How to find the right path in life

I often ask myself if what I’m doing is the right thing. I have only so much time and I want to use it wisely. Is art my way forwards, and if so what type of art? Would I do better leaving my job to become a full time artist? Is writing more my forte?

These are questions I regularly ask myself. I think we all do this, because we want to know if we’re just wasting time or are we on the path that leads to riches, love, fulfilment etc.

The trouble is how can we tell, worse still such questions can paralyse us.

Here are a few thoughts on how to face such uncertainty and doubt.

Life is not prescripted

To me, this sort of question is somewhat absurd because it makes the assumption there’s a right path, a correct one for us to adhere to. I don’t think our paths are a laid out in front of us, instead, we make it up as we go along.

Asking the question makes sense as we want security and certainty in our lives. We want answers about what to do and who we are. But I feel that life doesn’t work like that. It unfolds moment by moment.

To ask such a question runs the risk of overthinking the journey, something I’m guilty of a lot of the time.

The shape of our lives emerges as we live, it’s the same with an art style. We emerge as we create. What we are drawn to and paint reveals something about ourselves. We learn as we go, a life of perpetual becoming.

I guess what I’m saying is it’s better to let go of expectations and directions in life and art and instead follow your curiosity.

Our sense of direction comes from within, and we would do better to trust it more. Take curiosity, no one can tell you you’re curious, you either are or you’re not, and it can change.

We can find curiosity to solve a problem and then once the problem has been solved the curiosity fades. For me it was my health, I was unwell so I studied nutrition. Once my health improved my aim to become a therapist waned. To the point where I no longer study nutrition regularly.

Alternatively, once you start down a path it can be more interesting and grab you in a way you never expected. So you delve deeper into details and intricacies, keeping the adventure going. Horizons expand, possibilities and ideas multiply. Curiosity is what keeps us going forwards.

‘The more you learn the more you want to learn’ is a good indicator that you’re on the right path.

This is what you can find with success stories. For some they never intended to find success, they indulged in their curiosity and passion for a subject, shared what they discovered and without intention became a success. It’s the old self-help idea of ‘following your passion’ (but for me curiosity is a better guide).

It’s living by ‘the seat of your pants‘. The feeling of curiosity is the feedback that tells us if we learned enough or we want more.

Work and play

Our doubts are often a sign of impatience, our minds typically look towards the short term rewards. Our need for quick results and rewards can mean we don’t go for opportunities because we fail to see immediate benefits to them.

We’re too impatient, asking too much of our current situation. We forget success takes time.

The best thing to do is work out what skills are useful, and take jobs where we can learn them, building up our skills and expertise. Because many skills can still be of use years later and in other jobs.

‘Big things grow from small things’. Success is built up brick by brick. Instead have a goal to aim for, an vision of what you want life to be like. As long as you’re getting closer to that vague but compelling destination you know your doing the right thing.

The other issue here is we are lazy, we want life to be easy. We become victims of our own self-absorption, we expect even demand life should live up to our expectations, which are a life of success, but also comfort. We feel entitled to have what we want instead of working for it.

‘Hard work is the price we must pay for success’

Vince Lombardi

Paradoxically we also seek hard work. We feel we have to punish ourselves with work, just as we look for the easy life. Such overwork leads us to ill health and unhappiness. Life is often easier than we think. It’s just that we have some wrongheaded ideas about how it should play out.

Life is work and play, not one or the other. It’s more about finding that happy medium.

Passion and meaning

Another thing about right and wrong paths is that you can’t know if you’re on the right or wrong path with reasoning or intellect. It’s an emotional, instinctual way, like painting and art itself.

How can we ever know if we’re on the right path by doing a cost-benefit analysis? Such rational thoughts may seem like a good idea and even provide an answer.

But it fails to take into account how we feel about our life. Our values, our hopes, dreams and fears.

Right or wrong can make us forget what we love to do, and what we don’t. To use rationality alone is to ignore the side of us that wants adventure, passion. The things that make life interesting and scary, the spice of life as it were.

This question comes down to meaning. We want to be certain we’re on the right path so that all the struggle was worth it.

Meaning is found where the rubber meets the road. Where we as a person face the world/reality. It’s the process of living, of being out in the world, and letting it unfold.

My advice is to follow your curiosity, to let go of knowing, of certainty because that’s what this question is about. Trust in the process, trust more yourself. There is a saying, ‘when the student is ready the teacher appears’. What you will need to know you will find out.

This is not an easy way to live, we are needy creatures. We want clarity, and we often grasp for it, even suffer trying to find it. We get distracted analysing instead of getting our hands dirty and finding out through direct experience.

You can’t be sure it’s the right decision until it’s been made and plays out in your life. So life has to be lived, not theorised to death.

This is the mistake of thinking life is a problem to be solved not an adventure to be lived. We let our heads rule too much, and our heart doesn’t get a say. It’s all so coldly analytical, not the passion that makes us feel alive.

‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.’

Steve Jobs

Poisonous perfection

We doubt because we fear making a mistake, taking an unsuitable job or project. Wasting more time.

This question also points to the poisonous idea of perfection, making life perfectly efficient, without any wrong turns, or mistakes. Trying to live up to some outside standard. But you can’t live like this, such a straight jacket means you will be too afraid to try new ventures, fearful of making a wrong move.

Accepting life is to let go of perfect, and know that you will make mistakes. Perfection is a deceptive and misleading notion. Some of the mistakes you make will end up costing you and others.

Maturity is about having learned the lessons your mistakes gave you. It’s where experience comes in as we often learn more from our mistakes than successes. In some cases our mistakes can take us on paths of greater growth and fulfilment, as what we learn can be taught to others.

The question I posed at the start is all about assuming there’s a perfect life out there waiting for us. We feel the burden of trying to twist or shape our lives to fit.

It’s not about having no goals or aims, but letting go of the idea they have to be fulfilled. Using goals as a compass, to help you move in the right direction. A goal as a guiding principle, not a shape to be completed.

‘A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.’

Bruce Lee

One comforting truth is that we often forget skills and knowledge are often transferable. We may learn skills doing one job, and leave it only to find some of those skills can still be of use. For me and my art, I found a familiarity with colour theory and mixing from my days in youth painting miniatures.

We can lighten the burden about making a choice when we accept that even a misstep can still give us what we need: skills, confidence, memories, knowledge. Even if the knowledge is not to make that mistake again. Life is often more a process of elimination.

Another comfort can be found in the fact that most decisions are rarely final and irreversible. The alternatives you dismissed are often still there available if you make a mistake.

With all this, we can put aside our doubts and fears about being perfect, take each step and let life flow.

Curiosity as the way

‘The more you learn the more you want to learn’

I came across an article in the Atlantic Magazine. Describing how an interest in the Philosopher David Hume leads a woman to put her life back together, after it had fallen apart.

This anecdote is a reminder that we can revive our zest for life if we follow our desires.

Depression for example can lead people to feel there’s nothing worth living for. You know no-one loves you, or wants you. Life like this becomes a place of suffering, of isolation and stagnation. Because you don’t know who you are, you can’t relate to the world in a way that means something to you.

In short, you don’t fit, and you know it.

But there is a way out. Which is the underlying thread of this story and mine.

Curiosity can guide you to places you never imagined, and meet people you never expected. In doing so you rediscover your place, your identity and your purpose.

Although my story is different, I see the similarities. I was lost and alone, depressed about the future, full of doubt. I didn’t venture out due to my social anxiety. I stayed at home and felt lonely.

My saviour, in part, was my curiosity. Over that space of a few years I tried out some new things which interested me. Only one of which worked. A nutrition and healthy eating course for those who want to be therapists. It looked interesting, and I was unwell at the time. I needed to know how to turn my health around and that made me motivated, curious to find out.

This then became the first chapter of my new life. A new beginning where I re-engage with myself and the world. I stopped hiding in the shadows, and ventured forth. I learned much, and still doing so.

The problem many of us have today is that we are not curious enough. We need to stop pretending that we know all the answers. We think we know who we are, and that we can’t change the world or ourselves.

Curiosity is the cure to that illusion. It’s the basis for our passions. The desire to learn more because we don’t know enough.

You may not find the answers you are looking for. But the journey itself will be one of passion, exploration, growth. Which in the final analysis is often how we want to live.

It’s the question that drives you.

Trinity, The MAtrix

But you must be willing to let it drive you.

In trying to find the answers you will come across challenges, and face adversity. In so doing become greater that you are now.

The important thing is not the answers you get at the end, it’s the way in which you find them.

Curiosity is so different to despair, hopelessness. It’s a reminder that life is an adventure to be experienced. Learned through application. When you look at a child they don’t hesitate to learn.

I feel it’s something we have lost as adults. We get caught up in asking ‘is this the right path’. Assessing, analysing, too afraid to take the plunge and try something. Because we don’t know where it will lead us. These doubts and fears means we are often too afraid to try at all.

What we should be doing is diving in, even with such fears. Our curiosity can act as a compass. Whats more it not something that comes fomr within, no-one can tell you’re curious, just like love.

It’s the guiding purpose that keeps us moving. Don’t do things because you seem to get a reward for them. Like a child with building blocks, they get a kick from building it up, then knocking it down.

I suggest you take a moment, and consider what you find fascinating. What are the books on your shelf, the blog posts in your reading app, the music you like to listen to? The sports you follow, or better still practice? The art, music, films you like to experience?

Ask, ‘What would happen if I did this? What would it be like if this were to happen? ‘

Perhaps a better question. Where has your curiosity lead you so far? How did you get to where you are. What questions were you trying to answer? What fascinates you now?

See problems as an object of curiosity to be examined rather than feared. As for the future. What are the biggest questions you have now?

Instead of asking what you want to accomplish, it’s better to all what do you want to learn.

Start right now in finding the answers. Right what you learn down somewhere. Let the questions you have be your guide, and get ready for a rollercoaster of a ride.

‘Am I on the right path’ and questions like it make a lot of assumptions and come with a lot of baggage. We’re impatient for success and want to reap the benefits of work sooner not later. We feel we have to live perfectly and avoid mistakes.

Further still, we expect a path to be laid out for us because it’s hard to create one for yourself and were lazy. It fails to accept that emotions and a zest for life are necessary to make life worth living. It’s a slave to idealistic notions about what life is about.

What I have learned is that excessive questions about life can lead to overthinking and are based more upon our fears and insecurities.

Direction and purpose come from within not without. Trust in yourself a little more and be mindful to the feelings you have, your intuition.

‘Am I on the right path’ is grasping towards a certainty that’s not there. We end up playing it safe and hide from the vicissitudes of life. Instead, we need to let go of certainty and embrace just a little more the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.

That’s what makes life it compelling, scary and most of all ours. The accomplishments will be ours, the obstacles our own, and through that our life is a story only we can tell.

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Photo by Dana Tentis form PxHere

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