It's not what you do that matters or even how, but why

Son, I don't really care what you do in life or how you go about doing it so long as I can understand and sympathise with the reasons why you are doing it.

You can't predict what will happen to you, what opportunities will come your way, what will catch your interest. These days you can't predict what the world will look like. So there is no point in planning what you will do.

Likewise you can only have loose plans on how you will get anywhere, because life will undoubtedly mess them up. The military say "no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy".

The key is to know why you are doing what you do. Have three things worked out:

  1. some basic principles to live your life by
  2. your life priorities
  3. some broad goals

When I was young I had some broad principles, although it is only with hindsight that I can lay them out clearly:

  • You only get one life
  • Give everyone a chance
  • Everything is interesting if you really look at it
  • The more detail you notice the more you can achieve. When i was about 7 or 8, I read The Last of the Mohicans and decided I wanted to train myself to notice as much detail as an Indian tracker.
    • Oh...and I believed I could do anything if I set my mind to it. My parents gave me that, but I'm not sure how they did it.

      They weren't a great set of principles. I wish I had sat down and thought them through better. But I had some.

      With your principles in mind, you can sort out your life priorities. So long as you have your priorities clearly sorted, then decisions are easy, even the hard ones.

      Take the time to decide your priorities, and review them every few years or at any life-changing event. Write them down, ranked from No. 1 downwards. Give it proper time and effort – do it properly and honestly. No equals. Be realistic, honest and at times brutal. Don’t write what you think they “should” be, write what they really are.

      Get at least the top half dozen clear and settled – the rest don’t matter so much, though it is good to be clear on what comes at the bottom too. If you get stuck, try getting a couple of trusted friends together for an evening to help each other develop your priority lists.

      I never really did this when I was younger. I had conflicting priorities and no clear idea of what all my priorities were.

      Now I'm older I have it more sorted:

      1. Security and happiness of my nuclear family: my wife, son, mother, and sister.

      2. My son’s growth, development and education.

      3. Our home.

      4. Travel and other novel experiences.

      5. Self-expression, for example through writing or creative hobbies.

      Money isn't on there though it is implied in some of them.

      Finally, with principles and priorities understood you can set yourself some goals. Once again I drifted when young without some good clear goals to shoot for. I had one goal, to get as close to wisdom as I could, to try to become wise. To get there I knew I needed to build broad general knowledge and a rich set of experiences. But beyond that I suffered and didn't achieve much because I lacked some goals to shoot for and some priorities to guide me, and I could have used a clearer set of principles to live by.

      Don't feel pressured when people are asking you "what are you going to be when you grow up?". You can tell them you don't know yet, it depends what happens, but you do know that.... and then explain some of your principles, priorities and goals. Principles, priorities and goals are what you need to feel good about life, make good progress and get satisfying results. If you have those and live by them, I'll be proud of you whatever you choose to do.