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Ask HN: What should I do with my life?
28 points by whamlastxmas on Feb 1, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 69 comments
I'm a full stack developer and I quit my last job about a year ago after having a personal crisis that I've now recovered from. I've traveled some the past year but have mostly sat around not doing much.

I have no real interests other than hanging with friends and family and socializing. I browse reddit all day due to a lack of other things I want to do. If I won the lottery I don't think my life would change at all.

How am I supposed to figure out what I want to do for a living when I have no interests? I've tried many things in my life but I find them boring after trying them for a while. I have all the time in the world and a decent amount of money and I'm under 30 and healthy. I feel like I'm throwing away my life.

I used to have an entrepreneurial spirit and worked on a startup for a bit before I had my crisis last year and had to stop. I feel like the passion for that is gone now because there's nothing I'm interested in and want to work on.

What's my first step supposed to be when there's nothing I really want to do?

As someone who has dealt with a lot of personal crap, it sounds to me like you aren't actually recovered yet. A personal crisis eats your world and when you think it is over, it really isn't.

Think of it kind of like major surgery. You don't go back to work full time the day after surgery. It can take weeks or months to recover post surgery.

I get super frustrated during periods when my energy is rising, but I still don't really have my act together yet. I am bored and restless and aggravated and can't focus and it makes me crazy.

Work on your physical health. Work on your sleep hygiene. Work on any loose ends remaining from your crisis.

You sound to me like someone still physically and mentally tired and not really over whatever went down. You need to completely recover before you will feel inspired or interested in anything.

If money is not an issue, give yourself another 3 to 6 months to wrap up your recovery process. Revisit The Meaning of Life and Whatever Shall I Do? type questions when you are more recovered.

I appreciate your perspective on me maybe not being recovered. It's not something I considered, and I'm historically a very poor judge of my own mental well-being. I will spend time considering this.

Tying up loose ends from my crisis is difficult because it involves someone else I haven't spoken to since. I'm not sure it's my place to instigate that, and it frankly feels as though it may still be too soon for both of us. Regardless you motivated me to draft a short message inviting a discussion and I'll spend the next few days considering whether to send it.

Thank you for the kind and thoughtful response.

Writing them likely would open up a can of worms, not resolve things. You are making a mistake to frame this as something that cannot be resolved without their cooperation. You need to deal with your end of things even if they never speak to you again, even if they die in a car wreck tomorrow or turn out to be a sadist acting with malice aforethought who has no desire to resolve anything. Let me suggest you instead do one or more of the following:

1. Journal as a way to sort your thoughts and deal with your feelings.

2. Figure out how and why things went wrong as a means to learn from it so you are less likely to go through this again. Fear of being hurt in the same way is a huge obstacle to moving on. The best antidote is to learn from the experience so that is unlikely.

3. Pursue a creative outlet, like music, art or poetry, as a means to fully express the depths of your feelings about the matter.

4. "Forgive" yourself. Most people are raised with either a shame or a guilt model and really beat themselves up when things go wrong. The reality is that life is a growth experience. You aren't going to have all the answers, all the time for everything. Accepting that and dealing gently and compassionately with yourself is one of best things you can do to help you move on from social drama.


I did thankfully already decide to not send it. I realized I didn't really need the other person as part of the equation, as you said.

I think I'll go grab a guitar a friend offered me for free and play with that. I used to in college.

I'm the better part of 40 and I still don't know what I want to do. I've drifted through life from one thing to another with no direction, focus, or interest.

Like you I've tried many things (though mine are probably more extreme at a guess) but after a while I lose interest.

Depression has dogged me all my life like a bed-fellow, and that my friend sounds a lot like what you are experiencing. My depression stemmed from the seeming pointlessness of life.

Ive come to realise it is pointless there's no grand design, no reason, no meaning; it just is. So I just am. Nearly 40 years and I'm pretty happy with this; nice house, beautiful wife, two wonderful children, a job where I make a difference (to people's lives not some boss's bottom line) even if I don't really like a lot of the baggage that comes with it.

Rather than spending all day reading Reddit try some books. Buddhist philosophy (zen), daoist philosophy (Dao De jing, Zhuangzi), stoic philosophy (quite popular these days).

Maybe it helps and maybe it doesn't.

I've started limiting time wasting on the internet and hopefully I stick with it. I think it will help!

If you don't have something you want to do, find something. You can't know about all the things there are to do in the world. Go explore some you don't know much about.

There are heuristics for doing this. You don't have to explore randomly. One heuristic is to start from people you think are cool, and learn about what they do. Another is to ask yourself if there are things you're overlooking because they seem too hard, or not what you're expected (by e.g your parents, or society) to do.

There are so many things to do. The probability that not one of them would be fun for you is very low.

> One heuristic is to start from people you think are cool, and learn about what they do.

I think this is really good advice, thank you.

I think running a business is cool, being the one who facilitates everyone else in their work so that something meaningful can be made. I guess that's sort of a product manager position, which I think would be fulfilling if it was a meaningful product. But the problem is that it's pretty difficult to find a job like that for someone with no management or leadership experience and it's not something I can just do by myself. Maybe I can find a project manager position as a stepping stone to this?

I will give this more thought. Thank you.

For me, life is about projects. Surviving school is a project. Learning how to ride a motorcycle is a project. Having a marriage is a project. Having a baby with someone is a project. Getting a job is a project. Each job is a project. Learning to handle firearms is a project. Starting a company is a project. Building a cabin is a project. Writing a book is a project. Learning to bake sourdough is a project. Practicing yoga is a project. Everything worth doing is a project.

In the course of projects you have social experiences, form relationships, make money, fail, succeed, etc. You live an interesting life and evolve as a person in unexpected ways.

You can't just sit isolated in a room and expect to enjoy life. You have to find projects to do on your own and projects to do with other people. And, if you're lucky, you do some projects that benefit a lot of other people.

This is not necessarily a bad thing unless it's some kind of issue that requires a doctor's attention.

Most people are in the rat race of this materialistic life and do not even get time to think, let alone find meaning and purpose of their life which is not necessarily worldly as proven by your lottery comment.

My advice - see if connecting with God and reflecting on his creations helps you find the right path and purpose.

"My advice - see if connecting with God and reflecting on his creations helps you find the right path and purpose. "

That's some confusing advice.

what's confusing, am just saying try to reflect..

>a personal crisis that I've now recovered from.

I'm sorry, but I don't think you have. You're browsing reddit all day and seem unmotivated.

You need to speak to a therapist and consider medication. This is not a troll post, I promise - I'm stuck in the same hole as you right now. A breakdown last year that's given me a real sense of depersonalization.

The problem with therapy for me has been finding one that is helpful. They all mean well but I think my answer lies more with someone who's experienced similar hardships than it does with someone who's a spectator.

I also don't have health insurance because it's ridiculously expensive and I'm quite healthy and always have been and accept the financial risks of not having it. That said, getting medicated right now is probably prohibitively expensive without insurance.

I appreciate your perspective on me maybe not being recovered. It's not something I considered, and I'm historically a very poor judge of my own mental well-being. I will spend time considering this.

Truly, thank you so much for the response

I liked what I read in "The Guide to a Good Life" [0] about the importance of a philosophy of life. I'd advise to start there's exploring what's available and finding out if anything in particular resonates. Maybe read/listen that book and go from there.

0 - https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0195374614

Thank you, I will look into that!

Serve others. I’ve found one of the best ways to find fulfillment in life is to focus on others and not yourself.

Can you give some examples? People mention this all the time, but it seems so abstract.

For a smaller dose: Seek out any of the numerous volunteer activities that are sure to be available in most cities.

For example, I found a literacy center near me that teaches adults who want it reading/writing/basic math. I spent 3~ hours a week for 9~ months teaching a man who had immigrated here and it was an extremely fulfilling experience for both of us, at minimal effort.

You may want to read the book "Your Money or Your Life", and http://mrmoneymustache.com

For some people work isn't their goal, it's other things. So it's not "how do I find the job that will be the be-all of my life", it's "how can I get paid enough to fund the things I actually care about."

If you have enough money that you don't need to work for now—that's fine. Reduce your living expenses and it'll go even further.

When you need money, you can just get a job that you don't hate, cash your paycheck, and not worry about "passion".

I'm pretty familiar with MMM and my frugal nature/minimalism is why I'm capable of being unemployed for years. My problem extends past just income though - I feel like I'm just existing without any purpose whatsoever. I think it's important to find meaning in the work I do because having it missing in my life causes a fair amount of distress and anxiety.

Get LSD for a new perspective. Not a joke.

If I'm ever offered some I'll take them up on it.

Try working through the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) handbook. It's designed to build skills to lessen the impact of anxiety, depression, and other chronic mental illnesses, and draws a lot from Stoicism.

Particularly, there are exercises meant to help you find your values, then figure out how to do more things you find valuable in your life.

Link: https://www.amazon.com/DBT%C2%AE-Skills-Training-Manual-Seco...

I will look into this, thank you.

been there. figuring out what you want to do and what you're all about is a process. totally healthy and normal.

i can't say i support all the advice on this board to find religion. but to each his/her own.

when i was in your shoes, i took some time off, traveled a bit. going to the gym and showering every day is a good plan. Get StayFocusd or similar browser extension, and set a 10-minute total-per-day limit on all news + social media between the hours of 7am and 10pm.

try a musical instrument. it's social, fun, challenging, there's no end to how good you can get if you stick with it, lots of lessons on youtube, and it's relatively cheap (eg - used stratocaster guitar and 20W practice amp, and some cables and a tuner and spare strings and an effects pedal or two and you're set for a long time for <$1K)

If you can afford to be idle, maybe try auditing some classes at your local university this semester. just browse the catalog and pick a few that sound good, nobody's going to notice you in a lecture with more than 50 people in it. computer science, economics, liberal arts, philosophy classes, whatever amuses you. you're learning something and college campuses are full of ideas and energy, and maybe it will inspire you.

You're one of a few to suggest less time on the internet and I think it's a very good idea. Ultimately I need to keep trying even if it's historically not resulted in much. Thank you for your kindness.

Hey man, a lot of suggestions in the thread, but I think you can also do some journaling. Just open your text editor and write whatever you're feeling. For me I thought this was stupid and a waste of time but it's nice to see your thoughts and see the progression of how you're thinking/feeling. I sometimes have crappy days where I write "I just played the Sims all day" or "I am really not in the mood" and I find that for some reason I can't keep on writing that same thing for several days in a row.

It's like when I write "I did crappy things" down, I get irritated with myself for not being productive and I want to do better things tomorrow. Not necessarily programming at first but something productive (like cook a meal, exercise, etc.).

Not sure if this will help but for me it did so hopefully it works? Also eat right and try to exercise. If you don't like exercise just take walks. I find walking to be therapeutic too

I'm starting journaling today, it is a good idea. Thank you. I eat well and exercise 3-4 times a week and I'm in good shape, so that's taken care of thankfully.

How'd it go? :)

I actually started at a new job Wednesday and the past week and a half has been a whirlwind of interviews and stress that I didn't have all that time I normally do to have existential dread creep in. New job is awesome and 100% remote and lets me keep a lot of my freedom and I think it's dramatically improved my mood. I think it's just what I needed.

Help others.

Guard the paths; protect the weak.

Teach what you know.

This journey, your journey, the words you wrote they will be questions asked silently elsewhere by others.

In asking you are already brave.

Write about the journey as you have written this question.

This will help others and perhaps it will lead to someone suggesting something, another good heuristic for knowledge is have many other minds helping to answer your questions.

Cultivating hobbies is sort of work at first. Perhaps you can find a hobby that you really enjoy, and then find a job that lets you work a minimal number of hours (say 35 hours a week), that covers expenses, and lets you focus on doing stuff you enjoy.

Cultivating a real hobby will be more fulfilling for you than reddit, you'll be happier.

I agree, thank you.

Can't say what you are supposed to do, but I have few ideas.

Go back to your roots. Since you are a Full stack dev, you probably know a thing or two about Computer Science. However, it is most likely true that you don't know a lot. Even when you are not interested, it's always good to learn something new about Computer science.

I think I've realized that what I'm doing with full-stack just isn't much of a challenge anymore. You're right, learning something more deeply might be the better way to go.

Oh dear - you have started seeing the matrix!

Seriously, the truth is, you've got it right. There is no pre-defined 'purpose' to existence. One day, the sun will be a bit of charcoal, and that'll be the end.

With that established, you do have a whole life ahead of you that you're sort of stuck with. There isn't much to do except have a blast while it lasts! What else would make sense, after all.

There are a few restrictions, such as that you'll probably want to be sufficiently productive to sustain a lifestyle with healthcare, food, clothing and a safe place to sleep.

You have a lot going for you. You have the intelligence to figure out that there questions about existence that society doesn't really have an answer to. You have the wisdom and warmth to value friendship and family above other things. You are probably physically healthy too.

Kind, wise, and a bit too smart than is good for your mental health.

Now, a few practical steps...

First, lay off Reddit and the like. It's just the digital equivalent of alcohol: to be enjoyed in small doses, not too waste your days away. If you find out that skipping a few days is hard, then you have discovered how addictive these screens really are.

Second, much like advice already given, think of something you find cool, and look into that. Do check if it allows a lifestyle that you want.

This is hard.

Today I dreamt of walking into a local bank and saying: "let's stop foreclosing homes and making entire neighborhoods worthless. Let's just let these people keep their house, and work on their budget management skills and find a job for them. We'll issue a local iou-currency that costs us nothing, give micro-credits in it, and start building a local, small-scale community and economy. It's the only way to save them, and thereby, our bank." Unfortunately, it's a few years late for that one.

Or I imagine working on transport and neighborhoods, just making things nicer.

Or try to figure out rules that would lead to a cost-efficient health care system.

You say you have some financial freedom, maybe you can make a sufficiently profitable dream a reality.

If you manage, let me know how you did it. I'm still working on that part.

Third, do keep busy. You'll have less time to think about your existential crisis and you'll be more likely to come across something that you'll like, which would solve the whole thing. At least it beats being on Reddit the whole day.

Good luck.

I definitely need to lay off pointless internet. Thanks for calling me out. I think that alone will help a lot. Thanks so much. Also thank you for the compassion and kind words.

Give it all up and become a mountain hermit? Live off the land, build a home out of logs and commune with the animals.....then when you get tired of that come back and remember why society is fairly great...or discover your true self and remain as a mountain hermit.

I have no issues with society. I like living in my city and my friends and family here. Is the point you're making more that my question is silly because there's not really a way to answer it usefully?

But by leaving all that. You can get to know yourself and discover what it is that truly drives you. Everyone has something that drives them even if they dont know. Sometime it takes drastically altering your life to discover that. I was mostly joking about the forest hermit thing. It's more about maybe making a big change to your life, doing something you're scared of or never thought of doing and seeing where it takes you.

I mean if you find life dissatisfying now. What do you have to lose? But you may discover something you never even knew existed. You said you have time and money. What else are those things for if not trying new things in life? You only get one to do things as far as we can tell. If what you're doing now sucks and small things don't help try making a big ridiculous terrifying change. Just do something on a whim. I've done it lots and I can tell you my life certainly has been interesting. It doesn't always work out well but it's never boring. I've been everything from a biologist to a programmer, to a garderner to a cnc operator. I've ran my own business, I helped start a non-profit organization. That's just work let alone my fucked up personal life. I've never had a lot of money or time though. I just take the opportunities that come and go where life takes me.

I have actually done some "fuck it" and leave it all behind in my past year. I packed everything I owned in my car and moved across the country to a new place I've never been before and lived on a vineyard in wine country CA for a while. I also once just packed a single backpack and drove off into the sunset on a road trip with no plans for a couple weeks.

I learned valuable things from my experiences - I learned how much I value the meaningful friendships and connections I have in my life. I learned that my concept of "I could be happy if only I found the right place to live" to be untrue, as I knew before but had trouble believing until I tried it for myself. I learned how great it is to meet new people, which was new for me as a life-long introvert.

I do really value my friends, my relationship, and my family. They give me meaning in life more than anything else, and I don't just want to leave it all behind to find myself because I feel I've mostly already done that.

My last resort in life would be to move to Thailand to become a Buddhist monk. But I'm not quite there yet.

> I do really value my friends, my relationship, and my family. They give me meaning in life more than anything else

If that's the case, then reframe the question to some variation of "what should I do with my life that will enhance/maximize the relationships I find meaningful?", or perhaps "what should I do with my life that will bring me into contact with more of the kind of people I would want as friends?".

For example, if your family/friends tend to be literary folks, you might consider becoming a librarian, or managing a bookstore.

Fair enough. I think I understand a little better. I'm sorry i don't think have much advice on that. I'm a little lost in that way myself at this point. I've just been dealing with it by not thinking too much into life. It is what it its. A bunch of shit happens and you die. But it has helped me appreciate little things more. I wish you luck on your quest for life's meaning.

Read https://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psychology-Experience-Perennial-.... Turns out it's actually mostly about finding meaning in life.

I started reading this today and I think it was a very good recommendation. Thank you!

Similar experience here. For me, the changing point was meeting a coworker who wanted to study and work on personal projects with me. So, one suggestion I can make is trying to work in various companies and find a buddy that can help u find your interest.

I was in a similar position. No interests, nothing. Started reading all kinds of books. Ended up with the computer science ones, began learning low level stuff. Life is meaningful again. It's just webdev wasn't fulfilling enough anymore.

Someone else suggested the same thing and I think you're both right. I will give that a shot. Thank you!

I don't want to give a blanket statement since everyone is different, but send me a PM if you need someone to talk to.

I can at the very least be a listening ear, and maybe provide some advice having been in similar places.

This is very generous, thank you so much.

Moxie Marlinspike wrote an great post about this.


This was good, thank you!

If was you, I would learn mountain climbing or any skills which give me more confidence and create meaning in life. I would say learn something which interest you.

If you need someone to talk to about _anything_, send me a Keybase message, Twitter DM, email, etc.

I don't have any general advice but would love to help.

Info in profile.

You're very kind, thank you so much.

Are there any groups of people that would feel good to help in some way? That might be a movement that leads to some fulfilling activities.

Learn VHDL, and get your self a FPGA dev board. Tinker just do anything that does not harm you.

I had to Google this and had no idea something like this existed. It's quite interesting but I think it's a fair bit more industrial than what I'd ever need. I've never even pushed an Arduino etc to its limits. I appreciate you showing me something new though!

Where are you based?


Ah sorry, was going to offer in person meeting if you were in the bay. I might have gone through similar phase myself - it is very blurry last couple years, but this year found something that keeps me running.

That is very thoughtful of you, thank you. Everyone responding has been much kinder and warmer than I ever expected.

I believe many of us are going through somewhat similar phases, or experiences. It's partly emphathy :)

learning qur'an

Maybe start to know what our Creator is like, his attribute, and what our Creator want us to do. If you don't trust that there is an Creator, you just have to find out whether if Bible is our Creator's word or not, and talk about truth or not(compare Bible with some science and history), because all things about Creator can be found from Bible.

I think this is a good start, because of course our Creator is the person with most wisdom. And simply, our Creator is the one who create us, so we must know why he create us to have a meaningful life.

Kind of an off-topic question; I've never read the bible and I thought this year would be a good time to do so. What version of the bible would you recommend? I've browsed online and notices that there many version but I don't which would be a good one to begin reading. Thanks :)

R. Crumb's Illustrated Genesis is a great way to start. https://www.amazon.com/Book-Genesis-Illustrated-R-Crumb/dp/0.... It's much easier to understand some of the customs with drawings. Only a small part of Genesis is supernatural, the rest is an epic human story.

For the rest of the bible, pick one with modern language. Although the antiquated language of the King James Version feels more serious, it's easy to misunderstand.

Maybe the original version. I heard things got lost in translation.

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