I’m guilty of this thought; I know I am. I believe so fervently that I have to accomplish everything I want early in life. But I just recently celebrated my birthday, and realized that I'm at a much different place than I thought I would be.
Not in a bad way. Actually, I've surpassed my own expectations in some ways. In other ways however, I feel like I should be a lot further along.
But I've realized that the more you slow down and stop rushing towards success, the more you actually start to enjoy your life. It's okay if I haven't accomplished all my hopes and dreams yet. That gives me a reason to get out of bed every morning.
I started to analyze why we feel this intense pressure to be successful so early on in life. Maybe we believe that we have to accomplish what we need early on for survival and mating? (There's usually a biological basis for everything.) Or maybe it is genuinely our culture shaping us to commit early.
For one, we’re mentally stuck in an old school model of success that rewards a 40 year tenure in the same position, rather than ingenuity in a variety of positions. We have a world of respect for medical professionals, professors, and other positions for the amount of education and time they've had to pour into their work. But are we only rewarding one type of learning?
There’s a speech I always go back to, a lecture by renowned philosophy professor Alan Watts — what would you do if money were no object?
In this talk, Watts discusses the trajectory of finding what you want to do, no matter how vague or niche that desire may be. His argument essentially focuses on the idea that if you devote your time and energy to something, you’ll eventually become an expert at it. And people pay experts.
Trajectory means more than anything else. Inherent belief in what you’re doing will motivate you more than anything else. (We've discussed that whole concept in my post about the myth of willpower.)
If you’re stuck in the trap of a job with a “normal” title, that may give you security without meaning, or vice versa.
It seems that society is divided into two camps: people who believe that you need to love your job and people who believe that your job is a means to an end. But guess what? Either is okay! There's no right answer, only what works for you and makes you feel the most fulfilled.
On that note, so many people believe that in order to be successful, you have to have it figured out at a young age, ignoring that you can change your mind as you go and end up finding what you really DO want to do.
Figuring it out young is a complete myth. (If you know already, all the power to you.) But you don't have to be completely set, and there's no guarantee that if you don't achieve your goal by thirty, you won't get it by forty.
Here’s a quick example: The Queen’s Gambit. Chess board sales have skyrocketed. The activity has become immensely popular again — because of a Netflix series. This show has completely dominated the charts. But did you know the show was rewritten 9 times, and he worked on it for over 30 years? You can still accomplish your goals, your DREAMS, regardless of a deadline.
Another, more serious scenario: when COVID-19 hit the U.S., it took approximately a week for my life to turn upside down. The days were long and my circumstances fundamentally changed. Had I been less flexible — more committed to a life path, less willing to change — it would have been a much more difficult adjustment.
I know friends who would never have moved to their dream locale otherwise. I know friends who realized they were in the wrong job after they moved online to Zoom meetings. Not only change of circumstances too: COVID-19 changed our priorities, as some of us realized that our time could be short and we had a lot to be grateful for already. Why not do what you actually want to do, what you feel called towards?
That’s the example I go to when giving advice to someone completely unsure and confused about their life path. Worry to the extent that it’s helpful, but there’s no point obsessing over what your life will look like exactly a year from now because the pandemic especially showed us that we have no idea. That’s easier said than done, but knowing it, even if you don’t believe it, can help to guide you and alleviate your anxiety.
But, on that note, it means you should focus more on the trajectory rather than the result. If you love something, it’s easier to relish the marginal pleasures of learning, growing, and spending time on a pursuit that invigorates you. (Consider what puts you into a state of flow and try to do that.) Which you may not discover until later in life. You don’t have to know that at twenty two.
I think part of this might be that we believe that our early years are our formative years; by being older, we believe we should have it figured out — at least, enough to pass it along to their careers and their children.
But do you believe that you don’t learn as much in your later years as when you were younger? And if you do believe that, do you believe that your younger years somehow have more value? Your degree (or your equivalent) are generally considered hugely important parts of your life, but that rite of passage only lasts four years. So why do we consider it one of the biggest determinations of our careers?
What if we chose to use the same amount of time -- four years when we hit thirty -- to do the same amount of self-education and soul-searching? It's never too late to create a life-altering experience for yourself.
This quote has always resonated with me: it’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb then halfway up one you don't. The hardest part of change is just...starting. But that’s the key: you have to start.
As we get older, I think we get less elastic. Less willing to change. But that doesn’t mean that we’re less able to.
Do you relate to this feeling? Let me know in the comments below!