The same declaration has been repeated to me in New York City, in rural Montana, in suburban San Francisco and lots of other places. The people who make the declaration are all in their early twenties and full of vim and vinegar. The statement is, “I am only going to do this until I am thirty years old”.
The “this” each one is referring to is a job. For the New Yorker “this” was to work as an analyst at a private equity firm where she was tortured by pressure and long hours but the money is incredible for someone so young. “This” for the young man in Montana is to act as a fishing guide in the backcountry. The pay is bad and the work is physically rigorous but he is outside all the time doing what he loves. “This” for the San Franciscan is teaching in an inner-city high school. The pay is terrible but he feels like he is doing something meaningful and “paying back” society for a bit.
Setting a goal of “until I’m thirty” is a good idea but it can also be laden with career traps. Let’s just use our three examples.
For the New Yorker, the analyst role might be rewarding, but why torture yourself? If you are only doing something for the money until thirty, be careful. When it comes to money another statement I hear is, “I only intended to do this until I was thirty and that was twenty five years ago. What I really wanted to do was…..” The danger is, because of the money, you can never leave something that you may not want to do. Conversely, you may learn to like the job as it and you evolve.
For the fishing guide, at the end of each trip he says, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” His assumption is that his body will give out by the time he is thirty. Then what? It can be difficult to move from a role full of excitement to the routine. Ask any professional athlete. Certain jobs can ONLY be done when you are young. If there is something that is pulling you in, do it. A role in the back office or a less rigorous fishing trip may be in the works later. Or, you might just get tired of releasing fish and complaining clients. Worst case scenario for the fishing guide is to say later that, “I wish I did that when I could have.”
For the teacher who is giving back, a commendation is in order but a plan needs to be in place for after thirty. Serving as a teacher is difficult and could prepare anyone for lots of careers. Like the analyst, however, don’t torture yourself. If you don’t like teaching or the pressure, don’t do it.
The “before thirty” mentality can be healthy. How will you know about something if you don’t try it? The twenties can be the best time to take career risks. You can always quit.
When you hit thirty you shouldn’t be using the words “woulda, coulda, shoulda”. You should be saying, “I am glad I did that, now what?”