What should you do with your life? Find out!

While I’m in this place of spilling secrets, here’s another one: “What should I do with my life?” is a question I ask myself too. (This turned out to be a bit long, but I’ve written it in a way that you can split it in two readings if you need to.)

Yes, me. Me, the manager who already has Managing with Aloha and a sweet coaching business built up to share it, and me the writer, who is very excited about firing up the site again and who is having a ton of fun doing so because I am not bored by what I already have (not even close). Me, the empty nester whose baby birds completely pay their own way in life now (finally) so she can take her husband to Las Vegas to play more often, and me, the speaker who can talk story with a room of 6 or 700 people and not quake in her slippers anymore (or so I tell myself).

To anyone who thinks this question is a one-time deal, usually leading up to college graduation, you’re wrong. Life doesn’t happen that way. School and other conventions are man-made contrivances. Life is a rule-breaker. You work on something, you think you’ve arrived — maybe even aced it — and then you try to fall asleep one night and you can’t, because the question decided it was time to show up again. I figure it’s happened to me a truly gut-wrenching four or five times now, the last time being just three months ago, January 20th, 2012 to be exact, when I got a letter that stamped a very big, all legal-official big, “No. No can do, and we will actively stop you from trying again.” on a BHAG-quality relocation project I have been working on for roughly forty years now. (BHAG is “big hairy audacious goal,” a phrase coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last.) When the question slips in the night of a BHAG failure you remember the date. It was the mother of all my gut-wrenchers, and thank goodness for my family, for they kept me from sinking in some tailspin of depression, which certainly would not be a managing with the grace of ALOHA practice.

“What should I do with my life?” is a good question, though it tends to be in that category of questions which also get you to say, “this makes me want to puke.” If you stick with the gut-wrenching, and HO‘OMAU enough to answer it in a spirit-spilling way, you just get on with doing something once the puking is over and you’ve cleaned it up. You add one little word to the question that helps you take the next step, so that you can then take the step that comes after that one:

“What should I do with my life now?”

In living through my gut-wrenchers, and in helping many others work their way through theirs, I have discovered that focusing on those next steps is the very best thing we can do, for they do add up. And sometimes, they walk you toward an answer you never would have thought was a certifiable answer for you, when lo and behold, it is! You see, the frustrating stumper in asking, “What should I do with my life?” is that usually, at that point in time, and especially at that point in time, we truly don’t know what we want. That’s why we’re asking the question in the first place!

“Never would have thought that blogging would be my job, but I sure do love it.”
Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess

“Plodding housewifery [as the woman who gave up her career and stayed home] sounds great to me!”
April, aka @apsies

“I believe I’m as happy as it is possible to be. I’m not crying out in ecstatic pleasure, or streaming tears of joy, but I am very happy. It’s not a peak of happiness, but a plateau of happiness that can go on for as long as I live.”
Leo Babauta, mnmlist

The Managing with Aloha step-by-step answer to the question, is HO‘OHANA + ‘IMI OLA in powerful combination:

Passion in your work, creativity in your life.

You can also describe this powerhouse as creative invention in your work, done for the passion in your life. Either way, they focus on the steps you take. The key of course, are to make them good steps worth the taking — that’s what the rest of this post will be about.

I have a favor to ask of you. As you read the rest of this, please resist any urge you might get with saying, “Yeah, but there must be more to it than this.”

  1. We make things way more complicated than they need to be, because we’ll riddle them with assumptions. 90% of our assumptions may never happen. We can beat them, and we regularly do: think about it. Thus,
  2. I’ll be happy to have the “there’s more to it than this” conversation with you AFTER you’ve done the following exercise. We haven’t any room for “yeah, but”s in our MWA vocabulary.

This is the way I have helped others get through their gut-wrenchers, and the way my family helped me get through mine. Everyone needs a coach sometimes, even other coaches (we get assumptions that are real doozies). If the question has you feeling weak in the knees, get someone you trust to prop you up: Asking for help is the most courageous thing we do in life, and you can do it. Think of it as a gift, for other people like being helpers, especially those who care about you. You’re actually telling them they’re trustworthy, and that you trust them with something really big because you recognize their wisdom.

Ready? If not, stop here and sleep on it (if you can). The rest of this post will be waiting when you are ready.

As for that letter I got? It’s not over until I say it’s over. I don’t cave that easily, especially not with my BHAGs. I’ve cleaned up the puke, and I’m still next-stepping right along with you, one good step at a time.

An Exercise in Living for You

One of the most powerful self-coaching exercises you can gift yourself is this one: For the next two weeks time (at minimum, longer is better), sit down with pen and paper right before you go to bed, and take just 5 minutes to answer these two questions:

1. What did I LOVE doing today?

2. What did I HATE doing today?

Think of them as good distractions when “What should I do with my life?” is keeping you up at night, and the very next step you crave is a good night’s sleep. These questions focus on putting the day to bed. The habit of it will lead us toward our next steps instead of describing a goal we can’t describe because we really aren’t sure what we want. Not yet, but we’re willing to do what it takes to find out.

These are the 3 key words of the exercise:

LOVE. Not like, or it was okay; you LOVED it.

HATE. Not dislike, or it bothered you; you LOATHED it.

DOING. Your loves and hates describe actions you personally did. You.

This exercise is about revealing your passions when you suspect you need to look for them.

At the end of the two weeks, do an honest assessment of your results: What did you learn about yourself? Did you affirm something you’ve been suspecting?

Passion is a word I often hesitate using, because it makes people feel overwhelmed. Most of us feel we need great-and-only-great answers when we talk about our passions, when thinking about your loves and your hates is exactly the same thing. Those are the two stripes great answers to passion come in, loves and hates.

Passion can also succumb to this misery-loves-company baggage that the word work gets saddled with. Sure it takes work, this thing we think of as finding our passion, so buck up and do the work on your own terms — that’s what the HO‘OHANA version of work and ‘IMI OLA version of creative reinvention are all about! The alternative is to settle, be complacent or bored, and end up unhappy. Pure yuck. You do not want misery, no matter how much company it has.

One of the things I LOVE about our post-Great-Recession world today, is that people of all ages have given themselves blessed permission to break “the rules” and kiss old conventions goodbye. We are rediscovering what makes our hearts sing as a newly working-as-we-can society, doing what we love, and then figuring out how to self-support ourselves as we do it. That formula really works. It’s a “believe it and you can achieve it” kind of thing. Belief is mighty powerful, so evoke your power.

Next-stepping is a sensible path of self-discovery.

This hasn’t been easy, I know. The past few years have been rough, and they remain rough for many, but we humans are survivors, and we don’t give up, or stop trying: We HO‘OMAU and persist. It might be that we’ve gotten into this becoming-happier place because we can’t find a job under the old ways of getting one, but whatever the bumpiness of the path, we are getting there, and we are reaping the rewards of starting our work search with our passions:

Did you catch that? It’s become a WORK search for us, not a JOB search. Job is about task. Work is about our blood, sweat and tears and our spirit: Work is about HO‘OHANA done for ‘IMI OLA — our best possible life.

Here’s what this discovery sounded like for Kristin Kimball, in one of my favorite books read in recent memory (I reviewed it on Goodreads):

“I was forced to confront my own prejudice. I had come to the farm with the unarticulated belief that concrete things were for dumb people and abstract things were for smart people. I thought the physical world – the trades – was the place you ended up if you weren’t bright or ambitious enough to handle a white-collar job. Did I really think that a person with a genius for fixing engines, or for building, or for husbanding cows, was less brilliant than a person who writes ad copy or interprets the law? Apparently I did, though it amazes me now.”
― Kristin Kimball, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love (Amazon.com Link)

If you are feeling like you’re going through the motions of a job which doesn’t deliver the passionate work of an ‘IMI OLA life, please try this journaling exercise. It will help you focus on where to start shifting toward better. Even if you don’t yet know what to call it, you’ll work on doing more of your LOVES more often, and give far less of your time to your HATES.

If anyone insists you call it something, say, “I’m next-stepping with Rosa and Managing with Aloha” and give them this link. We’ll welcome them in with our ALOHA, I assure you!

Marcus and Me

Postscript: I want to give credit where credit is due: This coaching came into my practice as a streamlined variation of the coaching given to us by Marcus Buckingham in his book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work — which I highly, HIGHLY recommend: Every Alaka‘i Manager should read it, do his 6-Step program, and keep a copy in their resource library (right next to Managing with Aloha, of course :)

I also recommend Po Bronson’s book, What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question [Kindle Edition]. Here’s a good article in preview, in the Fast Company archives.

About Rosa Say

Rosa is the author of Managing with Aloha. She’s a writer and photo-taker, a workplace culture coach, and a zealous advocate of managers everywhere. She’s a wife and mom, sister and daughter, manager, leader and worker bee, living the best life she can, just like you. Learn more about Rosa at www.RosaSay.com


  1. I do love that simple addition of the word ‘now’ :-)

    You reminded me of this poem that I found yesterday, on taking the next step.


    • Rosa Say says:

      Thank you for sharing that Joanna, it’s the perfect complement to what we’re talking about here! I liked this part of the poem in particular:

      Start with your own
      give up on other
      people’s questions,
      don’t let them
      smother something

  2. Rosa Say says:

    There’s a great post from Steven Pressfield today, which can help you stop saying, Why am I like this?Don’t go there!

    It may not be you, but something else. Give it another name (for Pressfield it’s Resistance) and let it be that something else, and chances are you can deal with it better, or shake it off, and ignore it altogether.

    Don’t be someone who beats yourself up, for you already have your hands full making sure nobody else does either.

    Don’t dwell on that anxiety. Don’t overthink it.

    Get up. Get moving. Do whatever you have to do to seize the reins of that chariot and to take command of those four unruly horses.

    Fiery chargers are good. Horsepower is what we want. We just have to learn how to gain control of those magnificent, passionate beasts and to get them to take us where we want to go.

    Pressfield is talking about that same next-stepping we happen to be focused on. Read his post here: My Head in the Morning

  3. Rosa Say says:

    So how’s life?
    The LOVE / HATE journaling boils down to taking a really good look at your own life, and how it’s actually going for you instead of living in a state of denial.

    I got an email asking, “But what if I don’t know how to analyze what I’ve got when the two weeks are over?” You’ll know. If you don’t, keep up with the nightly ritual until you do.

    You’ll come to a point where there is so much evidence staring you in the face that you simply can’t avoid it anymore. Sometimes it will be something small — that proverbial pea under the mattress — and it took that time for you to feel it accurately, and not believe it was something else.

    Here’s a short story from Robbie Abed: Fire Me. I Beg You. He self-coaches with two questions that are “Dig deeper, and don’t lie to yourself” kind of questions — they can help you in your analysis too.

    In every situation I ask myself two questions:

    1. What do I want the outcome of this situation to be
    2. What do I secretly want the outcome of this situation to be

  4. Rosa Say says:

    PURPOSE is the other word that will get thrown into this conversation, and people can say “passion” and “purpose” interchangeably when they aren’t the same thing at all (similar to that challenge we can have with management and leadership).

    Here is a good article by curator Maria Popova: How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love. Her opening:

    Why prestige is the enemy of passion, or how to master the balance of setting boundaries and making friends.

    “Find something more important than you are,” philosopher Dan Dennett once said in discussing the secret of happiness, “and dedicate your life to it.” But how, exactly, do we find that? Surely, it isn’t by luck. I myself am a firm believer in the power of curiosity and choice as the engine of fulfillment, but precisely how you arrives at your true calling is an intricate and highly individual dance of discovery. Still, there are certain factors — certain choices — that make it easier. Gathered here are insights from seven thinkers who have contemplated the art-science of making your life’s calling a living.

    The 7 thinkers are:
    1. Paul Graham, Y-Combinator founder and essayist
    2. Alain de Botton, modern philosopher and creator of the “literary self-help genre”
    3. Hugh MacLeod, irreverent cartoonist and opinionated writer on creativity, culture, and the meaning of life
    4. Lewis Hyde, quoted within his 1979 classic, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World
    5. Steve Jobs, and his now-legendary 2005 Stanford commencement address
    6. Robert Krulwich, co-producer of WNYC’s Radiolab, author of the Krulwich Wonders and winner of a Peabody Award for broadcast excellence, and
    7. The Holstee Manifesto as an eloquent and beautifully written love letter to the life of purpose.

  5. John says:

    Aloha Rosa:
    I work in the airline industry and began to question “The Aloha Spirit”. I have been trying to divest as much of the fodder being offered in the mainstream of books, copy, principles and many narrative given additions to the meaning but find myself at the crossroads. Here is the concern. People whenever dissatisfied with any action seen as not conforming to a personal ideal use the term like a “knife”. You no more aloha spirit, because I did not let that person cut in front of me at a concert, or meet their personal satisfaction or need, yet the phrase “no more aloha spirit” is one and the same, always used and inferred to a person of Hawaiian Ancestry, is this not discrimination?

    • Rosa Say says:

      Aloha John,
      What you describe is unfortunate, and often comes from those who, in my view, haven’t their own good understanding of Aloha, and what it can be for them when experienced as the unconditional acceptance of love that it is — both love of self, and love of others inclusively, and with Lokomaika‘i —the generous understanding of good heart. Please don’t be discouraged by the naysayers, and lead them gently by merit of your own good example.
      Have you seen this posting here? Start with two words: “with Aloha”.
      Thank you for reading, and for reaching out,


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