It's Never Too Late to Be Successful and Happy - Issue #7
Don't give up on reinventing your career and life
“What I suggest is that parents, schools, employers, the media, and consumers of media are now crazily over-celebrating early achievement as the best kind of achievement or even the only kind. We do so at the cost of shaming the late bloomer and thus shortchanging people and society.”
— Rich Karlgaard
Comparison of achievements is not healthy. Comparison of progress isn’t very helpful either. You don’t want to compare what you have accomplished at your age to what anyone else has by that age (e.g., “Susan was a millionaire by 28. What’s wrong with me?”). That type of comparison kills confidence, happiness, and hope.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
You know what I’m talking about. I wish that I could find the meme that I recently read. But, essentially it stated:
“When my parents were my age, they were married with children, had great jobs, and they owned their house. I’m sitting here tonight in my crappy apartment, with my cat, alone in the dark, binging on Stranger Things.”
That’s the kind of comparison that can keep you trapped in a job you hate because you’re making good money and waiting for your stock options to vest. You are busy chasing the symbols of success that you see others accumulating. In the back of your mind, you hope that happiness and a sense of fulfillment will magically happen later.
Hey, I get it. For the majority of my career, I was doing that too.
The wrong kind of comparison is deadly. It puts your focus on all the wrong things. But, there is a healthy type of comparison that can be useful. You can observe what someone else is doing and learn a new process or technique that might work for you too. You can review the path they took and eliminate unnecessary twists and turns.
You can find what I like to call a “career hero” and learn from their successful habits, as well as the mistakes they made. Sometimes, people are quite willing to share their stories and help others avoid missteps.
What is so amazing about this is that it means you still have time. You don’t need to have it all figured out. Don’t worry that what you have tried so far hasn’t led to happiness yet. You can still pursue fulfillment. It’s never too late to achieve the success that is meaningful for you.
Why are we obsessed with early success?
It wasn’t always like this. When I was growing up, there were late bloomers — myself included — and the expression was used to reassure you that everything was going to be ok. If anything, there was a concern when someone seemed to be growing up “too quickly.” Those kids got into all kinds of trouble.
Your life and career were supposed to have a steady linear timeline. Finish high school, go to college, get your degree, land your first real job, get married, work hard, get noticed, move up steadily, buy a home, start a family, get promoted into management, make more money, and so on until you eventually retired to fish and play golf.
Most of the people I knew, and even famous people, were on slow and steady career paths like that. It was considered normal. You had to pay your dues and put in your time. There were no “whiz kids” or overnight success stories.
Raymond Chandler was 51 when his first book was published
Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he started McDonald’s
J.K. Rowling was 32 when Harry Potter was published
Colonel Harland David Sanders was 65 years old when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken
Julia Child was 49 years old when her first cookbook was published
Bob Ross spent 20 years with the U.S. Air Force and only started his famous painting show on PBS when he was 41
Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn at age 49.
I definitely noticed a shift in the 90s. The trend toward faster achievement and earlier success has only accelerated since then. Parents, who were often the first generation of their families to graduate from college, pressured their own children to get better grades and test scores. They wanted them to graduate from college more quickly, and climb the corporate ladder rapidly to pay off those debts.
A generation who had witnessed their own parents with lifetime jobs, including guaranteed retirement and pension plans, expected the same. But, instead, found themselves laid off or forced out to make way for younger and more affordable employees. The media began focusing on a whole new wave of young celebrities in the music and film industries.
The Tech ecosystem shifted from traditional hardware and software companies, which often had older employees and leadership, into a new era of Internet companies with younger employees and founders. The average age of an employee at IBM? 38. The average age at Facebook? 28. As children grew up with computers and the Internet, a whole new generation of founders exploded onto the scene (e.g., Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Spiegel, Brian Chesky, Kevin Systrom).
Now, it’s all the rage for the media to fawn over the youngest multimillionaires and billionaires. Forbes has its 30 Under 30 list. The New Yorker has its 20 under 40 list. Heck, even Time magazine has its 25 most influential teens.
Given the media attention, the acceleration that tech has brought into our lives, and the expectations brought on by constant comparison at our fingertips (thank you, Instagram), it’s no wonder this increased pressure has created an obsession with early success.