What to Do When You Don’t Know

Until very recently, I often felt like I was doing life wrong. Like I was missing something. I always felt lost, like I should have had a plan. Like I should have known where I was heading next– and like everyone else had it figured out.

Everyone around me seemed so sure. Effortlessly sure. I wondered:

  • But how do you know that you want to do xyz for a job?
  • How do you manage everything so perfectly when I have trouble making a doctor’s appointment and folding my clothes?
  • Do you ever actually get stressed out?

I wondered why other people’s lives seemed so uncomplicated and easy, meanwhile I just wasted two hours stalking people on Facebook who I haven’t spoken to in seven years to put off analyzing my entire existence.

First, it does you no good to compare your life to someone else’s. It just doesn’t. So stop.

Nobody has it all figured out, so stop comparing yourself to Taylor Smith from middle school– she is dealing with some degree of uncertainty too. Everyone (yes everyone) gets to a point in their life where they are unsure of their next step. And there is not always an easy answer. There is rarely an easy answer.

We get stuck, we judge ourselves for it, and we get deeper into the goo of being stuck. It’s time to dig yourself out.

What should you do when you don’t know what to do next?

Here’s what I have found through my entire life of not having my shit together: It doesn’t matter what you do next, as long as you do something.

Whatever mistakes you make next are experiences you will learn from and grow from. The momentum you pick up from whatever you decide to do will often carry you into the next thing, even though you will probably have no clue what that is yet. One of my favorite bloggers, Mark Manson, wrote a thing about momentum and it’s spot-on.

Six months ago, I wasn’t bringing in enough money to support myself and I didn’t want to take on more freelance jobs. So I went and got a restaurant job. I wasn’t really sure if that was going to be a good decision, but it ended up being the best decision I have made for myself in years. And if I didn’t like it on day 2, or day 25, or day 50, I could have quit and tried something else.

One of my readers is halfway through her university degree. She is taking a semester off because she isn’t sure she wants to continue with her degree, and school is expensive. I think that’s fucking brave and awesome, and I hope she explores the things she truly loves. We need to forgive ourselves for changing, and celebrate those changes instead of holding ourselves to an identity that is no longer true.

A friend of mine just lost his job. He texted me yesterday and said he’s thinking of being a ski instructor for a season because he’s never done that before and it seems fun. My response to that is a loud heck yes. What is the worst that could happen?

Take the pressure off yourself that this next step has to be perfect. Life is miles away from our ideas of perfect, and no one decision you make will determine the rest of your life. Being able to backtrack is a gift– one that we are free to use whenever we choose to.

So when you don’t know what to do next, know that you’re not the first person to feel that way, and that you are certainly not alone. When you don’t know what to do, just do something.

You will figure the rest out.

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  • Reply
    August 25, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Erin, you are sunshine on a cloudy day.


  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 4:37 am

    Actually, I needed this inspirational post. So true. Thank you for it. 🙂

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Wow, this was so well-said. I like how you didn’t stop at “don’t compare yourself to someone’s highlight reel” and went SO MUCH DEEPER than that about not knowing what you are supposed to do next. I’m currently at that spot in my life where I’m working on different things and am like, “But is this the RIGHT thing?”

    You’re right. It is. Thank you!

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I think too many people are afraid of forever, as though every choice we make has to be permanent. It doesn’t. Maybe it will work out. Maybe it will suck. Even things that suck can make for a funny story around a campfire.

    And for what it’s worth, I still rarely fold my clothes. It’s one of those things that just isn’t as important as people say it is, even as a full-fledged adult. I would rather play with my kids, share our days, or just relax with a glass of wine. Generally, we take clean clothes straight out of the laundry basket, and we’ve all survived.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      August 27, 2016 at 9:28 am

      I love what you are saying, especially about the laundry! 😉

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Oh man, this is so true. It took me the better part of a year after graduating college to learn it (and the learning process was less than fun), but it’s SO freeing once it clicks. I just quit a stable full-time job in Austin (where I moved just six months ago) for a dream part-time job in Houston. Reading this reminded me how much Last Year Me would be freaking out over it. I guess the more you jump, the braver you get. Anyway, always good getting a little confirmation from people you admire — so, thanks!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      August 27, 2016 at 9:28 am

      That’s awesome! I am proud of you. Keep going. xo

  • Reply
    August 27, 2016 at 11:01 am

    I really really like your post. Perfect timing I would say 😉 Thank you!

  • Reply
    August 27, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks, Erin. Your words never fail to hit me where I’m at.
    I have been slowly learning the same thing over the past two years.
    It’s hard to keep moving when you don’t know where you’re headed and everyone else seems like they do. When you don’t feel like anything is “right”, but other people seem to have their lives figured out. But there’s not really a “right” path to journey on in life, just like there’s no right way to travel through the forest–you want to go see that mountaintop? Go there. Follow the river? Do it. There’s no telling where you’ll end up as you make your way there.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      August 29, 2016 at 9:10 am

      So happy to hear this resonated with you, Sean! There is no right way – every way is the right way anyway 🙂 You will get there, wherever that is.

  • Reply
    Caroline J. Phillips
    August 29, 2016 at 11:36 am

    How does every single one of your blog post speak to me on a daily basis!? Your words are so inspiring!

  • Reply
    August 29, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    I love this! It is definitely what I needed to hear right now. In September I’m cashing in all of my PTO and traveling. Spending time thinking about my next path and what I want to do. This, as well as Mark Manson’s piece, and tons of other posts that just seem to pop out at me, they’re so helpful! It’s important to remember that other people have been at this place of indecision and fear, and we’re not alone.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      August 31, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      That’s awesome to hear Kayla! I totally agree. All the best with your next step!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    “Take the pressure off yourself that this next step has to be perfect.” Reading this sentence was like letting out a huge sigh of relief! As I’m almost four months into navigating this post-grad life after graduation, all I’ve felt is this pressure to find this “perfect” next step. Thank you for writing and sharing such inspiring work!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      September 3, 2016 at 7:52 am

      So happy to hear that, Alex! Post-grad was a confusing time for me too, and that’s okay! You might not know what your next step is, but that is okay – try not to compare. You are exactly where you need to be. xo

  • Reply
    September 5, 2016 at 7:14 am

    Thank you Erin for yet another inspiring post.
    I’m just at a turnig point in my life right now and I love reading your words of encouragement, about taking the next step even though you don’t know where it might leads you.

  • Reply
    Carie Webb
    October 30, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Wow! When you wake up Sunday morning feeling all the “should” do’s with the kids… not wanting to do anything because of feeling a little lost and guilty for feeling this way… THEN – while putting off the laundry and everything else your blog/article finds its way to me! It was meant to be! Just the encouragement & “you’ll be fine” that I needed! Merci! Thank you!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Erin Sullivan
      November 10, 2016 at 10:26 am

      So glad to hear that, Carie. You got it!!

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