Feeling Lost?: 9 Reasons Why & What to Do About It
I know what it feels like to feel lost in life. To be honest, I think everybody does.
In my humble opinion, I don’t think it’s possible to avoid it altogether. But I do believe we can learn how to get out of it sooner than we usually do.
I spent four full years of my life feeling stuck and lost, and I had no idea why, so let me tell you the story (real quick, I promise) of how my life went from success to mess in a single second a few years ago.
It all started when I was preparing to study for a Masters’s Degree in Germany. I was in Berlin at the moment, and the second I stepped foot in the city, I realized I didn’t know what I was doing.
I decided I didn’t want to do the Master’s I had chosen, and then suddenly realized that if I didn’t enroll in this program, I would have no idea what to do next.
“Is this isn’t it, then what is it? If I’m not studying, then what am I supposed to do besides working?“
At that exact moment, I felt like an alien on a foreign planet. Nothing made sense anymore.
That instant marked the beginning of my drifting years.
Looking back, I understand why this happened, and I want to share with you what I’ve learned so far.
9 Reasons Why You’re Feeling Lost
Here are the main reasons why you keep asking yourself, “Why do I feel lost in life?” and what you can do to cope, tackle them, and improve your life.
1. You don’t know yourself
Knowing yourself isn’t something that comes implied the moment you’re born. It takes time and conscious effort to know who you are, your values, and what you want.
If you haven’t made that effort, chances are you have no idea what you want.
If you don’t feel comfortable enough to share your feelings and thoughts with someone, the best thing you can do is write it down, a.k.a. journal about it.
No matter if nobody will listen and respond, writing down your honest thoughts and feelings will take you a step further in life. Write what you really think and feel about every aspect of your life.
2. You lack self-awareness
If you feel lost, chances are you’re too distracted to see what’s right inside of you.
You can’t identify what’s going on or why you feel the way you do because you’re too distracted by the outside world.
Some people who feel terrible and lack self-awareness love to keep themselves busy working, studying, hanging out with others, and watching TV.
The noise on the outside somehow keeps “under control” of what’s happening on the inside. Years of therapy taught me that lesson.
The process of writing down your thoughts gets them out of your head and allows you to see them in a clear and organized way.
Our brains are powerful machines, but sometimes they need a little help to process things.
Another thing you can do is practice mindfulness, which can help you:
- be more objective
- improve your levels of focus
- boost your emotional intelligence
- be kinder to yourself and others
- and understand yourself better.
3. You live according to other people’s definitions of things
Whether conscious of it or not, every person on Earth has her own definition of things like success, happiness, love, what’s right, what’s wrong, etc.
If you don’t know yourself, you’re likely to adopt whatever definition of things is shared with you. Or whatever definition is imposed upon you.
For instance, if your parents tell you that being successful means having a family and making a lot of money, you’ll work towards that definition of success.
If you go on social media, see that every person that owns a home by the beach is over-the-moon happy, and you have no idea what you want, you’ll convince yourself that once you have a house like that, you’ll finally feel happy.
It happens to the best of us, and it’s ok. It’s normal.
However, being mindful of this is the first step towards having our own definition of important concepts in life.
Think about these concepts and what they mean TO YOU:
Can you identify if one of your definitions is just you repeating what someone else told you you should think?
Or is it how you really feel?
For example: do you think success means having more money, more freedom or being happier?
4. You’ve fallen into the consistency trap
This is a concept I learned from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.
Humans tend to cherish consistent people, people who say/do something and never change.
These kinds of people are often seen as stable, rational, true, logical, reliable. And for a good reason.
Being consistent can often help us make quick, good choices without having to give it that much thought, which, in turn, makes us highly efficient. It’s a valuable feature of our highly-developed brain.
On the other hand, when people change their minds, they risk being seen as inconsistent, unreliable, corrupted, liar, illogical, unpredictable. In reality, being able to change your mind every step of the way thanks to new things you learn is a skill we all should value.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it in his essay titled Self-Reliance: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
What happens with this “trap” is that if you went to law school, for example, now you should be a lawyer.
There’s no option for you to leave the profession without high levels of strain because working as a lawyer is consistent with what you went to college for, no matter how miserable it may make you.
It happened to me.
I’m a translator, and some years ago, I suddenly decided I wanted to sell handmade journals on Etsy. I guess I needed a creative outlet.
Even though nobody made negative remarks about it, I felt I was somehow betraying my career. I did it anyway. I opened that Etsy store and sold a couple of journals, but not without dealing with a deep feeling of embarrassment.
This need for consistency plays a lot of nasty tricks on our minds. It’s one of the reasons why it feels so hard to refuse to buy something once you’ve told a salesman you were going to buy it.
5. You don’t know what’s possible
When you know there are people out there making a living out of sending tweets (don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a craft), you start to understand we live in a fascinating era where technically everything’s possible.
Knowing what’s possible opens your mind to endless opportunities.
The best way to open that mind of yours?
Embrace the power of stories: read memoirs, watch movies and documentaries, and let people talk about themselves often so you can learn more about them.
Open your eyes, and pay attention. Notice what people do for a living, how they make their money, how they overcome challenges, and what they’ve learned from it all.
- Read books and interesting articles.
- Watch movies and documentaries.
- Read stories on Medium.
- Follow interesting people on Twitter and see what they’re up to.
6. You’re a people pleaser
I’ve talked about Not Nice in this blog a couple of times already.
It’s a book for people-pleasers who care more about what others think of them than about their own needs.
If you’re a people pleaser and don’t know how to say NO, life can take you in directions you don’t want to be in.
7. You don’t feel loved
This is a tricky one, but did you know that feeling love (and loved) is key to your mental health?
According to a study by the University of Michigan, the quality of your relationships influences the likelihood of developing depression.
Not only that, according to this other study by the University of Bern, romantic relationships and self-esteem are deeply connected.
Self-love is absolutely important as well.
When you love yourself, you know you deserve better than being miserable doing things you don’t enjoy.
When you love yourself, you tend to trust yourself.
And, when you have a healthy amount of self-love, you know how to stand up for yourself.
If you don’t have caring people who love you, you probably don’t have a support system.
You don’t feel confident to share how you feel, be honest, and be open about what you’re going through, and if you don’t have that, sometimes it’s just easier to keep living as you’ve always had.
8. You don’t know how to set priorities and smart goals
Because you don’t know what matters to you the most, it’s hard for you to set priorities, let alone goals. This can lead you to live a life with no purpose.
The worst part? It can last for years! People can spend years living life as it is without setting meaningful goals.
Once you realize what you’ve been doing, you see you’ve been operating by inertia, and you haven’t done anything “important” in a long time. That sucks.
Start learning how to set meaningful goals that’ll help you create a life you love.
9. You’re not learning new things
One of the reasons why we feel lost sometimes is that we’re not growing and improving ourselves.
And one of the best things to do that is by learning.
When you read, listen to interesting podcasts, watch educational videos, or enroll in courses, the chances of not learning something valuable that inspires you to change your life are lower.
On the other hand, if you spend years stuck on a boring routine that doesn’t help you learn and think for yourself, you stick to what you know.
Discovering things you love to do and that spark your curiosity will inevitably take you in interesting directions.
Is It Normal to Feel Lost?
I didn’t want to end this post without telling you something you must know:
Most adults look like they have it all figured out when, in reality, they have no idea what they’re doing with their lives.
It’s normal to feel lost every once in a while because changes happen all the time, both inside and outside ourselves.
I dare to say feeling lost is necessary because it tells you there’s something you have to change.
However, I believe we all must learn how to get unstuck quickly and easily if we want to enjoy our lives.
You can start doing many things today to help you know who you are and what you want and create a solid plan to get there.
The Bottom Line
Feeling lost is nerve-racking, I know. But don’t worry; not everything’s lost.
There are both radical and subtle ways to make changes if you’re feeling lost in life.
Try the action steps I recommend above, and you’ll feel more certain about what you want and why. You’ll also start believing in yourself more.