What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 08/06/09 •  5 min read

Recently I have found myself slightly overwhelmed.

This is the first time in my life where I’ve been unsure of what’s next.

All through grade school and high school, I always knew what was coming.

After eighth grade, comes ninth.

I had known since I was 12 which college I would be attending.

Six months before graduation, I had a job fall in my lap. Everything has always been easy.

I’ve never had to make much in the way of life changing decisions.

Fast forward to now.

I have been at my job for two years, and I am not sure it’s where I want to be spending the next two. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity, and I really enjoy the people that I work with, however, it just isn’t that interesting or fulfilling for me.

I make efforts to try and be more engaged, yet I struggle with it. I work hard and always do the best I can, yet I’m getting to the point where I dread going there.  I sit at a desk for nine hours a day in front of a computer screen crunching numbers; it’s the exact thing I always said I DIDN’T want.

I have been building this blog and community to support the decision to change my lifestyle. But what if I still haven’t figured out exactly what that lifestyle is?  I know that I want to run my own business. I know that I want to travel.

Alright, that gets me part way there.

But do I turn into a digital nomad and travel for years? Do I start my business here in Portland and then take shorter journeys? What is the best way to go about it? I’m realizing there is no best way, and no one can make the decision for me.  I have to decide what I feel is best for myself, and move forward with that.

Maybe I should just go spend some time here?

Maybe I should just go spend some time here?

However, it’s encouraging to know how much progress I’ve made, compared to where I was a year ago. I have a much better idea of what I want, as well as what I don’t.

While I may not know all the details, I know enough to make progress towards getting there. I’ve learned the lesson that you don’t always have to know exactly what’s next in life. You don’t need to know every single detail to make a change or to do things differently.

That’s exciting to me.

I just have to make sure that I keep setting goals and continue to make forward progress. The last thing I want is to go against everything I have been writing about here.

For any of you that might be going through a similar situation, I want to provide you with a few resources to show that people have done it and been extraordinarily successful, not in spite of their decision to quit, but because of it.

A few articles at Location Rebel:

Quit Your Job, Move to Hawaii –My buddy Ryan did exactly this, he wrote a four part series about his journey. And let me just say, his current lifestyle is so cool it’s been really hard not to hop on the next flight out of PDX. (UPDATED: Updated in 2018 to be a single blog post).

These Stories from Location Rebel Academy – I did a minor update to this post in 2020. We’ve now had SO many people with these success stories, I figured it was just worth linking the playlist of a handful of them here.

I would love to hear what YOU do when you aren’t sure what to do next.  I know that this current wave of frustration will quickly pass, and the more time I spend really considering my goals, the more motivated I am to take action.

I think that is what you do when you don’t know what to do.

Look at yourself, your goals, and your life.  Decide what you don’t like and change it!  Sure it’s never that simple, but the more time I spend reflecting on what I’m not satisfied with, the easier it becomes to make the change.

Reading through this post,  I am realizing that it’s a little more personal than many of my other posts.

At first I neglected to actually consider posting it due to this fact.  However I quickly realized that I want this to be a community of support and learning, and in order to accurately depict the process I’m going through, there has to be a little bit of vulnerability.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I will get to where I am trying to go, but the path to get there isn’t always easy!

Anyways leave some comments and give me your thoughts, I would love to hear them!

Ready to start a lifestyle business of your own? Over a decade later, I’m still helping people make big changes in their lives. Click here to get started for free.

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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21 comments on "What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do"

  1. NomadicNeil says:

    I have had a similar experience growing up (structured progress, most people right?) and am also at the same stage you are at now. I’m just going to take the plunge and take things as they come.

    I’m lucky in that I have a bunch of friends and acquaintances that live unconventional life styles, I always used to think that they had it all planned out and was jealous of them because I never knew exactly what I wanted out of life. I’ve now learned that most of them just do what they enjoy in the moment and give over everything to the tasks at hand.

    I think, growing up I was indoctrinated with the false idea that I need to fit my life into some kind of narrative, first I do this, then this, then that and then comes the pay off happily ever after (most people probably think like this). Following that way of thinking hasn’t brought me what I want so now I’m going to try a different approach (one that I’ve taken before and has given me much better results).

    So that’s my plan, to just go and do ‘it’ like your friend Ryan and make it work no matter what. And once I’ve done ‘it’ I’ll probably look for another ‘it’ to do, and after that another one.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    People often ask: “How did you get here?” To wherever I am that month (somewhere in Asia/Australia/Europe), to my current career of travel-writing and illustration. In retrospect the path seems clear, but it certainly wasn’t at the time. More often than not intuition and chance had plenty to do with it. But more than anything was creating solutions to practical problems/obstacles to my goals.

    Instead of listening to “No” when I see a balance sheet, I think “How?” and often I figure out a way to make it happen.

  3. Sean says:

    @Neil I know one of the things Ryan mentioned is surrounding yourself with like minded people, and I think that is really important. One of the most beneficial aspects of this blog has been to connect with people that have actually done what I am going to do, and to meet others like yourself that are in the same position as me. When are you planning on leaving? Any thoughts on where you are going to go? And Thanks again for all the comments recently, I really appreciate them!

    @Elizabeth It seems that almost everyone I have talked that has already broken free has said the same thing. It wasn’t clear at the time, but looking back it was the best decision I ever made. I think having the “how” mindset is a valuable way to approach problems and life. There are answers out there, it is just a matter of caring enough to find them. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Elisa says:

    Wow, how did I not know about this site before…generally I know about the cool folks from the OTHER Portland. I look forward to reading more!

    I’m struggling with this a lot myself right now. I know that in the end the jump will either be made or not, and that is a decision falling solely on me. However I’m not a brave blind jumper like some others (who I am in total awe of, by the way.) I’m a calculated analytical thinker, I like to have at least most of my ducks in a row before I make any moves.

    To this end (and knowing myself) I set a goal and timeline for this jump to take place. From a pivotal point in the beginning, I decided that I would collect info/prepare financially/explore options for 36 months. Sounds like a lot, but 8 have already FLOWN by. I’ve told many people of my timeline, written it all over the place and started strategically making moves towards the goal. This was the best way for ME to feel “comfortable” making a move.

  5. NomadicNeil says:

    Yup, I know exactly when I’m leaving and where I’m going. Just a little paranoid about exposing myself before I’m ready to do so.

    1. Sean says:

      @Elisa There are a lot of cool folks here aren’t there? I am actually meeting up with a bunch of them tonight at Chris Guillebeau’s Tweetup, should be a good time! But I know exactly what you are going through. I am a pretty calculated person as well, and while I have made the occasional blind jump in life, it isn’t usually as life changing. So I am just taking things once step at a time and recognizing that its all going to work out in the end! Thanks for the comment, and I look forward to reading more on your blog!

      @Neil Welcome to my world…I have been a little too open about my desire to leave, which may come back to screw me later; or at least speed up the process!

  6. The older you get, the more painful your inactions toward your dreams become. If you could take a snapshot of your life at 40, and know how much that regret sucks at that point, it would make your decision easier. You really don’t want to wake up one day realizing you should have and wasted a lot of time not chasing your dreams. The clock is ticking.

    But as to which way to do it? That’s up to you, and none of us get to peek ahead to see if it’ll work. Just do what you think will make you happy and go at it. Make it up as you go like we all do. But I suggest chasing your happy, whatever that is to you. Not everyone does that.


  7. Nate says:

    The key is just to keep moving forward. This is a great post. I especially like how you said this:

    “The last thing I want is to go against everything I have been writing about here.”

    I feel that way all the time. It is so important to practice what you preach! That’s why I LOVE having my blog. It keeps me so accountable that I don’t really see how I could fail. And the same goes for you I’m sure. Good post hope all is well!

  8. Brandy says:

    I completely empathize with you, Sean. I know I want to travel and have a lifestyle that lets me choose where and when I want to work, but I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to make it work for me. No words of wisdom because I have yet to make the leap, but good luck with whatever you decide to do. I look forward to hearing about it.

  9. Ross says:

    Good post Sean. I’m definitely in a similar position right now. I do like my current job and the people there but at the same time I’m hesitant to say it’s perfect and what I really want to do. I have made the decision, though, to start a couple things on the side and see how they go. Whichever one I turn out to like the best will eventually(sooner rather than later) take up the majority of my time.
    I personally like keeping a stable job while exploring other options. Once I get my head around the other things, it’s time to make a decision on which one to ditch.
    No matter what stage you are at, “Ready, Fire, Aim” is a good way to see new problems.

  10. Hi Sean,

    One of the best decisions I made in my life was to come to Japan to teach English. If you are not sure what you want to do with your life than I highly recommend teaching abroad.

    The benefits are:
    1. You can instantly escape the old habits that have been keeping you stagnant.
    2. You can earn money while living abroad.
    3. You can probably save more money than you are in your home country. ($1000 per month is not uncommon)
    4. You have close and inexpensive exotic travel opportunities.
    5. You leave behind all the consumerism and peer pressure to conform to a certain accepted way of living.
    6. Your new surroundings will give you many new ideas of what you want to do with your life.

    Is it unlikely that teaching will be your life’s work, but I don’t know of a more effect way to reset.

  11. Karen says:

    Bravo for the honest post! I think honest thoughts are always more interesting to read, although they may be harder to write.

    I totally understand what you are going through…. I’m struggling with many simialr things right now. I feel like i can do ANYTHING… no attachments, kids, serious career positions, car payments… I have nothing tying me down. Which almost makes it harder to know which way to head. I agree about knowing that I want to work for myself, and be much more mobile. But, beyond that I am not sure about much. I guess we have to start with what we know for sure, no matter how small, and just concentrate on that.
    Good luck with your journey, I’m sure you will find the answers you are looking for. 🙂

  12. Colin Wright says:

    I hear you, Sean.

    I’m less than three weeks from moving out of LA, a place that has been very good to me for the past two+ years, and now that the idea of moving to a place (and then more and more places after that) where I don’t speak the language, know a thing about the culture, etc etc etc is becoming more and more a reality, I can’t help but think ‘what exactly is my next step?!’

    At the end of the day, though, I know that the next step is whatever I choose to make it, and THAT is the reward of all the uncertainty and risk. The same goes for you, brother, and I have no doubt that whatever path you end up choosing, you’ll make the most of it (and hopefully keep us all updated on your progress 🙂

  13. Great post, another honest look at changing assumptions and breaking free. I currently work full time for a company, and even though I’ve already worked for myself full time, I don’t want to go back to that, or at least not how I was doing it. It’s time to be an owner, and I think that takes a ton of work, but ultimately it’s a undeniable goal of lifestyle design.

    On what to do next..there’s a balance to strike between how nomadic and cheap you want to be, and how you want to build up income to live a lifestyle of your choosing. We can’t all be driving Ferrari’s but we don’t all want to be in apartments in Bali working at internet cafe’s either.

    It sounds like you, I and several of the commenters know what we want, we just don’t know the best roads to put us there. Since I’ve made a unrelenting resolve to live the life I want some 60 days ago, I’ve gotten lost a lot on what to do next. Here’s what’s helped.

    Reality Checks – Knowing life needs to change, these are the areas that always came into play.
    –financial basics, stop wasting on liabilities.
    –minimizing useless physical belongings
    –maximizing productive efficiency process for generating ideas for income, or for the ideas you already have that are generating income
    –minimizing time wasting processes in my life (constant e-mail checks, making dinner every night, etc.)
    –plan out your dream life style, treat them like business goals. achieve them.

    Talking to Like Minded People
    –making blog friends, asking questions and advice, meeting people with ideas to start anything and everything. i’ve met real estate consultants, “muse generators”, landing page developers, etc in search of a free lifestyle.

    Write about it, as you’re doing and don’t give up!
    -I started a project just like you called thelifedesignproject to chronicle my steps from absolutely nothing, a desk job, and plenty of debt to a lean efficiently dream filled auto income generating life! … I’m still working on it. Writing about it reminds me what steps I’ve taken and what should be next.

    The rubber meets the road somewhere and separates the people that are doing it from people just talking about doing it. I’m really starting to hit strides with efficiency at work, I’ve decided what I want out of a designed life, with the free’d time I’m focusing on other lifedesign reading. I now have a more clear vision, and so I’m moving to the big next step…income generation. I can’t live out the dreamlines, travel or escape work until passive income is greater than monthly expense. Income generation will look a little different for all of us (but only a little), for me, its been talking with a consultant, being a consultant, niche exploitation of myself, and training myself to see in “opportunity vision” and then testing the potential products I see. I’d be glad to talk to one and all about what I’m doing and help anyone if anyones interested in it, or just needs a wall to bounce things off of. Here’s to all of us helping each other make it happen!

    1. Sean says:

      @ Rob, I think you officially win the prize for longest comment in Location 180 history! And I think that is awesome, seriously some of the things you have hit on here should be articles in themselves. I have checked out your site and would love to talk to you more about everything you are doing. I think we are in very similar situations. Now that I have the blog up and running and am continuing to build up a readership, the next step is income generation and how to go about it? Do I try and create meaningful revenue with advertising? Do I trade my time for money and do consulting work? Devote the time to writing information products? Set up affiliate sites? All of the above? When you still have a 50 hour a week job, deciding where to devote your remaining free time can be a very difficult thing. But I have to start to shift some of my focus to generating an income if my plans are going to be successful, I just have to do it in a way that wont effect the quality of my work on this site. So those are a few of the tings I am struggling with. I would definitely like to talk more about your situation and use each other as resources to get to our end goal. Thanks for such a detailed and inspiring comment, I know others will be getting just as much out if it as I did!

      @Colin Man, you are getting close! I am really excited to read more from you over the coming weeks, because you are actually putting to practice what so many only talk about doing. You are very right in that your next step is whatever YOU choose to make it, and you are choosing to make the most of it, which I have tremendous respect for. Good luck selling the car, and definitely keep us posted about your transition to Argentina!

      @Karen, Isn’t hard knowing you are in the perfect situation to do ANYTHING you want in life, but just can’t seem to figure out the best route to take? I know that is something I am struggling with. I have general ideas and plans, but have been reluctant to make DEFINITE plans. The time for action is getting closer though, and as I continue to figure out what I really want for my life, I know the action will be easier!

      @John, That has definitely been something I have considering. I know a few different people that have said teaching abroad is the best decision they have ever made. One of my considerations has been teaching in Thailand; I really think that would be an incredible experience. I definitely want to hear more about your time in Japan, so I will get in touch with you soon. I appreciate all of the comments on the site, you are providing some great insight to the community!

      Man I am realizing that I need to do a MUCH better job of responding to comments sooner. But I really do want to let you know how much I appreciate them. I love hearing about how other people have handled the situations I am in, and learning about all of you in the process! Now moving on…

      @Ross I know what you mean about keeping a regular job while exploring your options. I have been doing that all year, yet the time for action is becoming closer. I think that at some point you just have to take the leap, otherwise you will always keep making excuses. Necessity breeds action, and until you HAVE to find a way to support yourself, you will always find excuses. Im getting ready to stop making excuses and start taking action. Even if it is just in the form of extended travel. I can always work in hostels for awhile to keep myself afloat!

      @Brandy Well I look forward to hearing about what happens when you do make the leap! Definitely keep us posted, and thanks for the comment!

      @Nate I have definitely found that having a blog makes the whole process easier. I get to connect people that have either already done what I am trying to do, or in the process of doing the same thing. Not to mention being forced to write on a regular basis allows me to discover things about myself that I may have never realized.

      @James, Your comment hit me a little bit harder than most. Tick-tock. Thats all you have to say. Time is just going to keep on ticking, and the longer I “plan” the more time is wasted. While that may be a little extreme, it is true to a point. There are definitely days where I feel like I have made more progress than others, and I need to make it a priority every single day to get a few steps closer to my end goal. But I do have to figure out what works for me, and that is what I am doing, and will continue to do. I hope you will keep stopping by to help hold me accountable though! Thanks for the comment!

  14. Cath Duncan says:

    Love the honesty of this post, Sean.

    I took a year off after finishing high school, to experience loads of different things (travel/ job shadowing various types of careers, working odd-jobs, trying out some entrepreneurial stuff, etc), so I could decide “what I wanted to be when I grow up.” I ended up struggling with depression that year, and I realise now that it was because I was telling myself all sorts of stressful stories like, “I HAVE to make the right decision/ I HAVE to find the one thing I’m meant to do and do it for the rest of my life…” It was like trying to find a (VERY IMPORTANT) needle in a haystack! I gave up that search and the bizarre thing is that, through a series of very small steps and just continually asking myself “what else would I love to do?” (and giving myself a break that I don’t have to do it ALL at once), I’ve tweaked my life into a lifestyle and work that I love – without ever really having a clear, specific goal or direction.

    I’ve found it really useful to drop the stressful stories that:
    – there’s 1 thing you’re meant to do. You can do many cool things. And perhaps it’s less about finding what you’re MEANT to do and more about just deciding to do something that interests you right now.
    – there’s a right and wrong decision. These days I believe every decision is the right decision, and an opportunity to grow/ learn/ experience and become more. I’ve changed careers a few times, and I don’t regret any of the jobs I did. They were all the right decision at the time, to help me learn something.

    My suggestion? Ask yourself, “What’s important in life/ work?” and brainstorm everything that comes to mind. Then rank them in a hierarchy, 1 to 10, etc, in order of importance to you. Then check your current situation against that list, asking yourself, “to what degree do I have this quality in my life/ work?” (use a percentage rating or something like that). Then look at each point, and ask yourself what small change you can already make right now, that would boost each of those percentages. And start making those changes. I think we have so many opportunities in such a fast-changing world these days that long-term goals may not be very relevant anymore, and the people who are happiest are those who are more present and simply following their nose to the next small step that delights them, rather than pressuring themselves with a big plan to make big changes and meet long-term goals. Small steps create powerful momentum that can amount to huge change.

    All the best with your ventures and adventures, Sean!


    1. Sean says:

      Love the honesty of this comment, Cath!

      Your suggestions are absolutely valid, and something I need to spend more time on. I have general ideas of what I want. Vague notions of what will make me happy, but that is the one thing that has been lacking in my planning: actual planning. But I think that is a good thing. I have finally targeted what I am unhappy with and can now make progress on the remedy.

      I think you are right in that small steps create powerful momentum. With each blog post I write, or person I meet, I am gaining momentum and getting closer to figuring out the question of whats next. In two short months I have made more progress than I had in the past year, so that is very encouraging.

      I really appreciate you stopping by and will definitely keep you posted on how everything goes 🙂

  15. Paul Norwine says:

    Hey Sean,

    When I’m not sure what to do next, it usually means that I need to take a step back, regroup, and check to make sure my priorities (and my efforts) are in order. Once I do this, I usually get right back on track. It’s hard to turn it into a positive all the time but that’s what I try to do – and most of the time it works.

    I hadn’t had a chance to read the two guest posts on your site (by Ryan and JD) until today but I’m glad you highlighted those articles. A lot of people don’t think they have it in them to take a risk like they did…but having done the same thing myself, I think it was more difficult to imagine myself NOT taking that risk and being stuck living a life that I didn’t want than to step up and make a change. Congrats to both Ryan and JD (and yourself) for fighting to live the life of your choosing. Knowing others have been in the same boat and are blazing their own paths will help a lot of people take that leap of faith.


    1. Sean says:

      @Paul I have tremendous respect for both Ryan and JD, they have done something that most people only talk about, and hopefully sooner rather than later I will be able to join them!

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