Have you ever felt like you should be achieving more at your stage in life? It's a common feeling in a culture obsessed with success. Regardless of the particular life stage you're in, it can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling inadequate or unsatisfied, questioning if what you're doing is "enough."
It starts in our twenties. The pressure to get out of school and find the perfect job is immense, typically accentuated by the need to pay student loans and that friend of yours who keeps posting on social media about that perfect job with that perfect company they landed.
Then in our thirties, the perfect marriage and flawless children are toward the top of the expectations list, followed by a career that fulfills your purpose and brings meaning to each day.
Our forties roll around and we are expected to have "arrived." After all, you are eligible to run for president in your forties! Power and influence tend to be the badge of honor at this stage in life.
As we reach our fifties pressure for retirement sets in. Have we saved enough? How long are we going to have to work? Do I really want to spend the rest of my life doing what I'm doing?
I've struggled with some of these thoughts myself. I'm in my mid-thirties right now, raising kids, working hard and wondering if I am where I am supposed to be on the journey of life.
About two years ago I got some advice from my Dad that completely changed my perspective on things. I've mentioned my Dad before in this blog. He's the kind of guy that seems to have the right thing to say for every situation. It's not luck. He's spent his life devoted to his craft of teaching and counseling and has studied scripture extensively.
My parents were in town for a visit and I was struggling with a major life decision. I had started an MBA program and found it to be a little more than I had bargained for (read: it was kicking my butt!). Part way through the first semester, I was ready to quit (or pause for a while - as I was telling myself) when my Dad and I went for an early morning bike ride.
I shared my struggle hoping he would empathize and give me peace to follow through with quitting. Instead, he offered me some of the best advice I've ever heard. Advice that will stick with me forever.
He talked about life like a pyramid, with each decade building toward a focused point.
In your twenties, he shared, the goal is to get out into the world and acquire new skills, gaining knowledge and work ethic. Without this array of skills and learning, it would be hard to ever discern what you were meant to do. He warned not to be tempted to focus on just one thing in your twenties as the emphasis should be on the exploration of new skills and abilities.
Your thirties should be spent developing character, he said. Your character can only be developed under pressure. Strong character comes as we pursue challenges that seem outside our ability. These experiences teach invaluable life lessons like self-discipline, controlling stress and managing emotions. These qualities cannot be taught, but must be earned as a result of life experience. Without them, we may not have the strength of character to maintain effectiveness in the future.
In your forties, you begin to find focus. You use the strong foundation of your skills and abilities gained in your twenties, combined with hard earned character developed in your thirties to point you toward your calling. You focus on a specific craft and maximize your potential.
In your fifties and beyond, your focus is to pass what you have learned to others, teaching and developing - giving back.
I found this advice beautiful and simple. I stayed in school and will finish my MBA next week with great success! Just like he said, I have formed character growth I would not have gained otherwise.
What decade of life are you currently in?
If you're starting your career, take peace in the wisdom that you are not supposed to know what you are meant to be - don't wait for the perfect job, just get out there and try new opportunities and take responsibilities that expose hidden abilities.
In your thirties? How can you move out of your comfort zone and push the envelope a little? Is there a physical, professional or intellectual goal you can strive toward to build strong resilient character?
If you're in your forties, take the time to reflect back on your life, looking for skills, experiences that point you toward your calling - focus on that regardless of the fear that you may associate with taking that leap.
Finally, if you are reading this and are in your fifties or beyond, think about what you can do to make those around you better for having known you. You have a unique set of life experiences that those behind you are eager to learn.
I hope you find this advice as inspirational as I did. Are there exceptions to the rule? Sure there are. I believe that anyone can find application if they have the courage to examine themselves close enough.
Here's to the journey!