Recently, and probably since I began university, I have found that one of my greatest day to day challenges is fulfilling my personal need to feel I am doing something with my life.
It’s a challenge in that there are days when no matter how much work I do, how many Ted Talks I watch, or how many hours I avoid sleeping in an effort to maximize productivity, I just don’t feel I’m accomplishing anything.
I have a few theories as to why this might be the case. For starters, I feel slightly cheated by the American education system. Coming out of my third semester of college I have twice as many credits on my transcript, but little to no recollection of what I learned in the last three months of classes. I have three finalized research projects in my Google Drive account, but apart from a letter grade no feedback on them. To say that it is disheartening to have spent a whole term on a project that my teacher probably just skimmed over is an understatement. On a normal day the only thing that keeps me motivated to stay in university is the prospect of a shiny piece of paper with a fancy title just two years away, a refund check that gets deposited into my savings account every term, and the reminder that I have never had to actually show up to my campus.
(For a more upbeat overview of my college experience as well as the definite pros of being a full-time online university student feel free to read My University Experience as a Full-Time World Traveller)
Furthermore, I have gotten caught up in social media enough in recent months to believe that somehow every single person I know is living a lifestyle full of purpose and productivity. How my fellow college-age friends are able to afford their lifestyles I have no idea, but nonetheless, they seem to be thriving. Social media might be an illusion and a fantasy world, but it is a very easy trap to fall into.
The reality of the matter is that despite the way social media portrays my life or the lives of others, the feeling of unfulfillment or dissatisfaction (whether it is short term or long term) is universal. A Gallup survey of Americans has determined that less than half of part-time and full-time employed adults are actually satisfied with their jobs. This number has only changed a few percentage points over the last two and a half decades. A similar survey on job satisfaction among European workers yielded very similar results. 10,000 people from 15 EU nations were interviewed, and while results differed by a few percentage points between countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, and Ireland ranked highest for complete satisfaction [48-50%] and Greece, Portugal, and Spain ranked lowest [11-15%]) an overview shows that at least half of respondents where unsatisfied in some way by their jobs.
That means that there are millions of people in the same boat, however, it doesn’t have to be that way, at least not in every aspect of your life. I’ve discovered a few ways to change my routine that leave me with a greater feeling of purpose and fulfillment at the end of the day. Maybe some of these things will work for you too :).
Ten Things to do When You Feel Your Life Lacks Purpose
Ask yourself questions. If you could be doing anything other than working/studying right now what would it be? What conversations are you most excited about? What have you always wanted to learn or do? What were your passions as a kid? Write down or record your answers so they are concrete and tangible.
Turn off the TV, your phone, or the computer. Most people have exponentially more free time than they are aware of. With modern technology, every free moment is occupied by some method of false productivity. Smartphones are the worst perpetrator of them all. Think about how every 45-minute long episode of a TV show adds up over the span of a week. Manage your time so your activities are centered around your goals. A balance of everything is important, but sometimes it’s best to leave the time wasting activities until after you feel you’ve accomplished something.
Detox from social media. I try to delete social media for a few weeks as often as possible. While I understand that there are people whose entire jobs revolve around social media and the internet and might not be able to do this, the rest of us definitely can. Truthfully, no one really cares about what we post or how often we do so. Taking a break is a fantastic way to climb out of the fantasy world, reclaim your free time, and is a foolproof method of being not just a lot more productive, but a lot happier.
Spend time alone. One of the best ways to discover what your passions are and what you want your purpose to be is to spend time with yourself.
Go to a museum. There are museums in almost every city all over the world. There’s really no excuse to not go. You’ll find the work or research of passionate people, and maybe even discover something you’re interested in. I find that whenever I go to a museum I come out having learned a least one new thing, and with a general feeling that I’ve done something in the day.
Spend time doing something you are passionate about every week. Take your answers to the first questions and try to find time to do something you want to be doing every week. If you have an hour every day, fantastic. If not, look for the empty moments you might have in transit or on Sunday evenings.
Reflect on what you do and what you have. Think about what you can take away from your current situation. You probably have a lot more purpose in your life already than you think. Even if you don’t feel satisfied with your current job or studies, think about the long term. Are you saving money for something? Are you learning a skill? Are you creating genuine relationships with your colleges or classmates? If not, how can you use the resources available to you to do these things?
Reach out to old friends, family, and past connections out of the blue. You don’t need an excuse to check in on people, even those you haven’t talked to in months or years. I believe that it’s important to never burn any bridges or lose any connections. You never know what value a person could bring to your life, so when you have a free moment reach out to people. Keep your circles of influence strong and diverse.
Do something good for someone else. Much of the idea of living “purposefully” revolves around the concept of being of use to others. If you don’t already, keep the idea of random acts of kindness in the back of your mind and when a moment arises do something nice. You can’t plan for this one, but in practice it will make you and someone else feel good.
Get some air. If all else fails, spend time outside. Go for a hike, or jog, or just a walk around the block. Without a doubt, you’ll feel accomplished and energized afterward.
Published from Barcelona, Spain 3/1/19