How To Know What You Really Want To Do In Life

For the past month I have been reading a book based on the life of Tulsidas, one of the greatest religious poets of India. He is credited with rewriting the Ramayana in “khadi boli” – the language of the common folks – so that people could easily sing the hymns and awaken the spirit of the great classic. The Ramayana is originally written in Sanskrit.

In the book there is a disciple of Tulsidas, named Benimadhav, who himself is trying to write the story of his guru but somehow he is neither able to capture the true spirit of the story he is looking for, nor focus on the divine Rama. He is sulking and depressed all the time and one night while sitting in his hut he totally panics and says to himself, “You are almost 60, your childhood is gone, and so is your youth, what have you achieved so far Benimadhav? Alas! Your entire life has gone waste without even realizing what exactly you have wanted to do.”

Tulsidas can see through his disciple’s mind the next morning and, out of the blues, while they are walking on the bank of Ganga, he says to him, “Beni, do you even know what you want to do in your life? Your problem is you’re not even sure what you’re trying to achieve. Deep inside your heart you crave for fame and immortality by writing my story and to my face you keep on saying that you want to leave something behind that will show the light to the future generations. You’re not even sure whether you should have pursued the life of an ascetic or enjoyed the pleasures of flesh and wealth. Try to know what you want, and then your mind will be at peace.”

Benimadhav’s dilemma over 500 years ago can be anybody’s dilemma even today. We get trapped in a rut without knowing what we want to do and how we want to spend our lives. The fast pace of our lives doesn’t even afford us with enough luxury to just sit somewhere quietly and then think about ourselves. Just because people around us seem to be happy doing certain things, we force ourselves into thinking that those very same things should make us happy and feel accomplished too. This eventually begins to take its toll in the form of resentment, underperformance, lethargy and dormant as well as active depression. Knowing what you really want to do, what really makes you happy, is the most important realization of your life.

Here are a few steps you can take to know what you really want to do in life:

Be conscious of your own needs

Assign at least 10 minutes daily to just think about what you really want to do in life. Make notes if you want. Jot down actions and events throughout the day that make you feel really joyous. The feeling of joy must be positive and not something akin to schadenfreude or something similar (this will be self-defeating). Remaining conscious and note-taking may not directly help you but it will certainly help you build a database of things that make you happy and joyous and consequently, give you an insight into what triggers those positive feelings.

Stop feeling guilty about thinking of yourself

Trying to be happy, trying to think about your own things, doesn’t make you selfish. I would like to apply Ayn Rands “rational morality of self-interest” here — if we all try to excel in our individual capacities, the world around us excels too. A client of mine took a two-month break and trecked alone in Nepal just to think about what he actually wants to do in life, six months after his marriage.

Let people around you know what you are trying to achieve

Most of us don’t have those soap-opera-type families where every member is scheming and trying to weasle out this or that from each other. Most of us love each other, want to see each other happy, and find our true place in life. Once you let people around you know what you are trying to achieve, they will actively get involved and will also come up with new and innovative suggestions.

Provide yourself positive stimulus

Your state of mind controls your destiny. The bad thing, and the good thing, is, your mind gives you what you give it. We are perhaps the only species on the planet who can think about thinking. This also means we can control our thinking. Read books on the lifes of people who pursued their own goals and succeeded (possibly, without wreaking havoc on their loved ones), watch related movies, join forums and follow blogs such as Pick the Brain. Constantly provide your mind the right stimulus in order to make sure you don’t revert to your previous state of being.

Remember that half the battle is won once you know what you want to do. Unless you know this perfectly well (even if you have to spend a year actively trying to find it out, it’s worth it), you will again get trapped in the same loop of confusion.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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