and a family that depends on me. What I’m suggesting is not to walk out of a job and do what they do in the movies…but to try something small…anything. I spent a lot of time before I actually found where my interests lie (in writing and being creative). But the fundamental problem I learned to address is that whole overthinking about ‘what to do with my life’. I spent so much thought thinking about it and analyzing it that I froze because all paths looked terrible. And I did nothing…for such a long time…and you get this spiral of stress.

    So the idea that I’m advancing is this: Try something, however small. Take action. For me, I stopped watching tv and wasting all time that I used to think was ‘down time’ and just experimented during any free time I had. I did most of my between 5am and 7am every single Saturday and Sunday before I had to take my kids to soccer practice. It wasn’t easy to do it but when I took action and tried, I felt so much better releasing the creative part of me wanting to be expressed.

    I think @mroge:disqus said it well…that it’s not about dumping responsibilities but in fact trying out something new and see where it leads…in a way that fits into your schedule. Wishing you the best in your journey…I’m happy to talk further.

    Best wishes,
    Bob

  • bobmiglani

    Hi @mroge:disqus ; Thank you for writing. I really appreciate your thoughts and that is exactly what I was intending to say. warm regards to you! -Bob

  • bobmiglani

    Hi Jenny – Thank you for writing. Your words encourage me to keep going too!!! best regards, -Bob

  • http://simpleworksorganzing.com/ Simple Works Organizing

    Bob, great post. I find that most of my friends that I trust and admire the absolute most are the ones without a concrete direction.

    They are the artists, the lovers, the wanderers. They are have no direction because they pave their own path; they lay the ground for a new direction.

    I also find that the adults I admire most in my life did not have a concrete direction when they were younger. Now they are the happiest and most self fulfilled people I know.

    With patience and hard work, good things come.

  • http://twitter.com/shellyrmiller Shelly Miller

    Thanks for sharing your story Bob. In the past I had the most fear and doubt with number 4. But when I implemented 3, 2, and 1 it became a lot easier to follow my heart without being overwhelmed, scared and anxious.

    All the best on your journey Bob!

  • suzie

    Hello! I feel like i have always taken the safe path in life, and it had made me happy, but i always knew something was missing. I finally realized that as a mom i always put everyone elses desires and dreams before mine. So i fixed it.i started small with a5k race and it grew into 2 years later,i finished a half marathon Saturday. One small step, and it blossomed into this 6 day a week training. I couldn’t be more happy :-) Bob, you are so right, take a baby step!

  • Bob Miglani

    Love it, Suzy! Keep going!!!

  • Bob Miglani

    Shelly – you are so right…it is scary. There are good days and rough days but if we keep going and believe…it’s possible. Self doubt is a friend that it trying to help but we don’t have to listen all the time…

    all the best
    Bob

  • Bob Miglani

    Thank you for writing! Great observation…the ones who don’t think so linearly often enjoy the moment and end up living a path less traveled with much fulfillment. And it does take a lot of hard work, doesn’t it?

    All the best in your journey!
    Bob

  • Naru

    hey Bob,

    Thanks for the wonderful post. While reading I felt so many things are similar in my life too. Few months back I started thinking about life a lot. Many times wondering why I am doing this job. It was like I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do that you know that inner feeling we get. So I started exploring my interests one by one in free time I used to get. After trying and spending time doing around 5-6 things I am still confused exactly what I wanted to do? How to get out of this?

    Thanks in advance.

  • http://www.fowleraviation.com Robert Fowler

    About ten years ago, I found myself stuck in a place I didn’t like. I had responsibilities and children who depended on me. So I couldn’t just leave my 9 to 5 job, but I knew I needed to start moving toward something different. I looked back and tried to remember the dreams I had as a teenager about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I think we all have dreams that were put on hold by events in life. Mine was to be a pilot. So I decided to find a way to take flying lessons at the age of 43. It was the best decision of my life. I didn’t leave my 9 to 5 job right away because I had “responsibilities” to meet. But eventually, I found myself in a position to move on to something that was a better fit for me. It wasn’t quick or easy, but taking small steps made me feel like I wasn’t stuck. In other words, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

  • Bob Miglani

    Hi Naru, I was in the same boat sometime ago with lots of choices. And over time I realized that trying all of those things wasn’t helpful. So I gave myself 5 things I would try and try them for 3-6 months and see how it went. And what I learned is that when things got tough on one path, I lost interest…then I went to another…and another more quickly until I tried what I’m doing now. And I found more fulfillment in it. I think the learning for me was to: 1) Focus on that one path and do it…just go for it 2) If you like it even during tough times, then that might be it for you. I think the key is to TRY…to DO…to TAKE ACTION on just one thing and see where it takes you. You just never know! All the best!

    -Bob

  • Bob Miglani

    Hi Robert – What a great story!!! That’s exactly what I’m talking about…using your free time to find what makes you groove…and I’m delighted that you’ve found that and CONGRATULATIONS!!! It IS hard work, as you say…but worth it! All the best and thank you for sharing your story…very inspirational!

    -Bob

  • Mike

    A wonderful article Bob!

    I am an educated thirty year old that is trying to find my path in life. I am currently unemployed, but thankfully I have a VERY supportive family. Anyway, in trying to “find my way,” I often find myself over-thinking, which usually spirals down into feeling very stressed and worried and depressed. I start thinking about past decisions and things I wish I woud have done, and it just makes things worse. But, my point is that I am coming to realize that letting go of the past and following advice like you give in your article is the path to getting through current struggles and “finding my way.” Your article made me feel confident that everything WILL work out for me in some way! Thank you!

    A quote from one of my favorite bands/songs to remember…

    “Over-thinking, over-analyzing separates the body from the mind” – Band:Tool, Album/song: Lateralus

  • Bob Miglani

    Mike,
    Thank you for writing and sharing your story. You’ve said it right on: Let Go of the past. That’s so crucial to learning to stop overthinking and move forward.
    Wishing you the best and hope you find your path!
    Bob

  • Kadque

    I feel like crying right now, I don’t even know how to start with my comment. Lol

    I’m in a state of over thinking right now. I just got declined for a Master’s degree program, quit my job for that opportunity, and ended up not having any back up plans. All I know is I will work again if ever I don’t get admitted. Now I ask myself, work where? What kind of work? I’m just letting frustrations take over and hopefully, if my chest can endure it, I’ll get better later. As of now, I just want to have clarity of mind. I keep telling myself I’m already 22 I should be living a life of a 22 year old. No, not the parties and a lot of dilly-dallying but taking advantage of my energy, enthusiasm and opportunities for self improvement. Unfortunately, I feel stuck. My inner voice keeps on telling me that “It’s alright, you don’t have to beat yourself up with what happened. At least now you can make use of the money you saved for that master’s for a stock market investment or maybe a car.” But I just don’t know. I also realised while typing this that I feel frustrated at myself because of the people’s pressing expectations. I didn’t pass. So what? I feel ashamed for not passing. I feel ashamed for feeling ashamed about the whole rejection thing. Why do I even need to please these people? Because they invested a lot on me. I’m in a point in my life where I want to give back already even when I haven’t even done anything worthy for myself yet. Oh life.

  • Bob Miglani

    Hi Kadque,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve been in a similar situation years ago when I was trying to pursue an MBA. Eventually I did earn it after working very hard for a number of years. What I’ve learned are two things that may help you:

    1. You do this for yourself not other people. So don’t worry about what other people will think, say or do. Focus on your needs and purpose and let that be the driving force for you.

    2. You are so young to be worried about planning out all of your future. Yes, it’s good to have goals but don’t overthink where one thing will lead to.

    For me the best way to get unstuck is to throw myself into work or a purpose that allows my energy and my mind to express itself in a way I can contribute. It’s been a few weeks since you posted this article and while I’m not sure you’ll read my response, but I bet you feel better already…a few weeks later.

    Please stay in touch.

    Bob

  • Raja

    Hoping to find my direction. Thanks for the great post. Reading this type of post gives me more and more ways to find my direction. Thanks again. Bookmarked this page :)

  • Garey Lopes

    Great blog

    26 and I realized I need more out of life I got 2 mortgages and a low paying job my partner is the bread winner and I feel like crap that I am so lost in this world

  • tim

    Bob

  • tim

    Bob: Great message !! I am so stuck in overthinking. I am 52. Raised 5 kids and put them thru college. I have done the provider gig the way I thought is was supposed to be.
    I am in a place in life where I feel life is passing by. I replaced and passion or dream I had with providing and trying to do the right thing. Now I feel empty. I would love to have a dream or passion to get excited about.II just have to step out in faith as to what I think the passion might be and “just do it” …if it does not feel right I will try something else. I have biological clock ticking out loud making me wish I did not have to search but already knew what it way…..thanks for the share.

  • andy

    hi..
    its a amazing post. its is the worst illness to overthink and do nothing.
    evn being aware of this im not able to come out of it for last two years. it seems i have almost failed in very aspect and now scared to take further decision as i just dont have further strength to face worst. also the word small action gives so much to think :P :(

  • reza

    hi Bob!
    it was fantastic article.i got it. thanks. i wish u all the best.

  • Reena

    I feel like I am at this point in my life where I need to pick a path, but its the confussion of which path? which job? and how to go ahead? but find it challenging to answer my own questions right now because i dont know how to answer them or how to go about planning for the path ahead and choosing a direction. Have you ever been through a stage whereby you dont know how to answer your own questions or what to do ahead.

  • Sunny Monroe

    Great post. I’m glad you were able to find a better path. That search seems to be a common theme these day.

    http://www.findingitat40.com

  • jem

    Wow. You sure know what you`re talking about. Im in the process of a big life changing decision. I acted on it and I was overwhelmed by what I did. And I just wanted to go back and just live my life the way it was. But, I took a huge step already. I guess I need to give this a try first and just hold on to it.

  • fred hill

    Thank you. i resonate with this quite a bit, and i could say, ironically, that’s almost exactly how i feel….esp. with number 3

  • Amalia

    Hello Bob, I happened to stumble across this blog after googling, ‘in my 40′s with no direction in life’. This is exactly how I feel. I married young, have raised 4 children, spent the last year studying and now have a diploma in a field I’m not even interested in working in. I’m artistic and creative, but like a lot of artists I’m full of self doubt and don’t know how I’d respond if my artistic pursuits suddenly became lucrative. I’m almost willing myself to fail at everything I attempt. Where to go from here?

  • M. Antonio

    Hi Bob,
    I read your article while working during midnight. I’m tired and have, by routine, thought of how I can get past my career which I’ve had for the past 19 years. I am afraid of the consequences of leaving my job, especially given the economy.
    So I searched for articles for motivation, just so I can get through my helplessness. And I found your gem of an article.
    I have to start doing what I’ve been telling myself to do for the past 5 months – write. I have an outline, I have a plan – but I freeze doing the next real step – start writing. I end up over analyzing what I need to do when I should just start writing.
    I feel relieved that I’m not the only one who’ve felt differently about corporate life after working almost two decades. 6 years ago, I told myself that I wouldn’t want to be stuck in this job after I’m forty, but it was drowned with the excitement, indifference, fear, successes and failures that work brings. It shakes you enough that you’d just want to be in a safe zone and be complacent. Now, here I am, 41 and still here. I need to move on.
    I commend you for taking the step. This gives me the inspiration to take the next step (I’ll probably not leave my day job yet…).

    I wish you luck and happiness on your current endeavor.
    Regards.

  • Alasdair

    Thank you, am currently at a point in life where I have a decision to make regarding business, particularly agree with point 1. I have spent the last 6 months thinking and getting nowhere apart from run down and tired. I’m thinking about the best for my family and have become so low that even making the decision (which to others i speak to is simple). Because I think about it night and day I’m overthinking it and only think of the what if it goes wrong side of things not the positive side. It’s very difficult to chose the right direction for the best but will take your points on board thank you

  • BuddingPhotographer

    This post resonates so much with me. I am struggling to find my direction and I’m finding it more and more difficult to remain upbeat or optimistic. I’m 42 and single parent to a 4 yr old. I chose my path to parenthood so yes, I understood the challenges of parenting solo. However, I did not anticipate I’d be facing a desire / need to reinvent my career at this stage of life. I’ve been with my company for 15 years in varying roles. As an individual contributor, I was happy. As I moved into management roles, the satisfaction decreased as I became a generalist. The challenge…more than likely, I’ll need to return to school for a Masters to change career directions. I can’t quit my job and go back to school. Any educational pursuits have to be online (I don’t have supports to assist with childcare after work or on weekends). The thought of balancing online classes with a small child and a full time jobs that drains the life out of me each day is depressing. I’ve spent the last 2 years over-thinking things and assessing multiple directions to the point of feeling defeated before I even start.

    I had a breakthrough recently as I found a passion for photography. While the self-teaching route can be successful, I learn best in a more structured environment…which is just about impossible for me as most reputable photography programs would require me to be on campus after work or on weekends. I register for workshops when possible but they are usually few and far in between to structure a self-learning schedule.

    Thanks for the post. Its a reminder to take an action each day, no matter how small.

  • smileriraq

    You know what, a simple 2 minute search directed me to this page and youve highlighted something I never really considered in that I have been overthinking things, normally I take great pride in being prepared as I can be for every eventuality and recently Ive been extremely stressed as life has thrown me a few unexpected twists. Ive been trying to “think” my way out of the issues Ive been facing with no improvement

    I am on the mend but still there’s something missing Im trying to find out what it is I want to do I must have been one of those kids who never had a burning desire to anything specific mainly because I was so busy playing sport, I have achieved a few things that many people never get the opportunity to do and Im proud of those achievements but those achievements are in the past and I need to look to the now/future

    I think some of the points raised here definitely resonate with me and I need to look into some of the ideas presented in more detail

    any tips as to where to start??

  • Gene

    I totally relate to this post. I feel stuck and just need someone to set me on the right path, not even walk with me, just show me the way. That’s how, a few minutes ago, I typed “how to find my way in life” and, fortunately, stumbled on this post. I don’t know about anyone else but those four points in this post are all I needed, no need for tedious 10 steps or so approaches that are scattered all over the net. It made me become aware of those few things I do but that have such a huge negative impact on my life and growth. Pessimist will be a right word to define me. After reading this article, I examined actual facts of my life and could clearly see that worrying never really brought me anything or circumstance I really wished for: sometimes it will lead to a surge of adrenaline which pushes me into action when I’m really under pressure but the results of such action are never really satisfactory but just keep me safe, moreover, such surge of energy quickly leave me totally spent, so does worrying in general, making it even harder to keep up with life and, thus feeding my worry tendencies.
    So, thanks to you, I have decided that no more worries is my way out, focusing my time and energy instead on consistent and constructive action. Noting that not worrying is NOT being negligent, but should go hand in hand with being prepared and living a life congruent with one’s values and aspirations (by following our inner voice).

  • Gene

    What must happen will happen, wether we worry or not. So let’s just give our best, trusting ourselves and living a life consistent with our values. The resulting inner peace will enhance our capabilities and improve our achievement. Therefore, I, too, believe that in time things will work out.

  • irish01

    What’s the point?