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What should I do with my life?
30 points by mannicken on July 4, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments
I'm 20. Never finished high school, did several years of classes at community colleges I took just for fun (mostly art, science, and math). I really just breathed through most of my classes there, and usually would come stoned, just to hangout (and still end up passing classes most of the time). Somehow college seemed like a better alternative to sitting at home watching stupid movies.

Worked as a software engineer (Flash/C++) for some time, then was like "fuck it", quit, started freelancing/studying art.

Now, I don't know what to do. My lack of degree or specialization makes me feel like I have less of an identity. I don't know what to put in my Facebook profile.

I always feel like a drug-addled high-school drop-out, who burned his mind so much he'll end up homeless on the street. Like one of those crazy people who talk about aliens all the time, and such. But then I remember I actually worked recently, and still am able to catch freelance positions, and live without parents' support, and I'm like "whoa, I'm sooo far from a homeless drug-addict and I'm only 20".

I just.. I don't know. Ever since I quit my job I feel like I've lost direction in life and just stumble aimlessly, drawing things, coding JavaScript/C++ for clients that never pay, and generally asking myself "what the fuck am I going to be when I'm 30".

I'm probably a bit of an oddball, hence why I can't understand what will happen to me.

Am I going to be in jail? But why, I don't deal drugs, or kill people, or drive drunk.

Am I going to be dead? Probably not.

Am I going to be married? I don't know.

I guess it's hard to see into the future, but I kind of wish there was more stability in my life.

Is everybody like this or is it just me?

PS. Oh, common, no one notices I put "jail, dead, married" in one comparison? :)

First things first, you need to chill the f*ck out. You're 20 years old. You've only accomplished a small fraction of your life's mistakes, you have plenty more to look forward to.

Next, get a job. It sounds like your life needs some structure and distraction from your own thoughts. I'm not suggesting this job should be your life's purpose, just enough to give you something to focus on besides yourself.


You are 20. Get a job (for the structure it forces you too, not because its "the thing to do"), attend parties, meet girls, do crazy shit like skydiving, diving, hiking, movie marathons, read books, go live in another country.

I am 28 (in 3 days) and about to be married and then looking at kids. In that time I have lived and studied overseas, traveled a bit, have 2 degrees, have had several full time jobs, dived, hiked and generally had a bloody good time. Guess what though? I didn't start doing ANY of that stuff till I hit 21.

I think the best advice I ever read was that object of life is not to arrive in a pristine body in the afterlife, rather it is to arrive skidding in a broadside totally used up and saying "Damn that was one hell of a ride."

Your life is yours go live it.

Stop smoking weed. It might sound "uptight," but that is the first step you should take. I have done it myself, and I have seen it suck the ambition out of many of my friends. It is more harmful than you might initially think. I just was in bed in the hospital after surgery, and next to me was a chronic (weed) smoker (and occasionally cigarettes). He had to have his ribs pried apart and an operation done on his lungs because of the tar buildup. He had a 1.5 foot long scar on his back and was in immense pain -- not worth it. He was only 40 years old.

Exercise. It will reduce stress and increase your motivation to do well in other things.

Drink some caffeine - it will pump up your adrenaline, motivation, and wake you up -- and is not too harmful as far as drugs go.

Don't worry about school - you can get by without it. But you need to teach yourself - and the best way is to do that is...

Get passionate about something. If you are bored or without aim, you have too much free time on your hands. Build something. Build a game, an app, a website -- anything. Do whatever you have to do to pay your bills, but try to devote your free time to making something you are interested in.

If you've got some coding skills and some art skills then I'd suggest you think about working in the computer games industry where these things tend to collide. You'll probably need some maths but you could probably study that.

I don't think it's just you. When I was 20 I had a really hard time knowing what I was going to do next (in fact, when I was about 22 I had a real crisis about how I was going to get through the next year because I felt so lost).

I would suggest that you do a couple of things: feeling lost can be a real drain on your ability to see clearly, so you might want to find a counsellor of some sort to talk things through. I'm not suggesting that there's something wrong with you, but my experience is that in life it can be hard to explain to someone you know all the thoughts you are having and it's easier to explain to someone neutral. I've been through that and it does help. It's not a magic bullet but it helps.

Secondly, have you thought about producing something yourself? For example, perhaps you have an idea for a mobile phone app (or game) that you could produce to show off your skills (and perhaps make some money).

with _some_ coding skills and _some_ art skills you won't get far in the gaming industry. the jobs there are highly specialized - you need to be good at either coding or art.

though with being somewhat good at both you can go the indie route.

I was like that when I was 20, except for the art stuff. I write code, that's what I'm good at, everything else is uninteresting, therefore I fail at it horribly.

Nevertheless, ten years later, I have a good job, which I absolutely love, and even when I leave home, I can barely wait the next morning so I can come back in and work. (Ok, it's not THAT bad, but you get the idea!)

And whenever I ask myself "what the hell am I going to do when I'm 40?", I know the answer: I'll still be working here, still be loving it. Perhaps I'll have a mid-length tie by then, perhaps not - I'm not worried.

Life, and jobs aswell, has its ups and downs. Starting a career is usually a bit of a downhill ride at first, but don't worry, once you find that one thing you were meant to do, these questions about the future will vanish.

Wait, so writing code is actually interesting for you? That's funny. I always thought of it as 'means to the end', something you had to do, like paying taxes to the machine in order for it to animate your stuff and make it do things.

Well, just 'coding' IS boring. The fun part is figuring out what and how to code.

In my job, for example, I fix bugs. While that sounds terribly dull, it actually is not: I get to see a lot of interesting code, that's broken is so subtle ways that most cannot even imagine. I get to work with code written by a lot of very different people, in a lot of different languages. I get to study how these programs interact, how they form a system, how they work together, and why a little tweak here and there can make the whole thing fall apart, or - in the good case - perform much better.

Debugging all the weird problems, diving into assembly on architectures you didn't even see is very interesting to me. And once I come up with a clever fix, that feeling is amazing.

But this isn't your average code monkey job. Those are boring indeed.

Hell no.

I am still amazed I get PAID to sit down and write code. I would do it for free (and frequently do) just because I love it so much.

There are few things that really float my boat, wine (and other beverages), hiking and coding are at the top of my list. The fact that people are willing to pay me for the last one is always a shock. As is when I find others are unable to do it.

Dude, you're 20. Go back to school and get a freaking diploma. Take those 4 years to figure out what the hell you want with your life. After that you will be.. what... 24?

Life haven't even started yet kid.

Think very hard before enrolling in a 4 year (?!) diploma course at age 20... you will likely end up twice as lost at the end as when you start :)

My recommendation is spend those four years working in as many different fields as you can get your foot in the door. Just try a dozen things in two years. Guarantee you will have a much broader view of what is possible than holding a diploma. Plus, you'll get paid for doing it. PLUS, you'll meet (and build relationships) with a lot more people. Particularly if you aren't good at just striking up a friendship, working alongside people is a great way to get to know them.

Your milage may vary.

Diploma in what? I'm all over the place, and I can't just choose one area of study. What if I want to study art but the diploma will be useless? What if I want to study business but end up writing TPS reports for 100 hours a week at Wall Street? What if I want to study math but will end up hating whatever it is I studied.

The possibilities frighten me and excite me at the same time.

I figured out (after dropping out ;) that college isn't about the diploma but about the connections you make.

Add to that that you'll learn a shared vocabulary and 'way of thinking' which will allow you to communicate better with those connections.

So if you want to know what to study, just ask yourself which company of graduates you would like to belong to.

It'll also help with that sense of identity you felt you were missing.

If you were one of my students, here's how I would advise you:

1. Don't get paralysis.

2. Pick something that gives you good career options. The rest are your hobbies (and it's good to have hobbies).

4. Be cautious taking on any educational debt -- make sure it's worth it.

Your career will take many turns but you want your opening move to be strong.

Frankly, if you can program and enjoy math, your future is bright. When you love your work, you won't need the escapism of substances.

I can program but I do not necessarily enjoy it. I enjoy it maybe 5% of the time, the rest is spend thinking "god this sucks". Perhaps wrong-career choice very early on is what made me turn to substances/get depressed.

You can apply this reasoning to any decision you want to make and talk yourself out of it immediately. But even then at the end of the day you have to make a decision. Why not back yourself to succeed and commit to it for a while. You can always change course later on. Life is all about experiences and learning from ones mistakes. Good luck to you.

University / college is also about honing your ability to learn new stuff. Once you know that you can quickly pick up anything you have a desire to learn, it's pretty easy to get stuck into what you enjoy at that moment.

I believe most institutes allow you to change your course(s) and even transfer over to a different program altogether.

Don't feel bad about not having a destination it's not an indicator of anything but you being 20.

Spend the next 10 years learning stuff. Do what you feel like even if it means you will change area of interest every 6 months, even if it means you want to learn knitting.

What will happen is that you will learn how to learn. And that is going to be more beneficial than having a degree.

Enjoy the ride but for frogs sake.... quit the weed.

Be where you are. Get a job, save money, do fun stuff with friends. Get outside. Draw. Paint. Travel, Learn guitar. Learn Spanish. Try a new sport. Join a group of some sort. Meet girls! Get outside your comfort zone, and get used to that feeling.

You'll have lots of chances to learn life's tougher lessons along the way - trust me.

At 20 I was a surf bum that had done very little post secondary. Have now completed a two year diploma from a technical school, a university degree, instructor certifications plus one season each of teaching windsurfing and snowboarding professionally, and I am now a self-taught designer/developer - Rails/Ruby/HTML/CSS. It took 11 years between age 20-31 to figure this all out, so be where you are.

> "what the fuck am I going to be when I'm 30".

I'm 30 now and I'm asking myself the same thing :) First of all, I think you need to take each step at a time, that's what I do, at least. Also, try having a not-job-related activity if you have the time, it can give you that extra feeling that a month-to-month paycheck or whatever cannot provide.

If it matters, I'm a CS college-dropout, I've been employed and able to support myself since 21, while all my friends only did that in their late 20s. So, on account of that, you're really way above the average in not relying on parents' supports, do not despair :)

As you are also artistic, start hanging around with the 'maker' community, they welcome people with coding skills. You'll probably get burned by hangers-on a few times but gravitate to the folks who are dedicated and can deliver.

The most interesting person I know couldn't give you a job description. He teaches kids, builds giant robot sculptures and creates science museums.

Just hang out with interesting, creative, passionate people and you will discover what you like to do.

I was a lot like you at your age, I started my own computer games company without knowing how to program, learned it on the job. The company collapsed after a few years and I went to work for Apple... and so on... I now hold a computer science research position... and still don't have any degree other than a high school equivalence exam. It's all a matter of luck, enthusiasm and willingness to work hard.

Here's the most likely problem: You aren't mature enough yet. Not really in the ego/experience sense, but in the physical mind/body sense. If my anecdotal experience(just a few years out at 25) is any indication, youth makes it harder to stay grounded and take your immediate reality seriously.

For now, stay healthy, keep learning, try lots of things and do good work. You'll be prepared for whatever comes next.

Watch this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_Series

Might give you some relief and perspective.

Have fun right now, don't worry about anything.

I'm almost 40, married with 3 kids. I can't remember many of my mistakes at 20, but I can sure remember all the good, wild times.

Be (reasonably) reckless, and have fun discovering who you are, as an adult. Don't get tied down with any debt. Be frugal. Travel a lot.

Stability? Pfft. Stop worrying. I'm laughing at you worrying.

at least your only 20 - i've lost EVERYTHING at 52 and have NO chance of every again living any semblance of a "normal" life. Non-degreed IT engr. with 20 yrs experience means dick these days - for some frickin reason everyone expects that if your into it you have a piece of sheepskin. wtf. i too am worried as to what will happen - but I'm not at home, and mere steps away from living on the streets. i can't catch a break, and all the gee-wiz kids (no offense, there are a lot of bright ones out there) are all up on the latest & greatest, whereas, I know 60-80% as much but being an old fart - I always get the cold shoulder. I hate my life, stay away from coding or move overseas since that's the only place you'll find a job in 3 years. fck america, fu* bush. now where's my fifth...time to get wasted and forget the misery.

That sucks. But there are some things that are real and some things that look really like reality but are actually illusions created by our emotions. Your desperation sounds like the latter one.

Usually I don't both with people who are feeling sorry for themselves, but I'm feeling nice this morning.

Go get a GED. Go to a community college and do your general studies. After two years, transfer to a state school and declare your major.

Oh, and don't post shit like this here anymore. This isn't a forum for people feeling bad for themselves.

I had a friend in community college that was 26. He was a roadie until 24 or so and then got his life on track - so in my head you are relatively way, way ahead. Maybe it's not what you want, but you might consider going to community college with the intent to transfer to a four-year.

> "what the fuck am I going to be when I'm 30"

don't worry that you don't know that, it won't be whatever you think when you are 20 anyway.

earn a few bucks and go on a trip some place you find interesting or liked on pictures, you can never go wrong with that.

You coded in C++/Javascript for clients that don't pay. Go to college and learn Computer Science. This will allow you to code for clients that pay. Some of these companies will suck, but some of them will be very good places with great coworkers and a lot of creativity.

The art diploma will be useless. If you have a CS degree, you can have a day job that pays well and maintains your art hobby. Later in life, if you art hobby "takes off", you can drop out of computer science and become an artist full time.

The point is: CS will give you a base that you can use for your entire life and keep you going, allow you to have a family or even be single and reasonably well off.

Set some goals: 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 3 years, 5, 10, lifetime.

Sometimes goals don't go as expected, but they will guide you and give you direction.

I hope steve blank's commencement speech gives you direction, like you he never finished high school.

Well, I'm 22 and I'm worse off than you. BTW, great advice in the comments.

No one is going to provide you the answer, as no one, except you, is able to know what you really want. I think it makes no sense to give you detailed recommendations, as there are few rather good ones already, so let me try to give you a slightly broader perspective.

Obviously, take all responses with a grain of salt, especially mine. No one, except you, is going to experience the wrong decision, and people tend to extrapolate their own experience too much. Let me reassure you, though, that things change. You are going reinvent yourself at least few times in the next decade, or so.

It's very easy to get trapped into thinking that you have to come up with the right decision about your future now. You do not have. You are very lucky you face it now, not ten years later, waking up one day with a mortgage, a well paid job you hate and no time for yourself.

What is really important, though, is to avoid any actions hard or impossible to revert. Specifically, I mean things like becoming seriously addicted to hard drugs, a marriage, a mortgage or a child (and, if you care, everyone will be better off because of a thorougful decision ;-)).

It's impossible to make an informed decision without, well, having some information. Feel free to experiment, as long as you keep in mind the previous point. Your really concious life counts only few years, and it is entirely possible that you have not experienced what you truly love, yet.

It's a cliche but try to follow your instincts, not social pressure or guilt imposed onto you. Everyone knows what is best for everyone, but, at the end of the day, no one will suffer, except potentially your family, from your depression if you decide to go against yourself. A healthly dose of egoism is healthly. You are a free man, and you can do whatever you fucking want, as long as you do not break the law.

When it comes to the drive, try to not confuse your temporary emotions and the long-term ones. Be especially warned about compensating what looks like an eternal unhappiness with other people or any substances. It ends up with junk food, drugs, and staying too long in an eventually destructive relationship.

On the other hand, do not underestimate what I call the instincts, the drive or the things you love. They sound naively, but are pretty powerful. After all, your days are already counted so it makes no sense to waste them because of being afraid not to.

Don't use the inevitable as an excuse. The future is going to surprise you. No one knows what is going to happen in next three, five or ten years. I mean, a decade ago the Internet was nearly non-existent, and journalism was considered a reasonable career. It gets even more puzzling on a microscale, like hurting other people with not meeting their expectations might be exacerbated.

And, with all that praise of listening only to yourself, be a good human being.

I consider the above advice pretty good (to be taken as prescribed, with a grain of salt).

I would add to the list of "things to avoid" (hard drugs, marriage, mortgage, child): spending weekday time in front of movies/games.

Use your productive time on something that you can be proud of or that will create lasting memories. Save recreational activities to do with friends on the weekend - just like sex the novelty will wear off, and they just aren't as fun solo.

+1 for being careful about emotions. Most of the bad decisions I took were in a state where my thinking was clouded with emotions and immediate events.

Sit on your idea for a few days. Decide with a clear heart (and intellect too).

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