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This was a Quora answer I wrote for someone who was obviously lost and felt at a dead-end in life.

Unfortunately Quora has thrown away a lot of the details of their question. But I think my advice stands as a sympathetic / practical guide to get started.

Quora Answer : Have I wasted my life?

Mar 4, 2015

No it's not too late. But it's probably time you started figuring out what you want and how to get there. You'll find that your 30s pass more quickly than your 20s. And 40s even more so.

Try figuring out some small but concrete gains you can make.

Depending on whether you are a systematic person, you may want to make lists / time-tables and try to stick to them. Or set more general goals.

Here are some things that you could start doing :

1) read some good books.

Books are good because they cost very little money. (None at all if you download them from Project Gutenberg ). And they'll fill your mind with ideas and dreams which can help you figure out where you want to go in your life. (Dreams are good as a way of discovering what you want. But don't waste your life on the wrong dreams eg. "imagine what I'd buy if I won the lottery." In fact, don't waste any time on dreams of consumption ... "imagine I had X" ... "imagine if I could buy Y". Have dreams of action ... "imagine I could paint like X" ... "imagine I could visit Y" )

So try setting yourself a goal like this : "In three months I'll have read three books : a piece of "classic literature", a travel book, and a self-help book."

Make the effort with the classic literature. Even if it's hard work or boring. Think about the lives of the people you're reading about. Think about why the author should have spent his or her time to write this book. What they felt? Why they felt it important etc. Even if you don't initially see it, make the effort to try to understand their point of view.

Any good travel book will tell you two sorts of things. What it's like somewhere else in the world, for real people. And what it's like for an outsider to have the personal resources (I mean courage, curiosity, psychological strength, energy etc.) to make that trip. What is it like over there? What is it like to be someone who decides to make the effort to go and see it and deal with the difficulties that this involves?

Don't believe everything that the self-help book says or believe that it will change your life. Self-help books can be very dishonest. But it will have at least some useful advice and some affirmations. Don't get hooked though. And remember it's "junk food", occasionally useful for the sugar-rush but not something you want to become your standard diet.

I guarantee. By the end of reading these three books, you will have more interesting thoughts and desires than you had before you started. And you'll have some ideas of things you might do to advance them.

OTOH, if you are already reading a lot of books in these genres, ignore this advice. The basic rule of all these suggestions is that they'll be useful if they're NEW behaviours. Not if they're something you're already habituated to.

2) Go and meet new people, find a new crowd.

The secret of life is basically that other people matter. When you hang out with people who are themselves active, who themselves have ambitions and plans and projects, you will find that this will rub off and you'll get inspired.

If you've done too little with your life up until now, you've probably been hanging around with people who are similarly unambitious. Now, don't treat this as an excuse! It's no good just saying "ah, it's the fault of my peer group". No, it's your responsibility to make a life for yourself that you'd want to live. BUT, it is a useful heuristic. Find people who have plans, goals, projects and who are acting on them and hang out with them.

Meetup is great for this if it's in your area. But look for any clubs, evening classes etc. Aim to get to a couple in the next month. You'll find people who are themselves active and interested in things. And that will energize you. Even if you aren't interested in the same things.

If the first groups you meet don't inspire you, keep looking for others.

3) Get more exercise.

Obviously I don't know how much you get at the moment, but unless you're already into sports or fitness, then you could probably do with getting more.

Set yourself a target that you'll go for a 1 or 2 hour walk at least once a week.

Or save some money and get a bicycle. And use it to get around the town / area where you live. Or join a swimming pool. Whatever is available.

4) "Declutter".

Amazingly, this totally works. (I'm the most cynical person in the world, but I'm a believer in this.) Just go through your room looking at all your old junk. (Start with a couple of drawers one day, and work up from there.) Find as much stuff to get rid of as you can.

If it's worth anything, make the effort to put it on eBay and sell it. If it's not worth real money, try Freecycle. Or just give to a charity shop or jumble sale. If it's rubbish, sort it for recycling.

The end result, you will feel more energy, feel better about yourself, you might have made a small amount of money or at least met people who wanted the things you didn't.

So, that's your first three months. Follow these four strategies and in three months you will be fitter and have more physical energy, will have thought more about what goes on in other people's minds and how they feel, will have visions of the wider world and what it's like to engage it, will know new people, will have some heuristics to better your life from the self-help book (be sceptical about these), will have immersed yourself in examples of good quality writing, will be less chained down with physical junk and will have set yourself up with a feeling that you CAN move your life forward.

After that ... start getting more ambitious : stop watching TV and do a FutureLearn course. Perhaps plan a short weekend travelling by yourself. (Cycle or walk in the local area, staying overnight away from home. Or take a bus trip to another city to see a museum. Money is obviously a constraint here. Do whatever you can afford comfortably. Not something that's a big / dramatic gesture that will get you into debt. You are practising your autonomy not selling yourself into slavery.) Like music? Learn an instrument? Or learn some card tricks to impress people socially. Or make something to sell on Fiverr or Etsy.

Your mission is not to get money or a job or a girlfriend. Your mission is to become energetic, talented and interesting enough that other people in the world will want you working for them or loving them. Good luck.

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