“What are you going to do with your life?” can be a terrifying question.
One summer, while giving retreats on Ignatian spirituality, the most popular talk we gave was on Ignatius’s “Rules for Discernment.”1 It indicated that most of us are hungry for guidance.
I was thus not surprised that “How to Live Wisely” shot up the “most emailed” list of the New York Times. In it, a Harvard professor describes illuminating exercises that he and other faculty members have used in a noncredit seminar called “Reflecting on Your Life.”2
I found the exercises he describes to be practical and potentially very illuminating.
But I also found them incomplete. The practices, such as making a list of how you want to spend your time in college and comparing that with another list of how you actually spend your time, seem helpful for identifying your desires and whether you are getting closer to your goals.
The exercises, however, don’t offer a clear way to evaluate whether your desires are good desires, whether you are any good at what you want to be, and whether the world actually needs what you desire to do.
Fr. Michael Himes, a theology professor at Boston College, has become a helpful guide for those trying to make important life decisions, and his questions and exercises can help one make a more robust discernment.
Himes offers three key questions to ask when trying to determine whether this might be something you want to do with your life:
1) Is this a source of joy?
2) Is this something that taps into your talents and gifts—engages all of your abilities—and uses them in the fullest way possible?
3) Is this role a genuine service to the people around you, to society at large?
Or, in other words, he asks, 1) Do you get a kick out of it? 2) Are you any good at it? 3) Does anyone need you to do it?
If you happen to ask someone “the question” about the future and receive a terrified look (or if you are terrified about what to do with your life), check out this video3 by Himes in which he describes his three guiding questions:
What do you think? Is this helpful? What other questions or exercises have been helpful in your own discernment? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.
Cover image by Jose Maria Cuellar, Flickr Creative Commons
- During a different summer, I worked at a program for high school students that explores how God is calling each of us. I cannot recommend it highly enough. ↩
- Admittedly, I also could not help but think that Ignatius, who also offers several exercises for helping a person make decisions in “The Exercises,” beat him by several hundred years. Ignatius’s ideas include pretending I am giving advice to someone in my shoes or imagining myself on my deathbed and thinking about which option I wished I would have chosen. ↩
- The transcript of which can be found here. ↩