Finding My Next Steps While Walking Straight Ahead

There are times in life that are phases to process growth, and then there are times when one is meant to grow. The later periods tend to be the most painful, but they’re necessary to evolve. I’m going through one of those right now, which seems appropriate in the last year of my 20s. I didn’t think I’d ever feel like a grown up, and I don’t quite yet, but now I get it. As life forges ahead, some things that felt like they mattered years ago are meaningless, and others, once just afterthoughts, are the most cherished – like time with friends, alone driving down the freeway with the sunroof open, lyrical piano music that forces you to slow down a near pause, and the rare spring days when flowers blossom that pass all too quickly.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life, having the chance to fall into career after career, and not go broke because of it. I don’t feel like I’ve taken great risks to get where I am, as instead at the time of any decision I always felt as if I was running from my past versus taking some great risk to reach some new level of success. I was, indeed, running towards something, but I wasn’t clear what it was or how to achieve it. So I led my life by proxy, making decisions based on what I didn’t want more than what I did.

And here I am, nearly 30, with a six-figure salary, a chance, if I get my act together, to become a serious technology executive, and enough stock options to potentially offer some cushion should my company continue to grow at its current pace – and even if they’re worth nothing, I’m carefully building my networth so I might be able to have some sort of stable future, especially as I venture to marry a man who has yet to save a penny, so I have to stop and allow myself to feel good about that.

Yet, this alone doesn’t feel like enough, however, because I have no idea how I got here or where I’m going. It’s a problem I’m lucky to have, indeed. But it doesn’t provide any answers. Lately I’ve had the opportunity to have a few significant conversations with people who are 15-25 years older than I am, and maybe I’m talking to the wrong people but they all seem somehow unfulfilled. Some are in jobs that they love, others not. No one seems to be happy in their marriages, if they happen to still be married. They all have kids, love their kids to death, but something else is missing.

How do I avoid getting to 45, just 15 years from now, and looking back wondering why I didn’t take the opportunity at 30 to start making decisions based on what I want, not what I don’t want. At some point everyone compromises. They marry the woman of their dreams to find out she’s a compulsive shopper and drains their bank account. They find a job that’s fulfilling but the amount of travel required puts a strain on their relationship, and the opportunity hey have to be around others who share similar interests makes adultery a tempting option, destroying an already broken marriage. Some are caught working jobs that they don’t love but that require the hefty time commitment otherwise, and they dream of a day when freedom will be possible, when they can run off and paint or write, though that time may never come, as responsibilities wear away at dreams, and they live vicariously through their children versus pursuing those dreams.

I know I need to do something soon to put me in the right direction. When I get antsy and confused I make poor choices throwing punches at time ticking on, hitting myself smack in the face and landing on the ground. I’m committed to my job right now, and for many reasons I enjoy it. But I also don’t see myself as a career marketer. So, despite my commitment, I need to plan my next steps. That is a horrific sentence. Planning takes clear goals, goals that I do not have. And what’s to say I’d pick the right goal anyway?

One thing I’m clear on is that many of my potential goals require additional training, and if I’m going to go back to school I’d like to do this before I have kids. If I am going to have kids, I’d like to have them before I’m 35. So, that leaves 5 years, at most, to apply to school, get in, go, finish, and have some sort of stable career started before having kids. And then, what if I want to take time off from the workforce, was all the planning and goal setting and schooling for naught?

I know I don’t excel when I feel like I’m drifting. I’ve got 2-3 years of drift wind in me before I get restless. Luckily in my industry things change quickly so I’m still very interested in the overall challenges we face, and I have a few new problems to solve. I just want to open more doors for my next opportunity, but I’m not sure how I can do that. I could potentially apply to school this fall for the following year, go to grad school when I’m 31-33, that seems to be a reasonable age to go, but is there a reasonable reason to go? Not sure. I’m confident I could spend the rest of my life doing PR. But then I’d probably jump off a cliff because I don’t like PR and I’m not that good at it as an introvert.

It’s time to make some hard decisions. In the next year I’ll likely be engaged, and I’ll maybe have an acceptance letter from a graduate program. Both of those options feel like the right ones. I am just unclear of the work required to get me there, especially for the school part.

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2 comments

  1. Most of my career decisions have been choosing to leave something that I learned I didn’t want – much more so than seeking out something I do want. I think that’s pretty normal and not something to beat ourselves up over.
    Whenever I tried to plan out exactly what I wanted my life to look like it felt phony and like I was trying to emulate some definition of perfection. Falling into things apparently feels much more natural to me at least.

  2. cashRebel says:

    I feel the same way when I talk to people 20 years older. But trying to avoid their mistakes seems like the same thing as making decisions based on what you wont want to happen.

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