What should I be doing with my life?
I often ask myself this question when dealing with frustration and anxiety about my life’s direction. This nagging feeling is only made worse when I notice that some of my friends and acquaintances seem to have it all figured out. Feeling stuck while it seems like everyone else is moving right along can leave you feeling isolated, uncertain, and quite miserable.
But here’s the thing: Wallowing in self-pity and allowing yourself to remain stuck is a choice, no matter how hopeless your situation may feel.
You can build towards a better future—even if you don’t know what it looks like—by entering what author and entrepreneur Sebastian Marshall calls Resource Mode.
“It’s possible to have no idea what you’re building towards, but yet to select intelligent things to do that are clearly wins, and to do them cheerfully, and to trust that when you do eventually find a sense of meaning (almost all people do, eventually)—you’ll then be better and more well-equipped for it for the cheerful actions you’ve done now.”
So, what is Resouce Mode?
Resource Mode is investing your free time into building things that will benefit you no matter what. Instead of figuring out what direction your life should take, you take a step back and focus on laying a solid foundation to serve as a springboard for your future self.
To enter Resource Mode is to build skills, meet interesting people, and grow financial assets that will later serve you. It’s learning how to manage your habits, make friends, and establish a reputation for being effective so that when opportunity strikes, you know how to take advantage.
Arguably the worst career advice thrown around is the idea of following your passion. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who discovered your life’s passion at an early age, but for most of us, it's nearly impossible to know what we’re passionate about until we’ve gotten good at something.
Being told to follow your passion leads you to feel stuck and frustrated because you lack a clear sense of direction. You’re too focused on asking what the world can offer you instead of asking what you can give in return. Instead, work on building skills that are interesting to you and valuable to others.
Once you’ve mastered a few rare and valuable skills, you can leverage them to gain more control and influence over the type of work you do. Get good at something first, and the passion will soon follow.
Choosing What Skills to Learn
The easiest way to determine what skills to learn is to ask yourself:
What’s easy for me to do but difficult for others?
There are likely a few things you already do reasonably well without much effort. You want to uncover what those skills are that’s hard for other people to reverse engineer.
Still not sure what skill to improve?
Start with communication and learning. Knowing how to communicate effectively and learn quickly will give you a competitive advantage no matter your career path.
The most critical communication skills to develop are speaking and writing skills. Knowing how to effectively communicate your ideas via conversation, presentation, and text will boost your credibility and authority at whatever you choose to do. When it comes to making decisions, the most clearly communicated idea almost always wins.
Both communication skills also have clear paths and dedicated peer networks willing to provide feedback, which is a critical component for rapid learning. If you want to improve your speaking, there’s Toastmasters, and if you want to become a better writer, there’s Foster.
Improving your learning and thinking skills isn’t as straightforward, but the easiest way to learn something is by teaching it. It may sound counterintuitive to start teaching something you’re currently learning yourself, but it’s the best tool to accelerate your learning.
Teaching forces you to break out of your comfort zone of passive learning—reading, watching, and listening—and transitions you to a more active role. It requires you to address any gaps in your understanding.
Start by writing out what you’re learning in simple language as if you were teaching it to a classroom full of twelve-year-olds. By writing your ideas down using elementary words, you’ll quickly pick up on where you lack understanding. Obvious signs that you have more to learn would include using big words, being vague, or leaving out important information.
Learning New Skills
You can rapidly learn a new skill by focusing on two components: directness and feedback.
Directness is simply doing the thing you want to learn. It’s improvement through active practice rather than passive learning. If you want to improve your jump shot or become a better writer, don’t spend your time watching how-to videos or reading books; go put in the reps or write more essays.
Receiving corrective feedback serves as another critical component. This type of feedback shows you what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it. The best way to receive corrective feedback is to find a coach, mentor, or teacher proficient in what you’re trying to learn. If a professional coach isn’t feasible, you can still gain valuable feedback by sharing your work with others or tracking what you're doing, and revisiting what went well and what didn’t.
Now that we’ve covered the first stage of Resource Mode, it’s time to move to stage two: Meeting interesting people.
Meet Interesting People
The people you surround yourself with not only open doors for you; they shape the way you think. They influence what you believe is possible.
You want to surround yourself with people who are living examples of the virtues you want to develop in yourself. Find people that value learning, loyalty, critical thinking, and courage. Over time, you’ll naturally absorb some of their qualities.
You also want to seek out others who see the world through a different lens and will challenge your version of reality. For example, if you feel stuck in your career, you’re likely only exposed to others living out a similar path who won’t upset the status quo. Break out of your bubble by meeting people who will question your beliefs and not be afraid to tell you the truth, no matter how harsh.
How to Meet Interesting People
Meeting new people can seem like an impossible task when you’re feeling stuck. But that’s where Resource Mode proves its value.
Instead of thinking that you need to spend your time networking, there’s a more effective method for getting yourself in front of people you want to meet. The secret? Make something awesome and tell people about it.
Sharing your work in public is one of the best things you can do to attract new people into your life. Focus on creating—whether it’s essays, music, digital art, product design, etc.—that reflects your interests and showcases your capabilities. By expressing yourself, you’ll draw the attention of others who care about the same things you do. This will make it easier to form relationships with people who know how to navigate the career you’re interested in.
This leads us to the third stage of Resource Mode: Growing assets.
Feeling stuck often comes as a byproduct of thinking that your options are limited. And more than anything, increasing your wealth gives you more options to choose where to live, work, and how to spend your time.
Perhaps you can’t afford to change careers because your family’s well-being is dependent on your current income. Or maybe you don’t feel comfortable leaping into a new career because a temporary loss in income would leave you on shaky ground. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to make decisions that will benefit you in the long run when it feels like you’re drowning.
The clear-headedness that can come from having a few months of financial runway is worth infinitely more than any individual object or experience. Because of this, you’ll want to get clever about how you can expand your runway by cutting expenses and finding ways to earn additional income. I prefer Ramit Sethi’s strategy of not feeling guilty about spending money on the things you love but cutting mercilessly on the things you don’t.
For example, I’d rather spend my money on experiences and self-education than gadgets and status symbols. I’m more than happy to spend money on a nice meal and never think twice about purchasing a book I want to read, but I’ve also driven the same vehicle for over ten years and use a three-year-old phone.
While cutting expenses is a good way to get started, there’s a limit to how far you can take it, and—quite frankly—it’s not much fun. But it’s also only half of the equation. You can also focus on building new avenues of income generation. Although it's not as quick or easy as cutting expenses, there’s no cap on your earning potential.
Making money is not just a thing you can do, but a skill you can learn. And the easiest way to build the skill is by doing things you already love to do in the service of others. You want to always ask yourself:
How can I create and deliver more value?
How can I increase my capacity for value creation?
Often the limiting factor for earning more is not your abilities; it's your beliefs. If you believe that people who make money from their work are sellouts or that money corrupts creative expression, then you’re going to have a difficult time selling yourself. The same goes for being timid about charging for your work. It’s a sign that you don’t fully believe in your value.
“Money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.”
If you want to earn money from your work, I suggest starting small and slowly ramping up to build your confidence. View money as a signal that you’re providing something that other people want. If you have trouble getting people to pay for your work, take a step back and ask how you can best serve them. Once you start earning from your work, no matter how small, it will shift your mindset about what’s possible.
There's no law in life that states that you must immediately search for meaning if you're unsure what to do. Instead, you may be better off spending your time building skills, meeting interesting people, and gathering resources that will increase your options. Committing to something right now will leave you far better off than just standing around and hoping something will come your way.