Full of resolve and excitement at what the future holds? Good. But have you worked out what you’re going to do exactly?

If you need to make some big changes in your life in order to feel happier, you may be looking back with regret and questioning the choices you made in the past, while thinking ‘What am I going to do now?’

This can be quite scary. After all you may feel that you’ve wasted a lot of energy in doing what you’ve done so far. Was it wasted? If you enjoyed it while you did it and got great experience and skills and contacts out of it, no it wasn’t wasted.

Whatever the case it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want to do with your life now, given what you have in terms of talent and skill.

Here’s what to ask yourself to help you work out a way forward, says counsellor and coach Rachel Weiss,

What do I want?
Generally between the ages of 20 and 40+ you’re thinking about what you need to do for your career or family. You just wake up and make a ‘to-do’ and ‘should’ list. So now’s the time to think ‘what do I want to do?’ And for many of us that’s a rusty question. You may no longer know what your interests are since your world shrank to career or career plus kids.

You’re either at the point where your career is established but you want to start focusing on other projects, or you’re in that place where you have great knowledge and experience but feel it’s not being used in ways that excite you. Or maybe you’ve recently lost your job or been sidelined. Whatever the case now is the time to pause and think about what you actually want now.

And sometimes in asking ‘What do I want?’ you discover that what you’re doing doesn’t fit with your values or talents, or maybe it just no longer suits you. Priorities change.
As kids we’re always asked what we want to be as if there’s only one answer. It’s ok in your mid life to think ‘That was fine for when I was climbing the career ladder/putting food on the table. But what do I want to do with my life now?’

What am I good at?
We can’t all just be whatever we want to be without a certain amount of talent in that area. So pin down what your talents are. Think laterally about your skills and strengths, and write down a list. If you don’t know what your talents are, ask people around you.

What gives me meaning?
If, say, you have a maths degree one option would be to go to get a high-flying job in a bank. You might be good at that, but would it have meaning for you? Think about what would really resonate for you.

What gives me pleasure?
With that maths degree you may have got meaning by being an accountant for a charity. But that won’t work if you get pleasure from working with people, not accounts. So… what makes you feel good? People? Creative challenges? Working independently? Think it through.

Who can help?
To make the change you need courage. And that requires support – other people who believe in you. This is especially helpful if you’re risk-averse (and women on the whole aren’t brought up to take risks). A coach or counsellor will ask questions and pin you down to the answers and hold you accountable, without needing to know anything about your field. Or find a mentor – someone who already works in the field you want to work in, who will have deep knowledge of it and can guide you. At the very least you need to share your plans with a good friend. It’s important to have a sounding board.

What’s the worst thing that can happen?
As we get older we hopefully get wiser and more confident. But if there is a nagging fear of putting your head above the parapet and of people’s judgement, think ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’. Name your worst fear and think ‘Is there any evidence that this could happen?’. Even if there is, think ‘does it matter?’. And you’ll probably find it doesn’t. We’re so conditioned to worry what other people will think of us. But at this stage we should give equal weight to what what we actually want.

How will I pay the bills?
The need to survive is of course an issue. Most of us have no choice but to keep earning. We might need to accept that nine to five we’re going to carry on doing what we need to survive for a few months. But even if we get an hour a day to plan our future project or career, to inch forward on the path to a new venture that will make our heart sing, well that will really makes a difference. Because one day the new venture will pay the bills.

Words: Marina Gask