We like to ask kids, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” When we become adults, our questions and answers get a little more real. We can still hope and dream, but we have to conquer a certain amount of naivete and adopt more realism. We can still follow our passions but also must find a way to make a decent living, too.
There may be times when we’re moving in a clear direction, and other times when we’re more uncertain. So how do we work our way toward a life-path that’s fulfilling and stabilizing? We could certainly do some trial and error, trying different jobs and living situations and locations to see what feels right. We could have some informal conversations with family and friends. But we may find greater progress and richer answers if we adopt a more intentional — perhaps more spiritual — approach.
Whether you’re looking for a fresh path, or to retool and refine the one you’re already on, consider these ideas for finding direction in life.
Ask yourself the big questions in new ways.
You may hear people describing things in terms of a “calling” — as in, “What are you called to do?” A slightly different way to wonder this is to ask yourself, “What am I being invited to do?”
Sometimes, “call” can imply there’s one thing at one time you need to commit yourself to doing, but that can be false pressure. It’s like the idea of having a soulmate — that paradigm means there’s only one person out there and you need to meet at the perfect time or you’ve missed your chance and are doomed to loneliness. It’s more accurate (and less pressure-filled) to respond to the opportunities for connection that come your way, and be ready to recognize when you’ve met the right person at the right time.
When it comes to your life, the best career or job might come from where you live or where you move, whom you talk to or build relationships with, whom you ask for help or advice with decisions — all these different areas of your life could present you with various new invitations.
When it comes to having conversations about where your life is pointed or what you might pursue, branch out a little. In addition to best friends or siblings, consider talking to parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles who may have life wisdom or professional experience to impart. Think about reaching out to your next closest circle of friends, people who know you fairly well but might have a fresher take to share after hearing you out. Consider also more of a third-party voice — maybe a friend of a friend, a spiritual leader or mentor, or even a therapist, if you think counseling could help.
Finally, put the idea of your life and career in a fresh context. One way to approach this is by asking three simple questions of what you’re thinking about doing: Does it bring me joy? Am I good at it? Does the world need it?
Frederick Buechner shared my favorite insight on vocation of all time: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That place is where your life likely finds its best direction.
Adopt new mindsets.
I had a very mindful friend once tell me, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.” I’m not usually a fan of rigid either-or maxims, but this concept can help you be more decisive. If something about your lifestyle, habits, or decisions isn’t specifically helping you grow and move forward, chances are good it’s keeping you complacent or even holding you back.
Another approach you can take is to try immersive decision-making. If you’re trying to decide whether to keep certain conditions in place or pursue a change, imagine yourself in each possible outcome for a period of time. This also works if you’re weighing leaving your current job or career for a different one.
For example, on Monday, go through the day imagining that you’re staying in your current job for now and the indefinite future — notice what feelings arise with that hypothetical situation. Then on Tuesday, spend the day pretending as if you’re leaving that job for a new opportunity — notice those feelings, too. Then, compare the reactions you’re having to those two days, and you’ll likely have some fresh input to weigh.
Invite prayer into your process.
As you take time and space to think through what you might do next, incorporate spiritual practices. A good baseline is to journal — whether you freewrite, follow prompts or a plan, or do something expressive like poetry, journaling helps you process and externalize what’s moving inside you.
From there, you could explore different styles of prayer to find what fits your personality. Some people really like meditative practices like mantras and repetitive prayers or other centering prayer practices. Other people like something with some structure for reflection like the Ignatian examen, which helps you review your days. Still others might prefer using memorized prayers and routine patterns to steady and calm their thinking; Catholics use traditional practices like saying the rosary or praying novenas.
There are many different ways to pray. The important thing is finding something that resonates with you and using it regularly — the practice will open up ways for you to hear God’s voice in your life.
Check out call narratives.
If you’re someone who likes stories, who enjoys following characters and connecting to their emotions, the Bible is full of characters who are wonderfully relatable. God frequently chooses people who are struggling with self-doubt and still finding themselves.
You don’t need to be familiar with the Bible to connect to the people in what are known as “call stories.” What you need to know is each of these people are invited by God to do something significant. They express hesitation and doubt when invited, and they are reassured by God that He will be with them. This simple movement is especially relatable as we approach major decisions or consider how to reorient our lives.
Some well-known call narratives include when the angel appears to Mary to announce that she will be Jesus’ mother (Luke 1:26-38), or when God calls Moses from the burning bush to lead his people (Exodus 3:1-22).
I also like to point people to other stories, too. When Jeremiah is invited to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1:4-19), he objects that he’s too young and too poorly skilled at speaking to serve others (samesies). I also recommend the story of Ananias (Acts 9:1-19), who is asked to heal Paul, whom God just scolded and struck blind for persecuting Christians (talk about hesitating before an invitation).
Consider spiritual direction or pastoral counseling.
Priests and faith leaders are trained to be spiritual advisers. While therapists study to focus on supporting your mental health, spiritual advisers focus on your heart and spirituality, and help you deepen your self-understanding and prayer.
In the Catholic Church, these people are called spiritual directors or pastoral counselors. They engage you in an open-ended, vulnerable conversation in which they give you ways to continue growing and deepening your spirituality. This process can be hugely beneficial for people trying to jump-start their life, navigate a tough decision, or explore new paths. This is a more formal step, but it could be a great fit if you’re ready to dig deeper with some expert help.
We all need to find direction in our lives. Looking back, it’s easy to see how the dots connected to get us where we are now. Looking forward, however, we often only see far enough to take the next step. Trusting that God is walking with us gives us courage to keep going. Learning to listen for His voice in our experience can light our path.