SIWIKE Tools: I don’t know what I want – I want, retirement memo and eulogy

“I don’t know what I want “

A phrase that I’m hearing more and more when I ask someone seeking career advice from me. One of the first questions I ask is: “what do you want?”

So if you’re in the same boat then know that you are not alone. It could be that you didn’t know what you wanted all along, or you knew what you wanted and something changed and what you wanted is no longer valid for you.

Many people in all stages of their life come to me not knowing what they want. Students are often enrolled in programs that they only joined because their parents want them to. New grads and young professionals may have got the job they wanted after graduation and realize it wasn’t exactly what they wanted it to be. Some experienced professionals have reached the levels and achievements that they wanted to and realize what they do no longer fulfills them.


If none of those describe you, then you can move onto another post. If this matches you to a T, then here are some tools that will help you search for what you want.


The retirement memo

Imagine that you’re 65 years old, or whatever the typical retirement age is for your country. It’s a happy day and someone has arranged for cake and balloons and some festivities for you. Someone comes up to you and is going to type up a memo to share with the company, organization or other people that are interested in your body of work. The question to you would be “what does that memo say?“


The eulogy

Imagine that you’re now 105 years old, or whatever ripe old age you plan to be. You’re surrounded by loved ones and you know that it is your last few days on earth. You’ve lived A long and fruitful life. Someone asks you if there’s anything specific that you’d want to be mentioned at your eulogy (for those that don’t know what a eulogy is, it is the speech that is said at your funeral). What would you want to be said as part of your eulogy?


Be a Curiosity Explorer

If you’ve ever wondered about some time, taking time to explore your curiosity. Take a day a month, a few hours a week or however much time you can manage to be a Curiosity Explorer.

Keep a running list of everything that you’ve been curious about. Use that time to explore that curiosity.

Reflect on the activity and note down what you liked about it. What you didn’t like about it. Anything that interested you about it. If the positives outweigh the negatives then spend more time on the parts you are interested in. Reflect on the subsequent activity to explore your interests and note down anything that you get excited about.

If it feels appropriate for you, then keep exploring that excitement. And if you’re lucky, then over time, it will ignite into a passion and will be something that you truly want.

“I want” exercise 

Grab a sheet of paper and a pen. Write the words “I want” then whatever it is that first comes to mind. Be as quick as you can. Do not filter, do not judge, do not rationalize, do not think about how or anything else than what you want. What you want can be a “thing”, an experience, a skill, or an achievement. Basically anything.

Do that for 30 items. Whatever those items might be.

When you’re done, take a read. What do you start rationalizing, what seems out of place, what seems unattainable, what seems like a perfect fit?

Look to get past the superficial ones, the typical ones are I want to be happy, I want to make the world a better place. Wow, these might be true, the goal is to focus on what YOU want. 

Ask yourself “Is this what I want or what someone around me wants?” 

Is it truly what YOU want or what is expected of you? If it’s not truly what YOU want then take it off the list. If you want to consider replacing it with something else that YOU one.

For any items that remain, categorize them. Typically there are at least two categories: personal and professional.  “Professional” categories could be salary, job, title, achievements, etc.  Personal categories could be health, social, Family, mental, skills, experiences, etc. You don’t need goals for every single category and your categories could be different. You might notice a few things where you could actually group some of them together instead of separating them out. Or you might feel that they are unique enough to keep separate.

For the different goals and category groupings, look to make them into SMART goals. Make that goal specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound.

If one of your “wants” is to be happy, how do you know that you are happy? Is it that you have a relationship with your family where they communicate on a regular basis, vacation annually, make lots of happy memories together?

If your “want” is to be financially secure, how do you know that you’re financially secure? Are you making a certain salary every year? Do you have a certain amount of money in your retirement fund? Are you able to do certain things?

Make sure that there is a deadline against them. It could be next week, next month, next year, next decade, or sometime before you “kick the bucket”. You can also segment them into short term (less than a year), midterm (1-5 years), long-term goals (5+ years). 

Then pick one, two at most five to action. Throughout your day, week, month, how do you do one action to move towards any of the “wants” you’ve prioritized?

For the other ones you didn’t select, know that it’s not that you’re not doing them at all, know that you’re not doing them right now.


Priorities prognosis

Imagine that you head to your doctor to get the results from a series tests you recently completed. The doctor has a stern look on his face and gives you the unfortunate prognosis that you have been diagnosed with a condition that gives you at most 20-years to live. When you get home, you reflect and write everything that you want to have done in the next 20-years.

You return to the doctor next week and he has more dire news. Your doctor tells you that your condition has worsened and he expects you have at most 5-years to live. When you get home, you reflect and write everything that you want to have done in the next 5-years (shaving off 15 years from what you planned before).

You return to your doctor 2-weeks after you received your dire prognosis. Your doctor tells you that your condition has worsened and he expects you have at most 6-months to live. When you get home, you reflect and write everything that you want to have done in the next 6-months (shaving off 54-months from what you planned before).

The main purpose of the exercise is for you to start cataloging your wants. You want to start planning them into your large 20-year window. Then you crop to what will be relevant for your 5-year window. Then you pick your top priorities to go for in the next 6-months. Keep in mind that the exercise is less about the time-frames (either 5 or 6 or 8 months or years) and more about understanding where these priorities fit on your priority list. It’s also less about can you do it and accomplish it in the timeframe, and more about what do you want to make sure you’ve at least made the attempt.

Here’s a Priorities Prognosis template.


FAQ Frequently Asked Questions 

What if I can’t come up with anything I want?

If you’re having trouble thinking about what you want, ask yourself this question “ I know I don’t know what I want, but if I didn’t know what I wanted, what would it be?“

Why write the “I wants” as fast as I can?

The goal is to get past your rational mind. And get into the core of you and what you really want.


What if I want everything and I’m having trouble deciding?

One concept I recommend is what I called the “flavour of the month”. Borrowed from ice cream shops, you pick one set of goals to be your “flavour”. You can adjust your time commitment to be more than a month, one quarter, one term, one year, or some other time frame. The time period is less important, more your commitment to that flavour during that time frame. 

During that time frame, 80% of your time needs to be spent in pursuit of your flavour. You always have 20% to do other things, and the majority of your time should be spent on your priority.

When the time frame comes to an end, you can make an assessment on whether you continue with the same flavour, or switch to another. 

The flavour of the month approach helps as it alleviates the common FOMO factor. The fear of missing out.


What if I don’t feel particularly passionate about any of these things?

My experience has been that passion comes from time elapsed. If someone told you that they were passionate about basketball then they say it’s been about three years since they’ve played, would it really be passionate about basketball?


Similarly passion often starts with curiosity, then you do it and it seems interesting to you. Then you do it some more and that interest turns into excitement, Then you do it even more and that excitement might turn into a passion. It might not turn into a passion but it can’t turn into one unless you spend time on it. You might find that you’re lucky to fall in love with it and get curious, interested, excited, passionate about it in one sitting. Or it might take days, weeks, months, years for you to develop that passion.


You often won’t know what you want unless you explore. And at least by exploring you might know what you don’t want. Then you can narrow down what you do want. 


Still having trouble finding what you want? Feel free to send me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn


Also published on Medium.