Recently, our Facebook and Twitter accounts have been receiving an influx of questions along the lines of, “Hey, Roadtrip Nation: the people that you’ve interviewed have made awesome careers out of their interests, and that’s cool. But…um…what should I do if I don’t have any interests?” This is an awesome question that everyone probably secretly asking themselves, so we’re just going to tackle it here!
First things first, let’s make one thing clear: you do have interests! We promise! While there are situations that can sometimes make you feel like you don’t have interests—maybe you’re devoting all of your time to work or school, or you’re going through a transitional phase or rough patch in your life—everyone has an interest. Even if your interest is just lying in bed and watching Game of Thrones all day, it counts. (You hear that, nosy roommates? It counts!!)
Second: don’t panic! You might feel like the only person in the world without defined interests, but you’re clearly not alone. Sure, it seems like everyone should be able to immediately recognize the things that they like, and talk about those things incessantly! But that’s not always the case—when your interests or activities can’t easily be identified, things get tricky.
An “Interest” By Any Other Name
Have you ever had a fantastically mellow weekend, only to find yourself dreading the inevitable Monday morning, “What did you do over the weekend?” questions from your co-workers? You know that you didn’t do nothing all weekend, but you also don’t know how to explain that you watched like, 20 hours of House Hunters and enjoyed yourself immensely. So in the end, you just shrug and respond, “Ehh, not much.”
We always feel pressured to say we did something “productive” or “substantial,” as if we didn’t spend our time well unless we fixed a sink or attended an art festival. And then we feel like idiots if we get honest and say we browsed every single NBA-playoffs thinkpiece ever written, when in fact, that was the weekend activity that might reveal more about us than anything else.
The problem is that people tend to think that the answer to, “What are you interested in?” should have a neat little one-word answer, like “football,” or “coding.” Obviously, those are both stellar interests, but oftentimes, it’s much more complicated than that. Interests can also be encompassed by thoughts like, “I love helping people,” or “I really enjoy telling a good story.” And an interest can be as generic as, “nature,” or as specific as, “tornadoes.” Yeah…bet you never thought “tornadoes” were an interest, did you? Well, they are; just ask meteorology professor, Mike Biggerstaff! Basically, never think that just because you don’t collect anything, play an instrument, or have a traditional “hobby,” you don’t have interests.
Since we’ve ruled out that the problem definitely isn’t that you don’t have interests, you probably just need a little bit of assistance in identifying what they are. To help you out, we’ve come up with a couple of creative and easy exercises that will help you figure it out:
- Ask your friends for help
- As weird as it seems, sometimes we get too deep into our own heads to properly evaluate what we like—brains be crazy. So step outside of yourself for a minute and ask your friends for help. Ask your friends and your teachers to describe you, what you like, and what you’re good at. If you’re repeatedly hearing feedback like, “You love helping people,” or “You’re great at solving problems and giving advice,” your peers are probably on to something!
- Stalk your own browser history
- Have you ever fallen down one of those Wikipedia rabbit holes where you look at the clock and realize you haven’t eaten or drank or moved for over two hours because you were so wrapped up in reading about Rasputin? It happens to everyone (that dude’s life was crazy!), but we just usually write those hours off as a “waste of time.” Uh, on the contrary! When you completely lose yourself in a subject, it’s usually a pretty good indication that you like that subject! Try to remember the last time this happened to you—what were you reading about? If you can’t remember, check out the websites you frequently visit, or even the Netflix shows you’re drawn to, and see if there’s a theme throughout—we all love a good DIY home makeover, but if those are all you want to watch or read about, consider looking into interior design or real estate; seriously.
- Get emotional
- It’s important to remember that while your interests often arise from feelings of joy, they can also reveal themselves at times when you are especially angry or sad. Lisa Nielsen, the director of digital literacy and citizenship at the New York City Department of Education, once said it best: “What pisses you off or breaks your heart? How are you going to change that? Answer these questions, and you’ll be on your road to success.” Work backwards and think about what really gets you heated up; it’s probably in conflict with one of your central interests or beliefs.
- Keep a journal
- This method is more of a slow-simmer kind of deal, but it’ll probably give you the best results. Grab a notebook and a variety pack of sticky notes and start journaling your little heart out. Mark days or hours that felt especially fun or productive with one color, then use a different color to mark the days that felt especially long or dull—maybe you had a double chemistry lab that you despised, or you were deprived of any time outdoors. (When you’re starting to think about potential job options down the line, figuring out what bores you is just as valuable as figuring out what you like!) Soon you’ll start seeing the common threads running through the days that you liked and disliked, revealing your central interests, as well as some equally valuable disinterests.
Hopefully by the end of these processes, you’ll have nailed down a few of your interests, and naturally, your follow-up question will be, “What should I do now that I know what my interests are?” Luckily, we have a much shorter answer for this one: Go pursue them…duh!