Discovering what you actually want in life

By Gordon Rugg

In a previous article, I looked at some ways of discovering what you want in life.

Those ways are a good start, but they often leave a lingering feeling that there’s something more that you actually want.

This article is about a quick, simple way of taking that next step.


Sources for the original images are given at the end of this article.

When I’m helping people to work out what they want their life to be like, one effective tactic is to ask them which of two arbitrarily chosen jobs they would prefer, and why. For instance, one job might be office manager while another might be office worker.

A common response is to prefer office manager, on the grounds that it would have good pay. I’ve shown this in the diagram below. It’s a perfectly reasonable response, but it’s a starting point, not an end point.


The next step is to ask a follow-up question, namely “Why would you prefer a job with good pay?”

It’s a simple question, but it usually produces unexpected and powerful new insights. The diagram below shows one common response to that follow-up question, namely that good pay would let the person travel.

second stepv4

Any readers who are familiar with laddering can guess what happens next. It’s the approach of two steps up, and one step down. Now that we’ve identified the higher-level goal of travel, we can look at ways of achieving that goal. One way of doing that is to ask: “What are some other ways of traveling, apart from having a job with good pay?”

I usually suggest a couple of answers, as a starting point; for instance, one way is to live abroad, and another is to be paid to travel – for example, as a travel writer.

two up one downv3

This usually gets things moving. A typical pattern is that the person leaves with a thoughtful expression, and comes back a couple of days later with a keen expression and a batch of new insights about what they would love to do with their life. Quite often, those new insights are very different from the original preferred job, because of identifying much better ways of getting to that higher level goal.

It’s a good idea to pair this approach with some guidance about the practicalities of getting to higher level goals, since otherwise there’s a risk of people identifying a high level goal, and then becoming dispirited because they can’t see how to get there.

I usually do this by giving some examples that I’ve been personally involved with, such as students who have gone on to Hollywood consultancy, where I can go into detail about just how they got there, and how manageable the steps were along the way.

I usually combine this with pointing the person towards some of the classic resources for for the practicalities of achieving your dreams, such as What Color is Your Parachute? and its accompanying website (ignore the unflattering photo of its author – the book and site are both brilliant) and Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway.

I’ll return to the these themes in later articles. For now, though, I hope that you’ve found this article a useful step towards realising your dreams.

Notes and attributions for images

In case you’re wondering about the bonsai image in the banner: It was intended as an allusion to the concept of going up a couple of steps, and then branching out downwards. Some allusions work better than others…

You’re welcome to use Hyde & Rugg copyleft images for any non-commercial purpose, including lectures, provided that you retain the copyleft statement that goes with the image.

Banner image sources:

Hammock image:

Bonsai image: Slightly cropped version of:

“Bonsai IMG 6405”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

1 thought on “Discovering what you actually want in life

  1. Pingback: Will the world end if I don’t get a job soon? | hyde and rugg

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