Searching for Purpose? 5 Ways to Embrace Not Knowing What You Want

“Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it’s just doing it.” ~Alan Watts

Sometimes, we hear about remarkable people who knew right from their youth what they wanted. But I wasn’t one of these people.

At eighteen years of age, my cousin asked me if I would like to be a scientist. Looking back, I find that pronouncement baffling since I wasn’t particularly interested in science at the time. Making art was what I loved, however.

Graphic design was my first love. I thought that design would be a perfect fit since I’m creative and logical. But at a certain point, I realized that while design made some sense logically, it didn’t Feel right to me.

I wondered, how could I have put so much time and effort into something I didn’t enjoy doing? Only later did I realize my mistake: I thought I knew everything.

Accepting Non-Knowing

What do you do when you realize what you worked so hard to attain isn’t what you want anymore? Many emotions may arise in this circumstance. There were many emotions that I experienced, including despair, fear of the future, anger, resentment and sadness.

Such powerful emotions can cause paralysis and overwhelm. I can recall wanting to change, but seeing many obstacles in my way. I thought that if I want to make drastic changes, then I would have to begin from zero.

It is because we place too much emphasis upon the need to be able to understand that these thoughts and emotions are common. In the book The Overweight Brain, Lois Holzman, Ph.D., describes how our obsession with knowing “constrains creativity and risk-taking, keeps us and our dreams and ideas small, and stops us from continuing to grow and learn new things.”

As Holzman explains, infants don’t know much of anything. They do however grow quickly and can learn a lot in very short time. They can develop this way by “not-knowing growing,” which one does through play.

How to Learn to Play Again

Let’s think for a moment. What do you like to see happen in a game? If you did, then the game wouldn’t be any fun—there would be no point in playing it.

My full-time job was seven years. I quit with no plan and no clue what the future held. Leaving your day job like this isn’t something I would suggest to everyone. It felt the right thing for me at that time.

It was thrilling to take such a big risk. As if I was a new baby, I could explore all of the possibilities and feel free again.

Before I made that decision, I used to sit in my office thinking, once I figure out what I want to do, I’ll be able to take some action. But I didn’t need to figure anything out. All I had to do was start by exploring.

Through trying new things I discovered who I really was. It was through openness and curiosity that I discovered the clarity needed to make my life meaningful.

Here are five ways to embrace not-knowing

How can you embrace not knowing to reach your full potential? Below are five options.

1. Be honest about your circumstances.

Notice the assumptions you’re making about what is and isn’t possible. As a child, explore the possibilities that are available right now. Instead of thinking, “Things can’t change because (some reason),” ask yourself: “I wonder what would happen if I said this… looked that way… went over there… tried this and that…?”

2. You can take very small risks.

You don’t have to quit your job to find a sense of purpose. Once you’ve identified the possibilities by questioning your situation, see what would happen if you did something different.

For example, if you’re passionate about diversity, inclusion, and belonging, how can you contribute to supporting that in your current role, or even outside your job? Maybe you could start a discussion with some people about the topic. The risk of breaking your normal pattern is very low so you might feel an excitement rush.

3. Alchemize the experiences you’ve gained.

If you lose interest in something you worked hard for, realize that it wasn’t all for naught. Think instead, “Okay, so this is how I feel about it right now. How can I transmute this thing by combining it with other elements to produce something new and life-affirming?”

As an example, I had already developed design and writing skills. Also, I was interested in learning and human development, anthropology, psychology and learning. To become an instructional designer, I combined my skills and my passion for learning. This pivot led me to design an online course to teach intercultural skills to professionals from around the world.

4. Do an improv show.

If you’re a person who feels the need to plan everything, see if you can give an improv performance of a different version of yourself. If you find the excitement of the unknown thrilling, for example, then it is possible to perform a different version of yourself. You can walk and talk as the unknown version, and you can even eat like this version.

It might help to imagine yourself as an actor on a film set.

5. Unexpected things are possible

Is there a routine you stick to? Imagine if your routine was broken for just one day. Take a day off from your usual routine and try something new that will surprise everyone who knows you. You might find a complete stranger to talk with and become a friend.

Last Thoughts

From my journey, I’ve learned that not knowing what we want isn’t a sign that something’s wrong. It’s an invitation to walk the path of self-discovery. The journey is not a straight line—there are twists and turns, and sometimes we find ourselves at crossroads.

Keep in mind that our lives are ever-changing. You can control every aspect of your life. Choose to be open and curious. Explore the world with childlike wonder. This will allow you to free yourself from any limitations of the mind.

This way we allow ourselves to reach our full potential.

Thomas Lai

Thomas Lai, the founder and CEO of Lifted being. He coaches creative, sensitive individuals who are feeling stuck or overwhelmed. He offers mindfulness techniques and non-dual embodiment, as well as tools and resources to help people make life transitions such the Self-Discovery Guide. His website is 

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Searching for Your Purpose Five Ways to Accept Not Knowing What You Want originally appeared on Tiny Buddha.

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