I Wish I Had Heard This Advice on Finding My Life’s Path Years Ago
If I would have heard Stephen King’s sage advice earlier, it would have changed how I felt about my own journey
For years, I beat myself up about not finding my “one thing” — my life’s path. So many books and articles I’ve read talk about how important it is to focus on that one magical thing, and really perfect it. But I’ve always struggled to find it — and I’ve continued to beat myself up for it.
I’ve worked different jobs in different sectors, I’ve made false starts into different career paths, and I always ended up feeling like I gave up too soon.
But then I heard some advice from Stephen King — the man who’s reliably put out bestselling books for decades.
King was giving a talk on creative writing to students at UMass Lowell. During the Q&A session a nervous student stepped up to the microphone in the audience and asked the award-winning author about how to develop as a writer.
The answer King gave was simple:
“You have to read a lot, and you have to write a lot…
That’s not surprising to hear. Of course you have to write and read a lot to be a writer. Those are the two things that a working writer does as part of the job description. But then King goes on to drop a much more interesting piece of advice — one that applies not just to writing, but to anything someone might want to do with their life.
…and you have to continue to get buzzed by what you’re doing….You have to really like what you’re doing.”
That’s it, the buzz. It’s a simple, but infinitely useful piece of advice. Find and follow the thing that gets you buzzed.
Let’s unpack what that means, shall we?
What is the “Buzz”?
The buzz that King is talking about is one of those things that can’t be adequately conveyed by words alone. If you’ve felt it, you know it.
Some people might use the word “passion” to attempt to describe it, but it’s different than that. It’s simpler. It doesn’t need to be some grand overarching mission or purpose. It’s just feeling both excited by and engaged with what you’re doing.
A buzz is also very private. Only you feel it, and it motivates you in a very specific way. You feel it when you encounter a problem that compels you to dig in and solve it. You feel it when you get pulled into a project with some messy details to sort through — and you get excited to roll up your sleeves and begin sorting through it.
And, more importantly, a buzz is also not something that comes from only one thing. A buzz is not a mission or passion, but rather an indicator you’re connecting to something — that you’re tapping into a deeper part of yourself.
In fact, a buzz is a gateway to finding that overarching mission or passion — the thing that you can call your life’s work. And after that, it can serve as a great gauge for how you’re doing in your professional journey.
If you’re feeling that buzz regularly, then you’re on the right track. If not, it’s time to to re-calibrate.
So, How do You Find Your Buzz?
Some people find their mission or life’s work early on, and their buzz comes from plugging away it. But for most of us, it doesn’t happen that way. For most of us, the buzz we feel is a helpful guide to finding our “main thing”. That’s why finding the buzz in whatever we’re doing is important.
Here’s an important point to remember: you can find something to get buzzed about no matter what your current job is.
You don’t need to be dramatic and quit your job in order to go on a journey and find your passion. Your journey can take place where you are now — no matter where that is. You can work on finding your passion by continuing to do whatever you’re doing — just doing it a little differently.
You don’t need to start a side-hustle to get buzzed (though you can if you’d like). At nearly any job, you can find something to get a little buzzed about. Like so many things, it’s mostly about slight changes to your mindset and approach.
Don’t be Work-Monogamous
Part of the journey of finding your life’s work is being open and experimentation.
Of course, you can’t let yourself get distracted by every little thing that comes your way. The name of the game is allowing for changes in your focus and enthusiasm. My focus and enthusiasm can get diverted by another opportunity that I get buzzed about. As long as it’s not a worthless opportunity — it’s okay to follow it.
Why think that you need to just find one thing to get buzzed about? Why can’t you get buzzed about a few things — even in the same day? You can. You should.
The trick to finding that buzz is to cast your net wide. Get involved in a lot of things, with a lot of people. Read about different subjects, take a shot at different projects or duties at your job — if they’re available. Roll up your sleeves and take on different kinds of work, to see what gives you a buzz. What you find might surprise you.
Keep your eyes and ears open — both on the job and off. Take on things outside your normal duties, if they seem to energize you.
Get a Mentor
Stay in touch with your manager. If your manager doesn’t seem to care about your personal development, work on finding a mentor. A mentor is someone who’s not your boss, but who you respect, and who can help guide you in your professional development.
A good mentor can be someone above you, or just someone within your company who seems to have a valuable point of view. They don’t need to be extremely successful or an expert on something. They merely need to be able to help you see things along your path that you don’t recognize, and be willing to spend time talking you through your journey.
The mentors I’ve had in my time have been huge contributors to whatever success I have achieved. And even the mentors that have guided me through jobs that I’ve left behind continue to leave their mark on how I approach other work — and life in general.
Drop Your Preconceived Notions
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my working life has been that you shouldn’t approach your career or any particular job with preconceived notions. Specifically, you shouldn’t come into a job thinking that only certain work will fulfill you, and that your career must follow a certain path and trajectory.
For a select few, that might work out. For the rest of us, all it will end up doing is disappointing and frustrating us. It will also keep your focus too narrow to spot other opportunities.
My own preconceived notions have let me down more often than not, and it was only when I was pushed to shake free of them that I was able to find “the buzz”.
I was 100% sure of my career path on no fewer than 4 occasions—and each time I admitted that I was mistaken has ended up making my experience that much better in the long run.
- I went off to college totally sure I was going to get my degree in illustration and work in that field. But I failed, and had to pivot.
- I worked in the retail nutrition industry, and learned a TON about supplements — so much that I was recruited by a competing company. But things changed.
- I got my B.A. and M.A. in philosophy, and taught at a college for nearly 5 years, 100% sure that it was my lifelong career path. Circumstances forced me to re-examine that plan.
- I signed on to a full-time gig doing customer service and purchasing work at an industrial company. I thought it would be just a paycheck. But I taught myself Excel, learned how to be a manager, and got recruited onto the national sales team. 10 years in, and the job continues to provide me with new opportunities and constructive challenges.
The point is, buzzes come from all over, and it’s best not to pretend you know where they’ll come from. Just stay open and stay agile.
Most Buzzes are Temporary
The thing about buzzes is that for the most part, they are temporary by nature. It’s partly because of you, and partly because of the nature of the work. You may get buzzed about something now, but after doing it for 3 months, it’s run its course.
You may find another thing that gets you buzzed, and feel like moving on. And that’s okay, too. The important thing is to stay open, and be willing to pivot. If you don’t, you can miss opportunities to try other things that can both add value to others’ work, and bring you valuable experience.
A great habit to get into is to regularly ask people in other areas of your company what they’re working on. Even if you have to listen to them complain about their projects and their boss, you can find out what else there is to work on. If you hear anything worth digging into, dig into it. You might just find yourself at the beginning of a new path—as a result of one conversation!
The Takeaway: Stay Open, Stay Curious
The Buzz is an indicator that you’re on the right track. But in order to be receptive to buzzes from all sorts of different things, you need only do two things: stay open and stay curious.
Don’t give way to pressure that tells you to find something now and stick to it. Find things to get buzzed about — follow that buzz — and see where it takes you. You may be surprised, and delighted, by where you end up.