I live in southwest London. For work, I help manage a youth and community programme. My two main pastimes are music and cycling.

 

How to Decide What to Do with Your Life

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How to Decide What to Do with Your Life

When you’re young, the world is your oyster and opportunities seem endless, but there can be a lot of pressure to decide on a life path. How do you know what career to pursue and what to do with your future?

This post originally appeared on Zen Habits.

I recently had a 15-year-old write to me, and ask about figuring out what to do with her life:

"As a high-school student I’m constantly being reminded to figure out what to do with my life, what career I would like to have and so on. I definitely feel huge amounts of pressure when my teachers and parents tell me to figure out something now. I’m young and I don’t want to make a mistake and ruin my future. I know what I like and what my interests are but when I read about a job related to those interests I always feel as if I wouldn’t enjoy it and I don’t know why."

What an extremely tough thing to figure out: what to do with your future! Now, I can’t really know exactly what this young woman should do, but I can share what I’ve learned looking back on my life, and what I would tell my kids (the oldest is 21 and still figuring things out, but I also have 17- and 16-year-old boys and a 14-year-old girl). Here’s what I’d say.

You Can’t Figure Out the Future

How to Decide What to Do with Your Life

Even young people who have a plan (to be a doctor, lawyer, research scientist, singer) don’t really know what will happen. If they have any certainty at all, they’re a bit deluded. Life doesn’t go according to plan, and while a few people might do exactly what they set out to do, you never know if you’re one of those. Other things come along to change you, to change your opportunities, to change the world. The jobs of working at Google, Amazon, or Twitter, for example, didn’t exist when I was a teenager. Neither did the job of Zen Habits blogger.

So if you can’t figure out the future, what do you do? Don’t focus on the future. Focus on what you can do right now that will be good no matter what the future brings. Make stuff. Build stuff. Learn skills. Go on adventures. Make friends. These things will help in any future.

Learn to Be Good with Discomfort

One of the most important skills you can develop is being okay with some discomfort. The best things in life are often hard, and if you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you’ll miss out. You’ll live a life of safety.

Learning is hard. Building something great is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Running an ultra-marathon is hard. All are amazing.

If you get good at being accustomed to a little discomfort, you can do anything. You can start a business, which you couldn’t if you’re afraid of discomfort, because starting a business is hard and uncomfortable.

How do you get good at this? Do things now that are uncomfortable and hard, on purpose. But start with small doses. Try exercising for a little bit, even if it’s hard, but just start with a few minutes of it, and increase a minute every few days or so. Try writing a blog or meditating every day. When you find yourself avoiding discomfort, push yourself just a little bit more (within limits of reason and safety of course).

Learn to Be Good with Uncertainty

A related skill is thriving in uncertainty. Starting a business, for example, is an amazing thing to do, but if you’re afraid of uncertainty, you’ll skip it. You can’t know how things will turn out, and so if you need to know how things will turn out, you’ll avoid great projects, businesses, opportunities.

But if you can be okay with not knowing, you’ll be open to many more possibilities. I’ve written previously about becoming more comfortable with uncertainty.

If you’re good at discomfort and uncertainty, you could do all kinds of things: travel the world and live cheaply while blogging about it, write a book, start a business, live in a foreign country and teach English, learn to program and create your own software, take a job with a startup, create an online magazine with other good young writers, and much more. All of those would be awesome, but you have to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty.

If any opportunities like these come along, you’ll be ready if you’ve practiced these skills.

Overcome Distraction and Procrastination

How to Decide What to Do with Your Life

All of this is useless if you can’t overcome the universal problems of distraction and procrastination. You might seize an opportunity because you’re good at uncertainty and discomfort, but then not make the most of it because you’re too busy on social media and watching TV.

Actually, distraction and procrastination are just ways of avoiding discomfort, so if you get good at discomfort you’re way ahead of most people. But there are some things you can practice and ways to beat procrastination.

Learn More about Your Mind

Most people don’t realize that fear controls them. They don’t notice when they run to distraction, or rationalize doing things they told themselves they wouldn’t do. It’s hard to change mental habits because you don’t always see what’s going on in your head.

Learn about how your mind works, and you’ll be much better at all of this. For me, the best ways are meditation and blogging. With meditation (read how to do it) you watch your mind jumping around, running from discomfort, rationalizing. With blogging, you are forced to reflect on what you’ve been doing in life and what you’ve learned from it. It’s a great tool for self-growth, and I recommend it to every young person.

Do Paid Work and Save Money

How to Decide What to Do with Your Life

I don’t think money is that important, but making money is difficult. You have to make someone believe in you enough to hire you or buy your products/service, which means you have to figure out why you’re worthy of someone believing in you. You have to become worthy. And you have to learn to communicate that to people so they’ll want to buy or hire you. Whether you’re selling cookies door-to-door or an app in the Apple store or trying to get a job as a cashier, you have to do this.

And you get better with practice.

I worked as a clerk at a bank and then a freelance sports writer when I was in high school, and those were valuable experiences for me. And if you can make enough, save an emergency fund, then start investing your earnings in an index fund and watch it grow over your lifetime.

Build Something, Even If It’s Small

Most people fritter their time away on things that don’t matter, like TV, video games, social media, and reading the news. A year of that and you have nothing to show for it. But if you did a sketch every day, or started writing a web app, or created a blog or a video channel that you update regularly, or started building a cookie business, at the end of a year you’ll have something great. And some new skills. Something you can point to and say, “I built that.” Which most people can’t do.

Start small, and build it every day if possible. It’s like putting your money in investments: it grows in value over time.

Become Trustworthy and Build Your Reputation

When someone hires an unfamiliar young person, the biggest fear is that the young person is not trustworthy. That they’ll come in late and lie about it and miss deadlines. Someone who has established a reputation over the years might be much more trusted, and more likely to be hired. Learn to be trustworthy by showing up on time, doing your best on every task, being honest, admitting mistakes but fixing them, trying your best to meet deadlines, and being a good person.

If you do that, you’ll build a reputation and people will recommend you to others, which is the best way to get a job or investor.

Always Be Ready for Opportunities

How to Decide What to Do with Your Life

If you do all of the above, or at least most of it, you’ll be amazing. You’ll be way, way ahead of pretty much every other person—especially if you’re a teenager like the one who wrote me with this question. And opportunities will come your way, if you have your eyes open: job opportunities, a chance to build something with someone, an idea for a startup that you can build yourself, a new thing to learn and turn into a business, the chance to submit your new screenplay.

These opportunities might come along, and you have to be ready to seize them. Take risks—that’s one of the advantages of being young. And if none come along, create your own.

Finally the idea behind all of this is that you can’t know what you’re going to do with your life right now, because you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’ll be able to do, what you’ll be passionate about, who you’ll meet, what opportunities will come up, or what the world will be like. But you do know this: if you are prepared, you can do anything you want.

Prepare yourself by learning about your mind, becoming trustworthy, building things, overcoming procrastination, getting good at discomfort and uncertainty.

You can put all this off and live a life of safety and boringness. Or you can start today, and see what life has to offer you.

A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life | Zen Habits

Leo Babauta is the creator and writer of Zen Habits. He’s married with six kids, lives in San Francisco (previously Guam), and is a runner and a vegan. Read more about him: My Story.

Image by alphaspirit (Shutterstock). Photos by Jeff Kubin (Flickr), Steven Depolo (Flickr), Scott Akerman (Flickr), and Nina Helmer(Flickr).

Want to see your work on Lifehacker? Email Andy.

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Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

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Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

Some apps are essential, and you use them every day. Everyone knows their names: Firefox, VLC, 7-Zip, and so on. However, there’s another class of app that gets less attention: the apps that are insanely useful to have in your back pocket on the rare occasions you need them. Here are 10 of our favorites.

10. Speccy

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

Maybe you’ve forgotten what kind of RAM you bought, or want a quick glance at your CPU’s temperature. Speccy scans your machine and gives you a complete rundown of everything, from model numbers to temperatures, fan speeds, S.M.A.R.T. status, and…well, pretty much anything else you can think of. It’s also available in portable form, so you don’t have to install anything—just stick it in a folder for when you really need it. For an alternative, check out HWiNFO.

9. Ultimate Windows Tweaker

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

When you first install Windows, you probably get everything set up just the way you like it, including all your favorite little Registry hacks and unsupported tweaks. You might even discover new ones later and try them out. Apps like Ultimate Windows Tweaker make this a lot easier, and they’re useful to keep around later if you start incorporating new things into your workflow. Its list of features is endless, allowing you to tweak the tiniest features in the taskbar, Windows Explorer, the lock screen, and anything else you could imagine. Download it once and keep it forever (and as always, back up before you start tweaking your system).

8. Stress Testing Utilities

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

Overclockers are probably very familiar with stress testing utilities like Prime95, LinX, and AIDA64. If you’ve overclocked your CPU, you should definitely keep these around, but they can be useful for non-overclockers too. When your processor is having issues, it can be difficult to diagnose. If some of your apps are crashing, a stress test like Prime95 can help you figure out whether your CPU is the problem (or whether it’s something else). Many folks also recommend giving a new computer a stress test to make sure there aren’t any problems. Most of these are also portable, so you can throw them in a folder and start them up when you need them.

7. MalwareBytes, VirusTotal, and AdwCleaner

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

We put these in the same category since they all protect you from unwanted programs, but they’re each useful in their own right. You probably have a good antivirus program running all the time, but no antivirus program catches everything—so it’s useful to have a secondary program to check once in awhile. MalwareBytes is great because it only works on-demand, which means it won’t conflict with your always-running antivirus tool. The VirusTotal Uploader, on the other hand, lets you scan any individual file with over 50 antivirus tools at once, so it’s great if you’ve downloaded something you think might be fishy. Lastly, if you’ve accidentally installed an annoying toolbar on your system that just won’t go away, AdwCleaner will help you get rid of it.

6. Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

Ever had to reinstall a program, but couldn’t find your product key? Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder will search your PC for installed programs, and—if they have a product key—show them to you, so you can write it down and use it the next time you reinstall. Note: this one contains some toolbars and such upon installation, so be sure to use the custom installation to avoid the crapware.

5. Process Explorer

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

The Windows Task Manager can show you a lot of information about what programs are running, and usually it does what you need it to. But on the rare occasions you need more information—like if you’re trying to figure out which program is using your webcam, for example—you need Process Explorer. Process Explorer is one of the many Task Manager alternatives out there, offering information on what files are currently in use, what hardware, and what each program is doing. If the regular Task Manager isn’t giving you the info you need, Process Explorer will.

4. UNetbootin and YUMI

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

Even if you’re a diehard Windows user, Linux can be really useful from time to time—especially for troubleshooting. Traditionally, Linux distros and other troubleshooting tools come in the form of live CDs, but if you don’t have a CD drive, UNetbootin is a seriously handy tool. It can turn nearly any ISO into a bootable flash drive. Even better is YUMI, which lets you put multiple live CDs on one flash drive—meaning you can combine all your favorite rescue discs, Linux distros, and other tools and put them in your pocket.

3. Wireless Network Watcher (and Other Network Tools)

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

Need to see a list of all the computers on your network, along with IP addresses, MAC addresses, and other information? Whether you’re planning your network or think someone’s stealing your Wi-Fi, Wireless Network Watcher is a handy tool to have around. Despite its name, it works over wired networks, too. Of course, we also recommend checking out all of NirSoft’s network tools—which one you use depends on what you’re trying to troubleshoot, but they’re all pretty awesome.

2. WinDirStat

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

We all reach that fateful day at some point: when your computer tells you its running out of space. Not sure where it’s all going? WinDirStat will tell you. It scans all of your disks and shows you the biggest folders, which file types are taking up space, and more. If you’ve tried the usual things (like Disk Cleanup) and are still coming up short, WinDirStat is the next step in the disk cleaning process.

1. Sandboxie

Top 10 Incredibly Useful Windows Programs to Have On Hand

Let’s admit it: sometimes, even though we know it’s wrong, we all open the occasional sketchy program or file. We’re not judging, but if you’re going to do it, at least use protection. Enter Sandboxie, which lets you run programs independent of the rest of your system. That way they can’t infect, access, or otherwise interfere with your Windows installation. It’s also great for testing apps you aren’t sure of or running multiple instances of an app that won’t let you, so it’s fun for the whole family.

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It's simple. If we can't change our economic system, our number's up | George Monbiot

It’s simple. If we can’t change our economic system, our number’s up | George Monbiot

'Ok Google, set a timer' now actually sets a timer

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For as smart as Google Now is, it’s often kind of… stupid. A great example of this was using it to set timers on your phone. Up until today, when you said “Ok Google, set a timer for 15 minutes” it would simply set an alarm for 15 minutes in the future. That wasn’t all that useful, and it filled up your alarm list with a bunch of useless entries.

Now, with a server-side update to the Google Now service, asking your phone to set a timer will actually set a timer. Just like before you’ll have a quick countdown after making the request to confirm the time, and you can even go more specific and add seconds to a timer. Once the timer is set, the clock app will launch and start counting down.

It’s a pretty great feature, and one that should’ve worked right from the start, but we’re glad everything’s working as it should now.

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Import.io Turns Web Pages Into a Useable Data Table

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Windows/OS X/Linux: When you’re gathering data for research or a project, it can be laborious entering each individual piece of information into a table. Import.io can grab data from a web page’s code and create tables for you.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed the program, using Import.io is pretty simple. Open it up, and it works just like a browser. Type in the address of the web page you want to gather data from and then click the pink “io” button in the upper right-hand corner. From there, it asks you a few questions about the data you’re trying to gather and gives you directions for each step. We used it to make a table of newly released Blu-Ray movies on Amazon and it worked great.

Import.io is completely free for the time being and is available on Windows, OSX, and Linux.

Import.io | via MakeUseOf

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