Permission To Pace Yourself

2010 May 24

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of time-based talk floating around – people anxious that others are getting the jump on them, that they should have done more and done it earlier, lamentations about growing older, etc. The clock is ticking after all. Of course, this fretting over age-related accomplishments saddens me. It’s both exhausting and unnecessary (and downright laughable in some cases). And not only that, it doesn’t motivate you to get a jump on your own priorities, so much as it leads you to mourn what hasn’t yet been achieved (and likely never will be).

Photo by h. koppdelaney

You have time. You have time to write a novel, to see the Great Wall of China, to learn Spanish or Ashtanga yoga, to get married, to buy a house, to start a business. As long as you’re making your own idiosyncratic version of forward progress, what does it really matter if you haven’t accomplished all of this by 25? By 40? The truth is, no matter how early you strike your success, there will always be someone who made it there first. 13 year-olds are climbing Everest and graduating from Harvard with PhDs, so unless you’re planning to travel back in time to tell your seven year-old self to step away from the Pokemon or the Ninja Turtles action figures and pick up a neurobiology textbook, you’re already “too late.” Hell, you were too late as soon as you hit double digits. That’s not meant to be depressing; it’s liberating. You aren’t a wunderkind. You’re never going to be a wunderkind. And really, why would you want to be? Look at child actors. For every Jodie Foster who found long-term career success and grew up to be a well-adjusted and highly-regarded Oscar winner, the pop cultural landscape is littered with scores of Lindsay Lohan or Corey Feldman types who hit it big young and never fully recovered from their early exposure to fame.

Life isn’t like Logan’s Run, y’all. You don’t have to frontload all of your accomplishments because you’ll be blotted out (I’m talking figuratively here) at the big 3-0. And why should your success mean less if it comes later? I find this attitude particularly common among folks who’ve finally figured out what they want to do with their working lives. Their enthusiasm at arriving at this decision is tempered by self recrimination for not having solved this riddle at 18. Never mind that it was likely the intervening years and the experiences that filled and shaped them that led you to your current career epiphany, an epiphany that would have meant nothing to the 18 year-old you who wasn’t in a place to recognize or respond to it.

There are precious few things that are timebound. Having kids is one of them (I wrote extensively about that here) and beginning to save for retirement (probably shouldn’t leave that until you’re 58) is another. For everything else? All in good time.

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