When I was in my 20s, I had an urgent sense that time was running out. 30 was coming, and I better have some accomplishments by then. The sense of overwhelming urgency led me to throw hail marys rather than planning and following a process.
As I approached 30, my first business had failed, and I felt that I was running out of time. Around this time, I had the good fortune to be the guest handler for Terrance Zdunich at a convention I worked for. Zdunich had created a cult hit called Repo: The Genetic Opera, which is why he was a guest at the event.
During the course of the weekend, I mentioned to him that I was approaching 30 and felt I had nothing to show for it.
“Michael,” he said, “when I was your age, I had never ever thought of Repo.”
These words changed my life. Here I was, talking to man who had achieved some considerable success in his field, telling me that he was older than I was at the time when he even started down the road to the success I now saw.
Time wasn’t running out. The clock hadn’t even started.
In my 20s, when I spoke to Terrance, I felt like I was on the runway, but not getting enough speed to take off. Turns out that I wasn’t on the runway. I wasn’t even on the taxi way. I was still at the terminal, fuel being pumped into the plane.
My 20s was a time to learn hard lessons, develop skills, accumulate experience. My 30s was the time to refine the knowledge of my 20s into actionable information.
I moved to Eastern Connecticut at 34. I wrote Guy Who Knows A Guy at 37. Next year, I’ll be 40.
As I approach 40, I realize that, God willing, I still have more years in front of me than behind me, but that these will be the best years. It took me about three and a half decades to learn what I needed to know to get started, and another half decade to get all my ducks moving in the right direction.
The next forty years is for seeing what comes of that. It may turn out that I don’t have the right ducks or they are moving in the wrong direction, but that’s all a matter of constant refinement, rather than the need for total overhaul.
Message for 20-somethings
If you are in your 20s, and you feel like you’re running out of time, this message is for you. Unless you have a terminal illness, you have plenty of time. You have time to try things. You have time to fail a few times.
Do something. Try something. Learn from it. Roll that knowledge back in and try something else. Some people hit it out of the park during their first adult decade, but most don’t. That’s okay. You’ve got time.
Message for those over 60
Some of you reading this may be older than 40 and thinking it’s cute that I’m talking as if 40 was old. Maybe you’re 60 or 70 or even 80 and thinking that, if you had as much time as I do, you might try something, but you’re out of time.
But are you really? My first business lasted for five years. The average American lifespan is about 78 years. If you’re 60, you could start and fail three of my five year businesses and have 3 years left afterwards.
What if you’re 70 or even 80? Why not try something? What do you have to lose?
I was recently speaking to local senior living facility about organizing an entrepreneurship program for their residents. Their residents are all retired and not worrying about their day to day bills like young entrepreneurs are. They can build a business that makes $5000/year and call it a success if that’s their goal.
At every stage in life, there are tradeoffs. At 39, I have less energy than I did at 22, but at 22 I lacked the knowledge and wisdom to make use of that energy. At 80, one might have other physical restrictions and possible lack the social resources they had at 40, but they would have a freedom that I don’t at 40. No kids to raise, finances already managed, etc.
If you’ve got a few miles on the odometer, I’ll leave you with one more thought. Purpose aids longevity.
Unfortunately, I cannot find the exact quote, but I recall hearing George Burns said once that he has to live past 100 because he had a contract with a Las Vegas casino to perform past his 100th birthday, and he wouldn’t want to breach the contract.
Some people are inclined at a certain point in life to give up and just pack it in. For some, that happens at 80, others 50. However, others keep on going right up until they get their final reassignment orders to the hereafter.
If someone is happy relaxing and reading the paper every day in retirement, more power to them. But, if they are lamenting the quiet and lack of excitement, there’s no reason not to get back into the game.
If you’re reading this, you’ve still got time, no matter your age. What are you doing with it?