The Undeclared Life: Goal-Setting for the Undecided

Goals, the magic word that pops up when our generation talks about what it means to be an adult. From an early age the idea of striving towards something is instilled in us as a necessity. At each phase of our life we have goals to work toward, and by the time we graduate from school, we’re supposed to have this bright shiny elevator pitch prepared when your relative asks what our “plan” is.

Everyone needs to be working towards something, right? Going into a job interview with zero goals is basically asking for unemployment, right? If you don’t have any goals, you’re a failure, right?  Well, to hell with that.

Surprise: Failure doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means you’re not right yet.

There are a million reasons to remain undecided, and absolutely none of them mean “failure.” You’re worried enough to read an article about it on the internet, so you’re obviously doing something about it. And that is everything.

So why does indecision feel like failure?

Our generation was raised on failure; or rather, the fear of it. It’s not about survival, anymore. It’s about validation from others.

“Failure” starts by comparing ourselves to an outdated model.

What Grandpa doesn’t know is…if he were in your shoes, he probably wouldn’t have his own house, either.

People today are so enamored by achievement, that we don’t have time to incubate our ideas anymore. Why bother, when we can just share our half-formed notions in 140 characters or less?

As humans, we are designed to change our minds.

Adapting to this change is what made us as advanced as we are today. The last time we had one, singular purpose was in Prehistoric times. What was our “goal” then? Survival. And now, humans have more freedom than ever. We have more time. We have more food. We have more knowledge. And it’s a lot to process.

So: you’re out of college, but remain Undeclared. What do you do?

You were hoping for a list of tips for an easy way out, weren’t you? Too bad.

Because if you embrace your circumstance, you’re going to give yourself something better than the momentary misery of indecision or lack of direction.

Indecision is the most under-appreciated creativity hack in existence. Here are some famous examples.

Ever heard of James Joyce? You better have.


Writing was something he enjoyed, but didn’t necessarily plan as a career. He happened to be a talented singer, so music was his main gig. It wasn’t until he was 32 that his first book was published.

His writing was better, from having lived it. Imagine if James Joyce spent his entire adult life doing nothing other than writing? Without failure, indecision, confusion, and wandering, he’d have nothing interesting to say.

Without those years of indecision, James Joyce may not have become one of the most celebrated authors of all time, publishing some of the most famous stories in the world including The Dubliners, Ulysses, and The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Suze Orman

201106-omag-suze-orman-949x534She is now one of the world’s top personal finance experts, with millions of fans. But she didn’t graduate college with plans to become a money maven. In fact, she had no idea what she wanted. But because she was “supposed” to, Orman settled on a goal: opening a café.

That was when it all went to shit. After a friend invested $50,000 into her business, Suze Orman lost it. Every single penny.

Realizing how poorly she managed her money, Suze Orman decided to get better at it. This led to her finally finding her niche, well into her 30s.

Now tell me, was her life before finance a waste of time?

“But what about finding your passion?”

The word “passion” is just another single-minded box to put your potential in. Your career does not depend on passion.

If Harrison Ford stuck with his “passion,” Han Solo would not be Han Solo.

han-solo-mainHarrison Ford was actually a carpenter for 15 years. And he loved it. His only real “goal” was to be financially stable, and make cool stuff. (Yeah, he made sets for The Doors on tour. NBD.)

One day, George Lucas (a no-name producer at the time,) offered him a tiny role on a set he had been building. He said yes, out of sheer curiosity. This was the beginning of a surprise career change for Ford, which would eventually lead him to Star Wars.

Yes, your passion can (and will) change.

Kalpen Modi (he played Kumar Patel in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) recently came to the realization that his true calling wasn’t Hollywood. It was Washington.

After spending years building his acting career, Modi changed his mind – big time. He actually had his character on House commit suicide, just so that he could quit and join the Obama administration. He now works at the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Yup, this guy works in the White House now.

So what does this mean for you?

Most success stories don’t follow the Hollywood Timeline.

Success is not a straight line. It might look like a zig-zag. Or a circle. Maybe it’s a series of unconnected dots. Some of the richest, most famous, and brightest people out there are still waiting for that moment where they’ve “made it.” Unfortunately, this moment only exists when you let it.

Your only “goal” is to find a goal. Here’s how.

1. Spend a day pretending that money doesn’t matter, time doesn’t matter, and what other people think doesn’t matter. Just pretend. I know… it’s hard.

2. Then, make a point to see what excites you most about your normal, boring day. Follow that glimmer of excitement and see where it leads you.

All it takes is one hour

Is making breakfast fun? Cool. Spend an hour trying to invent a new dish.

Do you love doing your makeup? Sweet. Experiment with it and see how many looks you can create in one hour.

Are you constantly on social media? If it makes you happy, explore it. Maybe take an hour to check out social media promotion gigs.

If you really enjoy yourself, decide to spend an hour on it tomorrow. Maybe next week, it’ll be two hours a day. Keep going, if it feels good – and in a year, you’ll have mad skills.

But what if I don’t like doing this in a year?

Chances are, you won’t like it the same as you did when you started. But moving in one direction – any direction – is better than standing still. It doesn’t matter if it’s your “calling.” You’re in your twenties. The skills you develop now will ultimately benefit you, no matter where you end up.

The most important decision to make right now – the one that will have the largest impact on the next 5 years of your life, is this:

Enjoy the process.

unbreakable kimmy schmidt ellie kemper

Play. Try something you’ll never be good at. Get better at something you already know. Focus on activities, not results.

Living undeclared is actually a gift. By not knowing, you are open to more possibilities than you would be if you just “decided.”

You don’t win an Oscar for writing your acceptance speech. Why should life be any different?

Adulthood is not a school. There are no A’s and B’s. There is no pass or fail. It’s really just a giant study hall.

…So, what would you like to work on, today?