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How Do You Know What You Want In Life?


Mai Le


One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from readers of the blog is, “How do I know what I want? How do I know who I need to become?” Recently, I received a letter from a confused gentleman in his mid-twenties, expressing that he feels lost.

I dedicate this piece to those who feel they haven’t quite figured out their desires.

Ironically, I don’t consider myself more qualified than anyone else to write this. I am not in a position to dictate how to discern your wants, as I am also on that journey of discovery. However, I’d like to share some reflections on this topic. I understand that you may disagree – but isn’t a bit of controversy and debate constructive? I’m always eager to learn.

Reality Matters: Considering Your Background, Strengths, and Limited Resources

I wish I could assure you that you can become whoever you dream of. However, the sobering reality that many overlook is that our dreams must have a touch of realism. Would a mother tell her child that he could never be an astronaut because of his short-sightedness? To qualify as an astronaut for NASA, one’s vision in both eyes must be correctable to 20/20. Perhaps she would withhold this fact, allowing the child to grow up dreaming of space travel. Many of us echo such sentiments, living in denial and convincing ourselves we can achieve anything.

While it’s possible to achieve great things with ample time and resources, the journey might require unexpected sacrifices. The short-sighted child, for instance, might need an expensive LASIK surgery to restore 20/20 vision. If I, possessing no inherent talent, aspire to be a rockstar in Hollywood, I must be prepared for years of vocal training, learning the electric guitar, and potentially relocating, assuming I have the finances to do so. The stark truth is, many lack the patience and resources to chase their dreams relentlessly.

Thus, your background, strengths, and resources should inform your dreams. Most focus on their aspirations from a single dimension: what they want to do. I believe it’s crucial to strike a balance between what you want and what you need to do. Pursuing any dream involves undertaking tasks that might not be particularly enjoyable. If you’re aspiring to be a self-made millionaire, you might need to forego a steady income for years or perhaps crash on friends’ couches. Aspiring financiers might begin their careers with mundane tasks. Those who believe dreams are solely about passion might question their choices when faced with these challenges. However, dreams are as much about the destination as they are about the journey, and often, you need to endure the less glamorous parts to achieve your goals. Aligning your dreams with your background and strengths can fuel your persistence.

By constructing a feasible dream, accounting for your background, strengths, and limitations, you maximize your chances of realizing it within a meaningful timeframe.

Your Biggest Adversaries: Time and Self-Doubt

Time, along with the narratives we tell ourselves, often present the most significant barriers to understanding our desires. Our time is finite. We’re constantly racing against it to experiment, make mistakes, evolve with technology, form connections, and acquire new skills. Moreover, we often limit ourselves with self-doubt. We convince ourselves of someone else’s superiority, that the timing isn’t right, or that we should defer our dreams. These self-imposed barriers often stem from fear rather than our actual capabilities.

Take charge of your time and mindset. Recognize what motivates you, and what doesn’t. Silence the doubting voices, and instead, act on what needs to be done, not just what feels right.

Embrace Exploration: Understand What You Don’t Want

For me, determining what I don’t want has been more enlightening than focusing solely on what I desire. Only through experience can you truly discern your preferences. Without venturing down various paths, how can you truly know what suits you? And if you try something and despise it, that’s invaluable feedback!

Shifting from seeking the perfect path to using an elimination approach can be liberating. This strategy alleviates the pressure of pinpointing a singular passion and the accompanying fear of failure. It’s unrealistic to expect to know our exact desires, given that we, like everything else, evolve. Our passions and interests today might differ tomorrow. Instead of tirelessly hunting for that elusive passion, recognize that passions are cultivated, not merely discovered.

Life is more experimental than prescriptive. In the spirit of Facebook’s motto, “Done is better than perfect,” take action. Life’s most significant moments often occur outside our comfort zones.


I’ve amassed over 300 cover letters from myself and friends and curated them in the Cover Letter Library to aid your endeavors. This exclusive library showcases successful cover letters from individuals who landed roles at premier investment banks, Big 4 firms, and more. Check it out 🙂

Illustration by my friend at ANML Studio. Support her by checking out her art on Instagram @anmlstudio and consider making a purchase.

I’m active on Instagram as well! Follow me @official.mai.le 

Written by Mai Le

My name is Mai. I am originally from Vietnam. After my university years at LSE, I worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. After a wonderful time there, I started several of my own business as well as helping others on theirs. I've always been building communities and businesses for as long as I can remember, and absolutely thrilled to see others enjoy what I've built.



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