Complacency. It creeps up softly, a lull that’s colored with security and passive living. You don’t feel inspired, but you’re also not unhappy—there’s something comforting about routine, and it can be found anywhere, from work to relationships to hobbies.

I studied pre-medicine and creative writing in college—it was a perfect mixture of maturity and frivolousness. While I wasn’t complacent in following career ambitions, I was complacent in recognizing my true ambitions. Did I love medicine? Or did I choose it because it was a respectable and secure profession over a seemingly reckless and unsustainable career path?

The beauty and burden of choice

It’s easy to go on autopilot—to let others think or decide for you. The freedom of choice can be a beautiful burden. An overload of options can often paralyze people or push them into decisions against their own best interest. Author Yuval Harari said in an interview, “Today everybody blindly follows what [Google Maps] tells them. They’ve lost the basic ability to navigate by themselves...you reach a juncture on the road, and you trust the algorithm. Maybe the junction is your career. Maybe it’s the decision to get married.

“Today everybody blindly follows what [Google Maps] tells them. They’ve lost the basic ability to navigate by themselves...you reach a juncture on the road, and you trust the algorithm.” - Yuval Harari

Before settling on pre-medicine, I entertained the idea of veterinary school, engineering, accounting, and law. While pre-medicine wasn’t easy, it was easy to follow an educational track. I didn’t have to worry about what classes to take or how to fill my summers. I took the necessary course requirements and shadowed doctors because it was what I was supposed to do if I wanted to get into medical school. A career path in creative writing was less easy because it was messy—there wasn’t a direct track that would lead me to be a published writer, and there was no guarantee I would make any money.

I enjoyed pre-med enough to continue my chosen track—I trusted the algorithm. It was easy to let society’s status quo of respectable and secure careers steer my life. It took me until my last year in college to realize I didn’t love medicine. When I had to choose my final courses and physics interfered with an advanced fiction class, I was forced to be an active participant in my future. I knew which class I would rather take, but if I wanted to go to med school I had to take physics. This seemingly small class decision quickly cascaded into a much larger career one.

Reflect and prospect

After a painful amount of reflection, I chose the advanced fiction class because writing sparked joy in me in a way that medicine didn’t. I did a career overhaul when it seemed too late, but I realized that security is sometimes a luxury worth giving up. During my quarter-life crisis and career overhaul, I learned how to organize my life to spark joy—Marie Kondo style.

  1. Self-assess. Self-assessing is hard. We often forget to reflect on what truly brings us joy, what we’re good at, or even what excites us. To organize your life to spark joy, you have to consider what your ideal life would be. In following Marie Kondo’s tidying advice, be specific—visualize what you actually want. That way what you want becomes real and attainable. If you know you would be happiest living in a certain city, it makes your job search easier because it cuts your search down to a couple of areas. Even switching to a different mindset of evaluation and reflection can help. Remind yourself to think about what you like about your work or studies and what you don’t.

  2. Consider your options. Self-assessment involves trial and error—it’s hard to know what you like until you try it—but knowing what’s important to you Yet, the more you visualize what your ideal life is, the more likely you’ll achieve it. Once you have a vision you can return to, it becomes a matter of taking steps in the right direction to get there. When I gave up pre-med for creative writing, I asked myself what I liked about writing, what I liked writing about, and where I would like to write most. In doing so, I narrowed down the work I was interested in and the cities I was searching for work in. My options suddenly became much more manageable. Spreadsheets were my best friend.

  3. Decide on your goals and get after them. Once you know the different options and routes you have (based on what sparks joy in your life), the next step is to outline goals and a plan of action. While it’s good to research how others have succeeded in the past, it’s not always helpful or even the best way to achieve your own goals. Just because someone else worked at an agency for two years before finding their career path doesn’t mean you have to go through that process as well. People often take meandering career routes. If you know what you’re looking for in a career, it’s easier to bypass certain steps.

Escape routine

After graduating, I squelched my complacent, passive living on the east coast and moved to San Francisco.

Escaping complacency means doing the unsexy work—reflecting on what makes you happy and what you want in life. You have to ask yourself uncomfortable questions, and you have to ask yourself, “why?”

Escaping complacency means doing the unsexy work—reflecting on what makes you happy and what you want in life. You have to ask yourself uncomfortable questions, and you have to ask yourself, “why?”

I took time to reflect on and understand what’s important to me, and what I want to look back on in life and be happy about. There’s a certain amount of security you give up when you pursue your loftiest aspirations, but I’m glad I refused to trust the algorithm. I moved to a city I knew nothing about, for an industry that seemed more science fiction than real life, and into a two-bedroom apartment I planned to share with five people I had never met. Yet, I moved because I knew what I wanted: to live and write on the west coast, and that has sparked joy in my life in a way nothing else ever could.

Amanda Roosa is a content marketer for Zendesk and a frequent contributor to Relate. When she's not petting other people's dogs, she's exploring where technology and humanity converge. Find her on Twitter: @mandyroosa.