I turn 30 in three months, and I’m not freaking out at all. I’m fine. To boot, I have none of the accomplishments and milestone of the person who “has life figured out.”
Instead of a stable job, I don’t have a job. I’m choosing to be a full-time writer, which is lucrative at times, but not always stable.
I don’t have a life-long partner. In fact, I’m getting divorced.
I don’t own a home, 2.5 kids, a picket fence and a dog.
To be clear, I’m not knocking anyone who fits this mold, but the idea of needing to have your life figured out by 30, or at any age, is absurd.
It’s absurd for one simple reason.
Nobody Knows What The Hell They’re Doing
When you were in grade school, you dreamt of being in middle school. When you were in middle school, you dreamt of being in high school. After high school, you figured you’d go to college, get your degree, find a partner, settle down, and have it all figured out.
Yet something strange happens as you get older. People don’t make these dramatic leaps in maturity with age. You never quite feel like a full adult, nor do your peers seem to have their shit all that together either.
Everyone is flailing and floundering around, filled with doubt and insecurity about their future. We continue to flail and flounder until we die. It never ends.
As far as the “rules of society” are concerned, have you ever thought to ask yourself who the hell made these rules? More importantly, why did they make them? The rules were created to keep you distracted, worried, and complacent.
Better they have you live in existential angst over meaningless status markers than really figure out what to do with your life.
Better they have you keeping up with the Joneses than trying to figure out what really matters to you.
The powers that be are both misguided and incompetent — the blind leading the blind — all in the chase for “The American Dream.”
Muted Color Tones on the Canvas of the Average Person’s Life
Let’s say you do have your life figured out by the conventional standards of society.
What are your door prizes?
- Debt — Student loans, mortgage, car note, credit cards
- “Stable” employment — Shitty coffee, endless meetings, back problems from sitting at your desk, layoffs during recessions
- Marriage — Many many people have happy and wonderful life-long unions. Statistically, though, it’s a coin flip (okay, maybe I’m a little jaded, fine)
The pressure to “get your life figured out,” has nothing to do with the type of figuring your life out you really care about — self-actualization, purpose, meaning. No, this type of societal pressure leads you toward a sole end.
The goal is to get you to have roots — as many of them as possible.
The more roots you have, the less freedom you have. “Figuring your life out” comes with many strings attached.
When you have roots, feel stuck, lose your energy, lose your ambition, you have the following options readily available to you:
- Consumer goods
None of which are bad in and of themselves. But think about it, doesn’t the conventional idea of figuring your life out point to the logical conclusion of becoming a debt-ridden person with little freedom and few options but time at night to watch Netflix or hit the restaurants and bars on the weekends? It’s a trap.
Before you start to feel triggered, let me explain that none of the “typical life” is inherently bad at all. It’s not. If that’s what you want. But is it?
Question the Urge
Ask yourself why you feel the need to have your shit together at all. If it weren’t for peer and societal pressure, would you want to have this carefully curated C.V., LinkedIn profile, and Facebook feed full of baby pictures and backyard barbecues?
There’s just this long list of things you’re supposed to do by default. And if you don’t do them, you face societal rejection.
You’re actually not worried about quitting your job and becoming an artist because of the financial aspect of it. Well, you are, but you actually fear what people will think of you for making that move.
You’re not worried about the uncertainty and risk that comes with living a life that doesn’t fit everyone else’s narrative. Well, you are, but you’re actually worried about not fitting in.
When it comes to starting a family, I feel like a bunch of people do it because people look at you crazy if you don’t.
If you work on a real dream and don’t follow all the rules, you no longer get to bitch and complain about your job and home life at happy hour on Fridays like the “figured out” people get to. In fact, that section of your social circle might disappear altogether.
If you’re like me and do something like becoming a full-time writer and person who fucks around online to make money, you don’t get a nice boiler-plate answer to the incessantly over asked cliche, “So what do you do?”
Freedom is a double-edged sword. You get to be free, but you don’t get to fit in.
And the not fitting in part is actually much harder to deal with than the effort it takes to fulfill a dream. You’re a social animal who wants acceptance. Not ticking off every single box of the “figured life out” checklist means you don’t get that acceptance.
So what do you do?
Don’t Figure Your Life Out, Do the Opposite
My second book, You 2.0., is about reinventing yourself. To reinvent yourself, you must kill your old self. In a way, change is like dying in that there’s a real grieving process involved in starting over.
People don’t fear change itself. People fear loss. More than anything, people fear losing their identity and sense of self, regardless of how shitty it is.
Add potentially negative social consequences to this, and no wonder “chasing dreams” is so rare.
When you just go for it and walk a path with no trail or play a game with no rule book, you find yourself becoming more ignorant over time.
As you try to gain a real understanding of how the world works, you don’t get more certainty and answers, you get more uncertainty and questions. The more you learn, the less you feel you actually know.
Over time, you realize that you don’t even want the answers anymore. You just want to keep asking great questions, because the process of crafting a well-articulated question is the entire point.
You don’t feel directionless. Instead, you just feel unencumbered. You’re under less pressure to have an answer for everything.
Here’s a quick tell to figure out if someone is a true learner. Ask them a question about something obscure. If they try to come up with an answer about something they don’t know, they’re intellectually insecure. A truly smart person will just tell you they don’t know.
Speaking of the answer to “what I’m going to do with my life?”
I don’t know.
The Portfolio Life
Don’t get me wrong. I found a passion and purpose for my life, obviously. I’m a writer. Odds are, I’ll write for the rest of my life. You should focus on finding a sense of purpose, of course, but you don’t have to let it dictate your life.
Seth Godin says he looks at his life in terms of projects and mini-missions he completes. Jeff Goins feels the same and calls it the “portfolio life.”
Instead of this very linear and chronological C.V. full of distinct periods of time with equidistant length (gotta build up that resume!), you work on different projects for different lengths.
I have a vague sense of what the future holds. Of course, I make plans, set deadlines, and follow through with goals, but I don’t know what’s exactly around the corner, and I don’t care.
Instead of seeing a perfect resume from me, you’ll just be able to Google me.
This isn’t to say that you have to be a writer, or an artist, or an entrepreneur. The point? Your career trajectory doesn’t have to “make sense” and fit into a perfectly chronological storyboard. Hell, neither does your life.
Whereas the typical life looks like a checklist, the portfolio life looks like a brainstorming session. The difference is that you get to choose the next step because it’s not already chosen for you. You could end up, after some self-discovery, realizing you want to live a more traditional life. And that’s cool. How you arrive at decisions matters more than the decisions themselves. That’s the point.
This way, you don’t ever have to feel stuck in life, because you never resign yourself to living a single life. Instead of a straight and monotonous line you call a life, you can create many adventures, with different periods of your life being wildly different from others.
Become Many People
Life seems to move in five-year cycles and chunks. Most dynasty sports teams, artists, entertainers, etc, have a five-year run where they’re really good and then things taper off. You have your ‘early’ and ‘late’ 20’s, 30’s, 40s, etc.
There are two ways to use these periods. You can let life dictate those chunks by moving through the checklist. At 30, I should be in the phase where I’m starting to ascend the corporate ladder, be a homeowner, have 2–3 kids, and have a dad bod.
Your other option? You consciously choose to reinvent yourself every five years or so. This way, you get to become many people and live many lives.
My early 20’s were the crazy party years. My late 20’s were the push to become a full-time writer. Now I’m a full-time writer, somewhat financially free, and have the whole world in front of me. What phase will I enter next?
I’m not sure yet.
Whatever path I take, though, it will be my path. I’m only driven by answering the question, “What do I want to do with my life?”
Not “What am I supposed to be doing with my life at age ‘x’?”
Not “How do I catch up with everyone at age ‘x’?”
And most definitely not “What should my resume look like at age ‘x’?”
I have goals, status desires, and success markers floating around in my head just like you, just like everyone else. We’re all operating on some narrative or script. At best, we can seek to choose the narratives that serve us and let go of the ones that don’t.
That’s the whole game.
I don’t know where I’ll aim or what I’ll do. But I do know this. I will find something to aim at, put my head down, and work on it for the next five years or so.
I’ll become a new person with new experiences and accomplishments. Then I’ll ditch it all and start over again, adding little pieces to my portfolio along the way.
You can do the same. It doesn’t matter where your life is at right now, where you think it’s supposed to be, or what anyone else thinks about your decisions.
It’s your life.
Always remember that.
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