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  • Writer's pictureAmba Brown

How To Avoid Living An Unintended Life

When you are speaking to high school and college students, you have a small window to grab their attention.

You need to let them know pretty quickly that what you have to say is directly related to them. When I drop the line, “They end up living a life they never intended on living.” they usually look up and tune in. Of course, then I have to explain what that actually means.

How to avoid living an unintended life

The Research

After several years of working jobs in corporate America, I began to notice a disturbing trend. It appeared as if everyone I worked with hated their jobs and were dissatisfied with the type of person they had become. When I dug deeper and surveyed over 100 college graduates, I concluded that the reason so many people were so unhappy was that they were unprepared for the next steps in life.

They did not know what being an adult and working full time entailed.

After speaking to these college grads, it became apparent that many of them adopted a “figure it out later” attitude. Wherever they had to make a difficult choice, they pushed it off, unaware of the long term impact it was going to have.

Then, when later arrived, they were thrown into a world they knew nothing about, took a job they didn’t want, and ended up living a life they never intended on living.

The Problem

How does one end up living a life they don’t want when they seemingly had control over almost all of their choices growing up?

The answer lies in a series of decisions.

These were not necessarily life-altering choices, but small decisions that at the time seemed insignificant. Yet, add them all up, and these grads ended up unknowingly taking a path that led them to the unsatisfying, stressful, and disappointing career and the life they live today.

For most, it started in high school. Most students treat high school either as a chore they need to survive or a social hour meant to have fun and make friends. Very rarely do they take advantage of the opportunities open to them, designed to help prepare for the next steps in life, such as selecting a college and entering the real world.

Instead, they took the easy way out. Did just enough studying to get by and did minimal research when choosing what colleges to apply to.

This seemed pretty insignificant at the time. When you are in high school, you feel as if this “real world” everyone is talking about is light-years away. The stuff you are learning now will be meaningless by then, or at least that’s what you think.

Lastly, with so many college options, who has time to do proper research? However, this is the beginning of a mindset based on the idea that the future will work itself out.

Once you have cultivated this mindset in high school, it is only natural you will carry it into college. Instead of thinking about how these years will shape your skillset and mindset for the day you enter the workforce, you put off thinking about that stuff until graduation.

Many grads bluntly state that they wish they would have taken the time to research both the number of colleges out there and the majors those schools offered. They also said they wish they took their studies seriously.

In addition to classes and coursework, many students did not take advantage of the opportunities their college tried giving them. They passed up opportunities to attend networking events and guest lecturers. They chose not to visit the career center and apply for internships or craft a standout resume or cover letter.

At the time, these were small choices. Deciding to hang with friends, then go to a school event before going back to the dorm for a nap instead of meeting with a career counselor. However, every choice shifted these students down a path and towards an unintended life.

Many students graduate from college with very little knowledge of what the real world is actually going to be like. They had minimal experience networking with professionals, and their resume looked like thousands of other college graduates applying to the same jobs. Their lack of action and choice to take an easier path led them to a destination they never intended on. They ended up living the unintended life.

The Solution

Let me be clear. Not everyone ends up like this. There are working professionals who enjoy what they do and live purposeful and satisfying lives. However, it is important to highlight those who do not, to ensure this will not happen to you. The good news is, you are more than capable of making a few fundamental changes to ensure the life you end up with is the one you choose for yourself.

The first thing I tell all my coaching clients is to stop asking yourself, “What do I want to be when you grow up?”

This is a fundamentally flawed question. It is unfair to ask a student what they want to be when they grow up when they are unaware of the options. This is like asking someone what they want for dinner without telling them where they are ordering from.

Instead, ask yourself, “What type of person do I want to become?” When you ask yourself this question, you are no longer beholden to one job or career but opened up to a field of opportunities around the type of person you want to become and the type of impact you want to have on the world around you.

This answer will give you a baseline for each choice you must make in the future. It will also supply you with the inspiration you need to push through the difficult times.

You may decide you want to be someone who helps other people, heals the sick, or protects the weak. You may discover there are world problems you want to help solve. You may end up deciding there is a specific group of people out there that you want to dedicate your time to help.

Once you figure this out, you will make every choice with this person and this type of life in mind. When times get tough, it is this purpose and passion that will pull you through.

Once my clients answer this question, we work together to create a list of jobs and careers around the type of person they want to become. The list can be as long and varied as they wish. The idea is to create this list of jobs and then reach out to working professionals who are currently in those jobs.

By asking the right questions, the student understands what they need to do to obtain that career and become that person. They also have a much better understanding of what that job and the life that goes with it will be like once they graduate college.


By creating this mindset, you begin to make intentional choices. You start to care about where you are going to end up in life. You take advantage of the opportunities that education gives you. The choices you make are made to ensure you will end up living a life that excites you. You end up living a life of purpose and satisfaction. The life you intended on living the entire time.

About the Author

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at or by emailing him directly at


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