4 Important Career Lessons You're Never Too Old to Learn
January 22, 2016
Dear Younger Self,
I know—right now your career seems reasonably good. Maybe you’ve got lots of disposable income from your fancy, high-powered job.
Or you’re getting promoted left and right.
Perhaps, you finally figured out the right brand of jeans for you (and most important: You can afford it!).
If only you weren’t so miserable.
Stuck. Trapped. Lost. Daydreaming of a time when you’ll magically wake up and have a job that involves wearing a tiara and asking the waiter to “bring the drinks round shortly.”
Mostly, you are scared. Scared that this is your life. That you’ll be stuck in a job like this forever. That you’ll spend most of your time working, and the rest daydreaming of vacations you want to take when you aren’t sitting at your desk but don’t have time for, because hello—your job!
Well, I’m writing from the future to tell you that it will get better.
But to help move the “getting better” along faster—here’s some hard-earned wisdom, from someone who’s been there, done that.
1. It’s OK to Want Something Different in Your Career
That doesn’t make you ungrateful or foolish, or flaky. It just makes you honest.
I was a fancy suit for many years, and when I was 30 I feel so guilty about wanting a different job. I had great co-workers, awesome clients, and worked for a good company. But yet—it wasn’t enough for me.
So I spent a lot of time squashing down my feelings and mainlining bad TV like it was medicine. Real Housewives? Yes, more please. (Note: That did not make me feel better.)
The truth is that career happiness and fulfilment comes from enjoying your work. Feeling engaged, excited, competent, and valued. It doesn’t come from money. Or from a fancy title.
I’ve had both—and neither made me feel better at the end of the day.
Listen, you are great at many things, and so many people can benefit from your skills. So why not use them doing something that allows you to have a real impact, rather than just be an empty suit?
It’s okay to want to have an impact. The world needs what you have to offer, no matter how small or large. Isn’t that better than just showing up day after day feeling useless? (Answer: yes.)
2. Stuff Matters a Lot Less When You Love Your Work
I’m the first to say: Nice restaurants and trips to Europe? Sign me up please!
However, I used to think that I couldn’t live without certain things like fancy shoes or expensive trips, or the option to basically buy what I wanted, when I wanted it. So, obviously I needed to stay at my job, or one just like it, and not even contemplate doing something else.
Opportunities that came my way I instantly dismissed, thinking: “Well, how would I support myself doing that?”
I didn’t bother to do the research to learn what certain jobs actually paid. I assumed I knew the score, and that therefore I had to stay stuck. Brilliant, right?
What I didn’t realize until I started my own business was that all the stuff that I absolutely needed was just a distraction from the job that I didn’t want to do anymore. When I was focused on creating my company, I wasn’t interested in fancy vacations anymore.
I didn’t need it. I felt good from the work—and the distractions just faded away.
I’m not saying that you don’t need a certain amount of money to live—obviously you do! And that number is different for each of us. What I am saying is that you may be surprised at how little you need when your attention is taking up by work you love.
Repeat after me: Don’t let the stuff keep you stuck. It won’t make you happy.
3. The World Is Open to You
Being a grown adult with a job or two under your belt is the best. You’re old enough to have work experience and some money, but still young enough that you can do almost anything.
Even if you’ve spent tons of money on an expensive education, or years in a career field—please don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are too old or too invested to change.
No matter how old you are, I will say: You are so young. You’ve got so many more years of work ahead of you.
So stop taking world-weary sighs and start looking around and thinking about the impact you want to have on the world in those years. People will listen to you and respect your skills now—and you are smart, so you can train to do almost anything. Sure, it will take work—but you’ve worked hard before and I know you can do it again.
This is your time. Make the most of it.
4. Fear Is Only an Indication That You’re Onto Something Great
Nothing stops you in your tracks like fear.
But I’d like you to think about this a little differently today: It’s not a reason to immediately shun an idea or dismiss an opportunity. It’s actually an indicator that you are onto something interesting and different, and that’s worth exploring.
I was never more terrified of anything than quitting my job and leaving a supportive company for the great unknown: working for myself and building my business.
It kept me up at night, it scared the bejesus out of me, and it made me feel alive.
Most importantly: That keep-me-up-at-night feeling made me thoughtful. I was afraid of starting a business, so I thought through what I would need to make the transition and I got some training and support to fill in the cracks.
I was afraid of not being able to pay my rent, so I downsized my apartment for a few months to save money and reduce my stress level.
I was worried I’d be a failure so I studied carefully, and I put together a plan of action to boost my confidence and success.
In the end, it was the fear that kept me sharp and motivated. Don’t be afraid of that feeling, it’s often how big career changes happen—and it’s part of being human.
So, I’m here to say that you are amazing, brilliant, capable, and awesome. You have something great to offer the world—the world needs you.