Focus on What, not Who

Jun 19, 2024

When I speak with people about their lives, and in particular about the direction they want to take, a common impression I get is that people have a hard time articulating a clear vision for the life they want.

The awareness that clarity in one's life vision is lacking is already the first step to figuring out a compelling vision. Then, through contemplation, introspection, and reflection, the answer can become increasingly clear over months and years.

Paramount to gaining more clarity about one's life vision is asking the right question. Typically, there are two:

  1. Who do you want to be?
  2. What do you want to be doing?

I believe the former question is not useful and puts people on the wrong track. If we start by describing the identity we want to assume in a future stage of life, we are inclined to let our ego drive the identity we think we want. With the first question, all the expectations we have of ourselves, and domesticated, programmed behaviors from the world around us will heavily influence what we envision. We can find a certain identity compelling, but upon closer examination, we may not be particularly fulfilled by the things this identity requires us to do.

The most common example is the fresh business graduate who has convinced themselves that being a management consultant is who they want to be, for the prestige, the recognition by their peers, and status. But when examining more carefully the kind of things this fresh business graduate will be doing in this identity, it turns out it's things they don't genuinely enjoy. Thus, they set themselves up for misery in the future they want to create for themselves.

The second question proposed is more useful, I believe. In the end, your life is always about the things you do—the actions. And you should obsess over what you want to do instead of who you want to be. This allows you to get closer to your natural abilities and the things you love doing, which you will excel at.

Despite the second question being simpler for some, it's still difficult for many to pinpoint what they actually love doing. It's not as trivial as it seems. But the only way to find out is to try many things and genuinely reflect in solitude on our true feelings towards an activity.

When unsure about one's future, specifically about a clear vision for the life one wants to create, start by asking what you want to be doing in your "perfect" life, instead of asking who you want to be. Whether it's raising a family, writing books, building software, or helping in your local community, the question of what you want to be doing is the most important one in creating a life you love.