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Am I on the Right Track?

The other day I was in Hudson News looking for something to read on the train and I suddenly realized that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD IS YOUNGER THAN ME. Rihanna. Kate Middleton. Mila Kunis. Lolo Jones. Marissa Mayer. News anchors. CEOs. Everyone.


When did this happen?!  I don’t feel old, and just seconds ago I was definitely the youngest person in the room. But sure enough, once I had this epiphany, the evidence was all around me. All I could hear was the sound of a million doors slamming shut.


Alright, maybe I’m being a touch melodramatic but it still hit me like a ton of bricks. Somewhere along the line I had passed from Young to Not Young. My 28- and 38-year old selves were totally different people. And since I’ve become officially old, the next question staring me in the face was:


Am I on the right track for where I am in my life?


Yes, seriously. When I went looking for answers, I came across this curious book by author and psychologist Dr. Meg Jay: The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter–and how to make the most of them now, which asserts that the decisions you make in your 20s will shape the rest life.


I don’t like you very much, Dr. Jay. You’re telling me that where I am right now is predicated on the choices I made in my 20s? That decade was a haze of late-night drinking and tiny apartments. I hate to think that if I have been more diligent back then, I might have a more successful or happier life now.


What do you think? Did you come to a fork in the road in your 20s that defined your current path? Are you happy with the decisions you made? Could you be in a much different place now?


Oh wait. The choices I made in my 20s actually had very little to do with who I am today. It wasn’t until my 30s that I made a career change, launched my own business, got married, had kids, put down roots, and developed hobbies and friendships that had real staying power. Phew! I was just about to freak out.


Two Conclusions:


1.   There’s no one path. I don’t agree with Dr. Jay that there’s one path, like a single exit on the freeway, and if you miss it as you’re throttling by in your 20s, you’ve totally screwed up the rest of life’s journey.


But as a recruiter who regularly coaches people on their career choices, I do think it’s important to have a sense of direction and forward motion in your professional endeavors. If you’re unable to define what makes you happy and set goals for yourself… then as Dr. Jay says “resumes start to look thin, peers begin to surpass you, and without real-world experience, you’re no closer to a direction.”


2.   Move toward your goals. I started this post asking if I was on the right track. This is a self-defeating question: You can always be better. It’s important to keep setting new goals for yourself, learning, stepping out of your comfort zone, looking under rocks. The things you want – your goals – are what give you conviction, intent and purpose. So instead of beating yourself up wondering if you’re on the right track, the better question to ask is how you’re tracking against your goals. If you have a strong sense of direction, you don’t need a path.

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