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

Written by Christine Kane

In May, I wrote a whole series about Taking Action. This series inspired some readers to email me about goals, dreams, and action steps. The most common question?

“What do I do if I don’t know what to do?”

Here’s the thing about questions like this: They’re more than a blog. They’re a conversation. One that begins over dinner and creeps into the night. With wine and candles and quotations from favorite movies and books.

That’s because everyone’s different. One person might need to face his fears and begin challenging himself in baby steps. Another might just need to get lots of sleep for about a month before she can think clearly again. And another might need to get rid of all the clutter in her life. No one can decide this part but you. Still, it requires some kind of action.

So, I’ve created a list of ten starting points – to-do’s if you don’t know what to do. Each starting point has a task that goes along with it. Pick one or two that apply to you.

Five of the starting points are below. The next five will follow in the next post…

1 – BE

Be comes before Do. If you’re just busy doing without some sense of who you are or why you’re even doing it, then stop. The activity might not even be in alignment with who you really are. Have you ever asked yourself who you want to be? Do you even have the courage to ask yourself such a bold question?

Marianne Williamson spoke once about how everyone wants to be in the spotlight, but most people don’t know what they’d say once they got there. That idea hit me hard. It inspired me to get clear about who I am as a writer, performer, human, etc. This clarity continues to grow and shift and re-awaken, too. Who you want to be, who you are – these are not static states. They’re not events. The core of it might stay the same for me. But how I show up as this person has changed dramatically.

TASK: Get out your journal. We’re gonna have an Ink-Vomit session. (An Ink-Vomit session has only one rule: Once you start writing, you can’t pause or put the pen down. You don’t have to write fast. But you aren’t allowed to stop and think.) Answer the following quesions. Allow a page per answer.

1) Who do I want to be? (Hint: Start by writing, “I want to be someone who…”)

2) What and who inspires me?

3) How do I want to feel being me?

4) What makes my heart sing?

Have fun with this, and don’t judge your responses.

2 – Start with What You Don’t Want

When I first began questioning my life (and all of its assumptions) right after college, I wrote in my journal about what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to live in the suburbs. I didn’t want a job I hated. I didn’t want to settle. I didn’t want to spend my life worrying about the vague notion of security. I didn’t want to marry the person I was dating at the time.

Law of Attraction junkies will tell you not to focus on this stuff. But it was crucial for me as I began to carve out a whole new life for myself. I didn’t know how to do it at the time – but knowing what I didn’t want became the guide. I cleared it all out and slowly let it go. Knowing what you don’t want is a great place to start.

TASK: Get out your journal, and have another Ink-Vomit session. (see above) This time, write at the top of the page: “I don’t want…” and let ‘er rip. Don’t stop writing til you feel clear-headed. If things are especially mucky for you, divide this task into life-segments: relationships, work, finances, environment, etc. Then, flip the page over, and try the same thing by writing “I want…”

3 – Get Rid of Crap

I originally called this step “Eliminate Space Takers,” but when I wrote it, my cat yawned at me. I took that as a sign. So, step three is: get rid of crap. Click on the link to read more details.

TASK: Pick one small area of your home. Closet, bathroom cabinet, desk, chest of drawers, book case. Pick up each item and ask yourself, “Do I love this? Do I wear this? Do I use this? Do I read this?” If the answer is anything but a yes, throw it in a box and let it go.

4 – Uncover your “Whiney Desires”

A friend of mine used to say, “I just want to sit at home eating bon-bons and watching tv all day.” I told her I didn’t believe her. She insisted it was true. This is a Whiney Desire. It’s the “I just want to sit on the beach and drink margaritas and listen to Buffett the rest of my life” syndrome. If you got your wish, you’d be bored to tears within five days. Okay, maybe ten.

I call these desires Whiney Desires because they’re probably hiding a deeper and more authentic desire. Maybe you want to create a life that makes you excited to wake up in the morning. Maybe you just simply need to give yourself more time off and more fun. The deeper desire is the more empowering (and sometimes more frightening) desire.

Whiney Desires block our true power. We reach for something superficial (and passive) to mask the truth. The truth is that we doubt that we can have the real thing.

“I just want to be taken care of. I just want to marry rich.” Translate that into: “I want to learn to take care of myself. I want to learn how to attract wealth into my life.”

TASK: Get out your journal. Write out one of your more whiney desires. Really go for it and write one whole page with all of these kinds of desires. THEN, take a deep breath. Sit up straight, and call on your wiser self. Flip the page over. On the reverse page, write down a different translation. Start by writing, “What I probably really want/need is…” And try to see through to a more empowering place.

5 – Step AWAY from the “big brick wall.”

In my post Lying Works Wonders, I quoted an email. In that email, the writer wrote about the BIG BRICK WALL in her life. Her entire email was in upper and lower case. But BIG BRICK WALL was all caps.

It’s great to have occasional drama-queen moments. But most people focus way too much on the problems in their lives. And mostly, they aren’t even right in their assessment! They call it a BIG BRICK WALL or CONFUSION or LACK OF SELF-ESTEEM, but they’re rarely correct. These are just the default places we all visit when we don’t want the solution. The label BIG BRICK WALL is a disguise to make the solution seem much more difficult than it probably is. But we spend all that time and energy capitalizing the word in our own heads because we’re not used to seeing around it to the solution.

TASK: Get out your journal. Start with the question: “Do I have a default place that keeps me from taking action? What is it? When do I tend to focus on this place?” (For instance, when I get stuck or scared about doing something big or scary, I have a default place of “overwhelm.” My big brick wall is ALL OF THESE EMOTIONS THAT TAKE OVER AND KEEP ME FROM FUNCTIONING! I’ve had to train myself to see through this default place.)

After you’ve written about your big brick wall, then write the truth. Start with this sentence: “The truth is…” (i.e., “The truth is that I’m not overwhelmed. I know exactly what I want to do.” Or “The truth is I’m being mean to myself and I just need to relax.” You’ll notice that more honest ideas come out. These ideas don’t shame you or guilt you or make you feel bad. They’ll strengthen you.

———————————

Note: You can do any of the tasks as a conversation with a friend you trust. Go out to tea or make dinner at your house. Just be sure that you make a commitment to focus on the positive and support each other in shifting the focus into the more proactive place.

p.s. Spaces in the June Great Big Dreams retreat sold out a month ago. The October retreat is already half full. Thought you’d like to know just in case you want to plan ahead!

{31 comments ... read them below or add one}

Christine Kane - What to Do If You Don't Know What to Do (Part 2)
June 7, 2007 at 12:05 am
What to do, where to begin . . . at Inside Art and Words: the online journal of author, illustrator and designer Kris Waldherr
June 21, 2007 at 8:23 am

{31 comments ... read them below or add one}

dezann June 5, 2007 at 1:54 am

There are so many things i want to do and lately i have been trying to do all of them at once and end up leaving most of them incomplete. Your post on “are you leaking/” helped tremenduous and so did this one, especially the point on getting rid of crap. Right, out comes the journal to make a list of what i dont want, first. I dont want to not get what i want:)- Thanks once again!

[Reply]

Christine Kane June 5, 2007 at 8:19 am

hi dezann – one of the best things i’ve learned to do with songwriting at those times where i have six songs going at once – is just to pick one and work on it with focus and commitment! otherwise, i just stay scattered, going back and forth between all of them. so i understand the ‘all at once’ syndrome! thanks for the note.

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Author Mom with Dogs June 5, 2007 at 8:57 am

Christine, I love your writing; it’s clear and concise — and great advice.

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Tammy Vitale June 5, 2007 at 11:04 am

I think one of the biggest gifts I ever got was realizing that the big brick wall is all in my imagination and all i have to do is blow on it and over and away it will go.

Love the Whiney Desire designation. Gonna add it to my bag of tricks (mine has always been: gonna run off to the woods and live in a cave)

Great post. Great timing. Here’s to prosperity x ten!

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renita June 5, 2007 at 12:25 pm

Me too, I like your definition of a ‘whiney desire,’ Christine! I used to get frustrated with friends and their WDs…now I understand better where it’s coming from.

One “trick” I’ve come up with is to think of ‘the world as my catalog.’ Inspired by Esther Hicks’ analogy of the world as a kitchen (where you choose which ingredients you’d like to use and leave the rest), I’ve started looking more proactively for ways to stimulate my imagination and expand my idea of the possibilities — like I’m shopping for ideas to create my ‘ideal life.’

Now, instead of feeling envious or lacking when I see a happy, affectionate couple or read about someone who works 20 hours a week and splits their time between New York, Paris and the Caribbean, I think: “What a good idea!’ and put it on my list.

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Christine Kane June 5, 2007 at 1:28 pm

thanks author mom!

hi there tammy! yes, i know the living in a cave desire too! and you’ve obviously continued in your beautiful work in spite of a no-cave existence…

hi renita – i, too, love the hicks kitchen analogy. and it’s great to hear that you are using it so thoroughly and well! (especially to let go of the envy stuff!)

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Elaine June 5, 2007 at 5:31 pm

Great post and 5 very inspiring starting points… thank you. I rushed back to my hotel tonight after sneaking a look at your post today during training!!! I have spent the evening covered in ‘ink vomit!!!’ This has opened up a lot of things for me… I’m Posed and ready for the next post… More ink vomit to come I fear… Thank you for sharing your much valued wisdom! (P.s. does ink vomit leave a stain?!)

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m June 6, 2007 at 7:48 am

Christine this is great. I’m sort of in the soup of change at the moment and I think it would be great to sit down with these questions and mull over them. I certainly know what I don’t want. 9-5 in an office- an hour commute each way and being greatful that we have ‘flexitime’. I just have to make my various freelance activities make more money!

Oh and can I highly recommend ‘How to be Free’ by Tom Hodgkinson of The Idler magazine. See if you can get it from the library or secondhand.

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Christine Kane June 6, 2007 at 7:56 am

hello elaine! i’m so happy to know there are other people out there traveling and rushing back to the hotel to cram in some peaceful time and computer time and reading time. and no worries about the ink vomit stains – the cleaners can get them out in a jiffy. (though, it’s best if the stains are permanent, really!)

hi m! making ‘various freelance activities make more money’ seems to require stepping back and thinking about things with a completely unbridled business mind. and that requires time and space. allow that. it’s a different sort of thought process than creative-mind. but i’m sure you already know that!

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Tammy June 6, 2007 at 8:47 am

Christine, I keep coming back to this post and re-reading it. Man, you have a lot of useful wisdom to share. Liz and I were talking about you and wisdom just last week.

I’m particularly drawn to your “step away from the big brick wall” advice. In my work, I see that the wall is omnipresent for people, way too much so sometimes, like it’s got a giant magnet that won’t let go. In group problem solving, for instance, a common approach is to look at the problem and figure out how to fix it. But another equally useful approach I’ve used is called “appreciative inquiry,” which invites a group to look at what **is** working and figure out how to create more of that. It’s a pretty amazing process to be part of, because folks are usually skeptical about it, as though it’s too positive to be worthwhile…and then the amazing transformation happens. Gosh it’s great to be part of it. I’ve written about AI and I guess it’s time to again, inspired by your post.

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Christine Kane June 6, 2007 at 10:22 pm

tammy, (the OTHER tammy!)

that’s a great exercise. you really could write a cool blog about it. yes, we are a culture very addicted to saying “well, that’s just the way it is!” my biggest learning over the past few years is how much my own translation is responsible for the outcome – good or bad! thanks.

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Colleen June 8, 2007 at 9:45 pm

Hi Christine,

I haven’t even read the whole post yet but wanted to tell you that doing the first ink-vomit was hugely uplifting.
So, what makes my heart sing? Sitting down and writing about what makes my heart sing does!

Thanks again for your wise words. Now, back to the post…

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Wally June 15, 2007 at 3:41 am

Great advice. I like your ideas, especially uncovering our whiney desires.
I can’t help it that there are situations wherein I don’t know what to do next..

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Pat June 17, 2007 at 9:25 pm

Nice tips. I always thought that whiney desires are the result of our boring situation. But now that you mentioned it, I think it’s logical to be creative in order to have something to do.

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Christine Kane June 17, 2007 at 10:33 pm

hi colleen – you’re so right about writing. it does make the heart sing!

thanks wally! and yes, there will always be those situations wherein we don’t know what to do next. ultimately though, there’s an answer!

hi pat, and thanks!

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Kate Robertson June 27, 2007 at 12:59 am

Christine,

I haven’t read your blog for awhile and then found this awesome posting. I just wanted you to know I love your blog, its always filled with wisdom and insight.

Kate

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Emily December 27, 2007 at 6:19 pm

Getting rid of cr*p…

I’m doing ok in the “real world” with items / belongings / stuff but my computer is the place where I hoard.

I had 500+ emails in my hotmail account ranging from 2004-2007… I was meaning to go back to them and take notes, sign up, read them properly etc (all of these emails were newsletters from mailing lists, no spam!) but of course I never got around to it.

As I got to the middle of December I had this sudden desire (?) more like a need…. to get rid of all the computer clutter.

I now have 40 emails and counting in hotmail. I made a few notes but mostly it was delete delete delete… I feel like I can breath again! I still have some other smaller email accounts to go through and the dreaded hardrive but i’m on a roll!

So my New Years resolution is to do things as they come in / happen, not to let things pile them up. Not to jump around from project to project. Not to save things and never get back to them – I have to either do it there and then or not at all.

I think this has been more important to me, so that I actually delete things because of the New Year just around the corner – out with the old, in with the new as they say!

Long reply but just thought I would share!

If anyone is feeling bogged down get rid of the clutter, it really works to free your mind! :)

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Kasie January 9, 2008 at 11:32 pm

I am still confused and scared of making the wrong decision. If I give up what I have now (which is good) for that I really desire (which I see has changed and I don’t know if it is a good change), then I will lose what is good for something that may not even be there anymore.

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adam l. douglas April 7, 2009 at 3:26 am

i was sittin here thinkin earlier tonight and the words came into my head “what do i do when i don’t know what to do” so of course i googled it and here i am! i’m 29 years old and i have NO idea what im doing or doing here or where to go or what to do or i guess more importantly where I want to go and what I want to do. it seems like i have so many problems that it would be impossible for me to fix them all and actually for once in my life be happy! Christine is totally right when she says we put up a brick wall and make it look like it is impossible to get around. i dont know what it is about some people (like me) that get it imprinted into our heads that what we want in our own lives is impossible to achieve but thats has always been my problem since i can remember and if i would have done something about it the first time i thought about it then i would be exactly where i want to be in my life right now but im not and yet i still dont know what to do?!?!?!

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Kayla H April 2, 2012 at 2:56 pm

I just ran across this…and after reading some of the other posts I feel kind of silly. I am so young, but I feel like my time is running out and I need to make a decision soon! Why is that? I am only 22, recently married, and it’s been the best decision I’ve made so far. But now everyone automatically assumes I have the answers on what’s next…and children doesn’t seem to be an acceptable answer at my age, though being a mother is what I really want. In reading through what you wrote, and even just reading what I am commenting, it has helped me gain a better understanding of what I’m going through and what my BRICK WALL is and how I can tear it down to move forward. :) Thank you!

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Rebecca May 30, 2012 at 4:30 am

Hi Christine. Fear is one of the most biggest elelments that are really degrading. sometimes i just don’t how do deal with it. i need to myk a decision but i am scared of any consequences, which i din’t even know off up to so far. i think i just need prayers that is all.

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shealee August 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Hi, I’m having a really hard time right now. I’m 18 fresh out of high school, but ive always felt and acted older then I am. Ive always had this dream of living in L.A. (right now I live in a very small town where I have lived my entire life.) Ive been through a lot in my 18 years and ive always felt out of step like just being someone everyone else wants me to be. I realise my dream is bigger then a 18 year old could handle, but I believe I could. Now here is the big shocker, ive never wanted to go to college and its not because I’m lazy or whatever.I don’t believe in spending my whole start to life sitting in a class for 7 hours a day and for 4 years. I want to explore and see what truly I want to do. I’m so imbetween right now and I think my mom would disown me if I said “hey I’m dropping out of college to get a full time job save money and move out to L.A.

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shealee August 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Also, fear is a major part of the battle in my head. What if things don’t work out and I have to come back home and get told “I told you so?” Or if something else happens? Then I think of all the good that could come of it. Great job, living where ive always wanted to, (I’m a hopeless romantic so finding that one true love would be amazing.) Even thinking about the possibilities makes me smile, but of course the fear sets in and just hums me out.

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sarah September 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm

im stressed all of the time and have started having anxiety attacks in stupid places like in the local shops. im on beta blockers because my heart is racing all of the time. iv so many brick walls to knock down to the point that i cant function any more. i want to change everything, including the unchangeable. i want people to care and it breaks my heart that they dont. my children are a disaster area, living isolated and lonley lives. they have no friends and no family who care. my 21 year old cant go out of the door alone and i have to take him to the barbers. my other son has moved out and lives alone. he never goes out and nobody visits him except for me. i have a billion bad memories that i cant get away from. and im sad and miserable watching my sons lives. i feel like i am living their lives. i dont know how to change them. i want to move away and start again. but im scared of change. i want freedom. i want a life. i want my sons to have a life. i want freedom, from stress and this buzzing in my chest. i want fun and to be carefree. i want i want – but dont know where to start!!!

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gabi March 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm

That helped so much. It gave me just the momentum I needed… Thank you!!! <3 <3

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Knoxy March 9, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I found this article by typing the exact title into the google search. May you never take it down as it is invaluable. I dig your approach, less pontificating and more real, specific, humerous content. Thank you. You Rock

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Justin March 12, 2013 at 6:08 pm

A post from June in 2007 is still helping people today… Perhaps you were on your step in life that I am now on myself.

Thank you for the inspiration and hope. Your words and ideas are great.

-Justin, Pennsylvania

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Caroline November 17, 2013 at 10:10 am

Thank you very much for coming up with this article. I’ve researched the net for several times and couldn’t find the right answer and guide that I was trying to find for a year now.

I didn’t want to bother my closest friends about my dilemma and I’m not sure If they have the time and ears to listen and give me a sound advice. I’m glad that I’ve found your writing that is really very helpful for me in this time.

I am lost and confused with my life. I am sad about the many unfortunate things happening in my family and in my own life. I’m confused with what career to pursue and I don’t even have a zest for life now. I think following your advice would give me some sort of direction.

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Denise January 12, 2014 at 10:37 am

So like a few others who have left comments – I was up early in the morning contemplating my life in it’s current state and hoping that none of my children were up to catch me searching for what I am “supposed” to already know…I Googled the words “I don’t know what to do”.
THANK YOU!
The fact that this was posted in June of 2007 and is STILL helping peopel today is exactly what I DO want. I want to have the privilege of impacting people in a positive authentic and lasting way. I just need to get past my overthinking self.

Not only was your writing clear, practical and relevant – but the comments and responses remind me that we are all experiencing this thing called Humanity and can use a word of encouragement and guidance every now and then.

Clearly some of my Ink-Vomit has begun…lol Let the rivers flow!
Thanks again.

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