Photo By: Johannes W
Warning: This is the first post back from my September sabbatical. It may read a little “Dear Diary-ish”.
Everyone has their own collection of milestone ages. For me, my collection consisted of the following:
You’d probably scoff and roll your eyes at the final bullet point, especially if you’re older than thirty. It sounds ridiculous. It IS ridiculous. All of the other milestones seem fairly on-point and realistic so how could 30 be so wildly off-base? Why would I ever develop this idea that you should have either reached the peak of your professional life somewhere between 21 and 30? Or to take a much more conservative approach, at least find yourself progressing upon some clearly defined career track of advancement directed toward this hypothetical professional peak.
This past August, I turned thirty.
I knew it was coming. Frankly, I first really took notice at my 27th birthday. I began to panic at my 28th birthday. And my 29th birthday was the silent resignation that it was inevitable and fast-approaching. My twenties were gone. There are many reasons why this age is particularly remarkable for a lot of people. Either implicitly or explicitly, society places a certain level of expectations of accomplishments by this age that can differ between cultures and genders; however I would like to focus on the professional aspect.
Blog posts and YouTube channels love to inundate viewers with the notion of accomplishing [insert goal] before thirty. Examples such as “How I Accomplished a Million Dollar Net Worth Before thirty.”, “How I traveled to thirty countries before I turned thirty.”. These are exceptional examples, hence why they tend to generate a large amount of attention and traffic. The mythical hero entrepreneur stories that the tech industry loves to churn out seem to always involve a rocket-ship-like trajectory that begins somewhere in the founder’s early-to-mid twenties (sometimes younger) before breaching the upper-stratosphere of financial success and billionaire status in their late twenties.
If you’re like me, you start to compare your status in life at your current temporal station to those that you read about at the same age.
“*Well, at this age [insert name] had already [insert accomplishment].*” , you subconsciously remark to yourself.
Or reading into the past, you could already see the beginnings of whatever accomplishment that would later provide their professional success (if it hasn’t already been achieved).
But once again, if you find yourself comparing yourself to the exceptional examples you’ll always find yourself continuously disappointed in your own status. It would be better to draw your comparisons from at least a generalization of the working population in your same age group. Therefore, for most men, often your thirties and onward are viewed as your “prime earning years”, rightly or wrongly.
Your twenties consist of graduating college in the first couple of years (unless you went to graduate school like myself, in which case your professional life may not begin until your mid-twenties so try to make sure that the opportunity cost was worth it ahem). Next, you grind, you hustle, you perform all of the verbs used to describe the action of performing labor-intensive, advancement-seeking, experience-acquiring tasks that require long hours and possibly limited pay, but with the promise of the career advancement necessary to position yourself for those prime earning years that begin at thirty.
Why is this phase relegated to your twenties? Well, simply because this is the point in your life that you can take the biggest risks with very limited negative impact. Following the traditional trajectory that we’ve described, by your thirties, your decisions are more likely to affect others beside yourself since, once again following traditional trajectory, you’ve settled into a location and have possibly even started a family.
Alas, your twenties is the phase to make your bonafides so to speak, traveling from metro-hub to metro-hub, from job to job, living in your van/studio apartment with five roommates and sleeping at your desk in some shared office space for some startup whose name is suspiciously missing vowels and any meaning as to not limit the company’s ability to pivot every few months. And your reward for these adventures, a cushy management or team lead position that pays enough to easily support your newly growing family at some larger and more established company that hired you based on your experience and industry connections that you built in the aforementioned trenches.
And you can’t start this process later, otherwise you’ll find yourself surrounded by young twenty-somethings, cynical, having to balance your home life with a professional life that caters toward a grind/hustle bohemian lifestyle of a newly graduated, wide-eye, optimistic, young twenty-something, and writing books like Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble (a book which I recommend).
So, enough of this quasi-rant, let’s say that hypothetically you’re not quite where you wish you to be at thirty, professionally. What now?
First, I think it’s wise to find and recognize the areas of your life that have improved significantly throughout the previous decade. I started a family and without them, my professional life would ultimately have no purpose. Second, recognize but don’t dwell on the decisions and mistakes in your past and simply focus your actions and thoughts on your future. This is incredibly difficult for me; at one point, through morbid curiosity, I even tried to put a cash-value on my decisions by tracking the difference if I had taken a different career path. My time would have been better spent thinking about and making effective decisions that would impact my future. And lastly, recognize that time is a limited resource that appears to be depleted more and more with every passing day; avoid analysis paralysis, endless procrastination, or overwhelming busy tasks that impact very little and focus on highly effective goal-directed actions. It’s never too late to start, many say, and maybe (hopefully) that’s true.
I’m sorry if the last paragraph came off as a little cliche.
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