From a young age, life is planned out for many us by our parents and by society. As young as three years old, you’re sent to school where you spend the majority of your time for years to come. While in school, you learn how to interact with your peers, how to make friends, how to make sure you have someone to sit with at lunch (we’ve seen enough movies to know what happens if you don’t), how to impress your crush (What Would Kelly Kapowski Do?), how to get “in” with the cool kids or not piss them off- oh and also how to read, how to write, how to do your multiplication tables, and anything else you needed to survive the first 18 years of your life.

Next, maybe it’s off to college for four years and we all know what happens there (please reference Animal House, Good Will Hunting, The Skulls, and many other classics). Suddenly you’re 22 and you’ve been in school for as long as you can remember, you don’t know anything else. You’ve had a schedule, structure, routine, and path laid out for your entire life- eat, sleep, school, repeat. And now it’s up to you to figure out what to do next. This can be very exciting, but it can also be very unfamiliar and scary, because you’ve never REALLY had to think about it.

Up until this point, you’ve been in school for your entire life. You’ve been doing what you’ve been told to do. It’s what was expected of you – maybe by your parents, society, and yourself. So you apply to as many jobs as possible and take the highest paying offer in any city- it’s what everyone else is doing, right? And you spend all day Monday-Friday in an office doing something you’re not sure you even like. You have meltdowns and panic attacks about your future because Kylie Jenner is 21 and she’s already a billionaire. So you become a workaholic whose weekends are filled with wishing plans would cancel, lots of wine, hazy nights, pounding headaches, takeout from Postmates, and Netflix. And ultimately unhappy, unsure, confused, and scared.

You tell yourself it’s called “work” for a reason, because it’s not supposed to be fun or enjoyable (we can’t all be ladies who lunch). You convince yourself this is what being an adult is, compare yourself to your family and friends, and shame yourself for feeling any kind of resistance. But it becomes clear you have no idea who you are, who you want to be, and what you even want in life. You’ve been doing what you think you “should” do. And there’s no surprise! This is how you’ve lived your life for the past 22 years. But now it’s time to make a change.

Follow the below steps to create a life you like and maybe even love. These steps can be used for a specific area or life as a whole.

1. Take a slow, deep breath. You may feel out of control and chaotic, but this is where change takes place. Slow down, even if only for a deep breath.

2. Ask yourself if you’re happy. BE HONEST. What does happiness even look like for you? Don’t focus on what you think it “should” look like- lots of money, nice house, fancy cars, spouse, kids, dog, whatever OR what’s “realistic” (whatever that even means!)- get really SPECIFIC about what happiness looks like for YOU. Tap into all of the senses to help guide you.

3. Are you in alignment with this idea of happiness you just described? What is a SMALL change you can make to get more in alignment?

4. HINT: Write out your top values in life, i.e., honesty, safety, love, trust, creativity, freedom. When you finish your list, ask yourself if you are honoring and leaning into these values enough to have the life you want. Adjust accordingly.

5. Visual your definition of happiness. See it, feel it, touch it, smell it, breathe it. Remind yourself of it always. Check in with yourself and make changes and adjustments to it as needed. This will keep you on course.

6. TRUST. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. Trust you’re being guided by your definition of happiness and see how life unfolds for you.

By: Meg Coogan