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Hey Dave? is an advice column.  That’s a picture of me, hard at work solving the world’s personal problems. Dave is my real name, and I’m here to help. Why? There are lots of reasons, but mostly because I care about you getting good advice.  

Are you in a tough spot and want to say Hey Dave? You can ask me your question here.

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Hiya Dave,

Someone recently asked me what it is I want in regards to a career, and to be honest I don’t know.

I’m 23 and I have no idea what it is I want to do with my life.

I feel like most of my friends and family who are my age have an idea of what they want, and then there is me.

I have a full time job, and although it isn’t fulfilling, the people are nice, and it pays the bills.

I’m stuck in an endless cycle of repetition. I really want to travel or break out of the mundane life.  However, being both British Pakistani and the only daughter, it’s pretty much impossible. For the longest time, my parents have always “wrapped me up in cotton wool” [ed. note: British expression for coddled, sheltered], and whenever I suggest doing something on my own, it’s almost instantly shot down.

All these thoughts result in me having days where I feel anxious and down.

Do you have any advice on how I would be able to change up my routine, or at least convince my traditional parents that this is my life, and I should be free to make my own mistakes?

Thanks for reading,

Cotton-Wooled

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 Dear Cotton-Wooled,

Immediately, let me say that you are almost there.  You are close to a moment of change.  And I believe you can do it.

You are off to a great start.  Here’s why:

  • While you may not know what you exactly want to do with your life, you know that you want something else, and you feel that something needs to change, and soon.
  • You are still young and you have a level of courage and self-awareness to be asking yourself some serious existential questions.
  • While perhaps not fulfilling, your job at least affords you the time to plot your future awesomeness.

Whether it’s built into our DNA, part of our cultural upbringing or a sign of our fast-paced times, most people operate at a low-level of anxiety and uncertainty and fear because they feel incomplete, or that something is missing from their lives, or that they are not doing the “right” thing, or that the grass is greener on the other side.

Your friends that have all the answers?  Well, they are just as scared and undecided as you. Maybe not about exactly the same things, but know that the fear and indecision is never really that far away in anybody’s life, no matter the age.

The bad news?  There’s a good chance this feeling will never go away.

I still don’t know what I want to do with my life.  I’m still scared and plagued by indecision every day.  I still feel that something is missing from my life.  Truth is, people, all people, will never be 100% completely satisfied.

The good news?  Realizing that this feeling will probably never go away unshackles you from its power and control over you.  

Let yourself feel the fear and anxiety, and then let them pass. If they’re always going to be there lurking in the shadows anyways, there’s no need to give them all of your time.  

More importantly, in the long run, you should devote that time instead to shifting your perspective when those feelings arise.  An unknown future doesn’t need to feel anxious; it can feel exciting. Don’t know what career you want? That’s an opportunity to try a variety of cool jobs.  Uncertain about your unfulfilling job? Think of it as being paid to plot out your next moves into happiness.

And here is where all of this translates into action – if it’s natural to feel a little scared and a little anxious about the future, you might as well do something RIGHT NOW that makes you happy and healthy, right?

Going down this path – of doing the things, big and small, that make you happy – you’ll start to see, from a long-term or higher-order perspective, that that anxiety will melt away because you are starting to learn to live in the moment, where present happiness replaces future anxiety.  

You’ll start to see that doing things you love makes you feel that you – and only you – are in charge of your happiness.  And this, then, brings us to Mom and Dad.  

What you seem to be missing is that last boost of confidence to confront your parents, which, no doubt, can be daunting, so here goes: no matter colour or creed, culture or country, no one can decide for you how you should define your own happiness.  No matter the circumstances in which people find themselves, it is one of the few freedoms that people will truly ever have, this ability to decide how to be happy, and this is the point you need to get across to your parents.

Cotton-Wooled, there’s no easy way around this one.  You have to sit your parents down, but – and this is key! – not as their child, but as an adult that is their peer and equal, and have a frank mature conversation.  (You can even start the conversation like that.  “I’d like to have this conversation with you as an adult peer, and not your child.”)

And then ask them if they would deny another person the freedom to choose their happiness.  

You have to explain to them that:

  • you have one life
  • this one life belongs to no one but you; it is you who are in possession of it, and feels its consequences
  • because of this, while others may help, there is no one else but you who is responsible for your life
  • the only way to learn responsibility for your life is to grow
  • the only way to grow is have the freedom to make decisions for yourself
  • and that you have very much appreciated all the support they have shown you, but it is time for them to perform the most noble and true act of parenting (also the hardest), that of giving you the freedom to grow into your own person,
  • and that, what should matter to them, is that out there in the world, as a free and responsible adult human being, everybody will know what a great job they’ve done raising such an amazing person, so that, ultimately, letting you go only makes them look good!

I would also add the need to let your parents know that the current situation is negatively affecting your emotional and mental (and possible, eventually, physical) well-being, and that to stay in that situation is becoming detrimental.  Part of the above responsibility of being an adult is to have the freedom to remove oneself from harm and take control of one’s overall health.  Their inability to accept your decisions is causing you pain, and that’s unacceptable.

It’s not easy being at your crossroads, Cotton-Wooled.  But I have so much hope for you.  Follow your heart and do all the things you love, because it is only in that pursuit will the weight of existence be lifted.

The deeper you get, the more you will see those passions unfold in strange, new directions. Be curious, follow those directions, always ask deeper and deeper questions.  There is a bottomless well of passion inside everybody.  You just have to jump in!

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Are you in a tough spot and want to say Hey Dave? You can ask me your question here:

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