Have Everything Figured Out By 30? Nope.
This year, I turned 30. It was fantastic.
First, it felt great to be done with my 20s. Second, I was excited because I thought the social pressure, the anxiety, the people-pleasing, and the insecurity would all go out the window.
But then I began looking around at the other 30 year-olds. And some, not all of them, seemed to really have their stuff together.
Some were bankers, some were consultants, and others were drop-shipping gurus making good money while hustling and enjoying the grind.
But, to my surprise, that didn’t happen to me.
Sure, I traveled a lot and I started dating an amazing woman. Yes, I nailed a stellar internship and a full-time role. Moreover, I also finished the first year of my full-time MBA program at IESE Business School.
However, I didn’t expect business school would cause me to deeply re-examining my motives for everything I do.
And as much as it sucks to say, after all this time traveling, reflecting, schooling, and more, I still don’t have most of my life figured out.
- struggle with the tension between non-profit and capitalism.
- struggle to understand why I’m so self-conscious at times.
- often care too much about what other people think.
- don’t understand why I feel so much pressure to “understand” and figure out exactly what I was “made to do”.
But . . . I’m realizing in time what approaches work for me and don’t work me, and what belongs in my life and what doesn’t.
The Age of Finding What Really Fits
Recently, I discovered an amazing lecture called, “The Amazing Development of Men” by Alison Armstong. In it, Alison describes the season of a man’s development in a helpful and realistic way that honors the beauty of each season in a man’s life.
According to Alison, men in their late 20s to earlier 30s, normally switch from the phase of fun, testing, and adventure (known as “the knight”) to one of determining where they will claim their piece of the world (which she calls “the prince”).
“The prince” phase is unique in that is has 3 phases. The early prince, middle prince, and late prince.
The beginning of the prince is unique in that men don’t simply “try” things; they “engage” with things.
This means they only interact with those things where there is a high probability of success.
Quitting Things Fast
Where this struck a note with me is that recently, I’ve become aware of how much certain habits are costing me and how fast I try to quit things.
For example, I often buy books that are interesting, but I really don’t have time to read or the desire to invest the time it takes to read (damn algorithms).
Or, I purchase a Udemy course for a skill I want to learn. Then I realize it’s not something I’ll be great at this point in my life (even if I invest loads of time).
In essence, I’m realizing more what I am and, maybe more importantly, what I am not.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for this phase. However, I have found it helpful, like Alison suggests, to quit things early and fast.
Following that practice, I’m learning to pay attention when I:
- don’t enjoy something
- don’t genuinely find myself making the time for it
- don’t feel right about it (on a heart or soul level)
- realize it flies in the face of every personality test and assessment I’ve taken in the past 10 years
- find quitting feels like a relief rather than a guilt trip
Like that prince I described, I seem to know when I’m not getting traction and when I love the fight it takes to get traction.
Adopting New Skills + The Costs of Maturity
In spite of all this “quitting”, I also know this must be balanced with skills that are relatively non-negotiable.
For example, becoming better at managing my income now that it’s smaller.
Or, being more conscious about where I put things when I get home in the evening and at the airport.
I must compensate for certain weaknesses because they can compound and become costly, while others can be set aside with little to no consequences.
Since I love diagrams, here’s one example of how this looks. A red block for the habits I need to the weaknesses I need to attack. Yellow for ones that I should address in the near future. And blue and green for the ones that I should probably just accept.
What I’m talking about is the red block. The grave (serious) and high-frequency mistakes, that overtime add up to serious detriment.
In my case, one example is setting things down and forgetting them because I’m preoccupied.
This mindlessness preoccupation that has cost me wallets, cellphones, credit cards left in machines (sorry to all the people who now have to deal with machine beeps, my bad), umbrellas, jackets, Gameboys (#throwback) and more.
To deal with this, I’ve started to instill the discipline of forcing myself to put things back where I found them (thanks, Dad!).
I always put my pen’s in the same spot in my backpack.
I pay attention whenever I’m moving my wallet or passport and physically watch where I’m putting it.
I realize that I’m walking out the door and I usually forget my phone charger, so I turn around and go get it.
It’s a small but important change because I’m tired of paying the price for my carelessness.
On the flip side, there’s a part of me that is increasingly aware of my strengths—moments where I think, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this!”
Some examples are:
- Structuring my discussions and thoughts when given adequate time.
- Conveying a message I deeply believe in to an audience
- Connecting over important topics with my friends
- Dressing in a clean and casual way . . . at least, I think I do?
However, it’s not always obvious where and when I should apply these skills or who will value them. And that is what makes 30 difficult.
Even as I grow in self-knowledge and manage my weaknesses on greater levels, that still doesn’t answer the question: “Do I need to have life figured out by 30?”
A List of Things You Actually Don’t Need To Have Figured Out By 30
Perusing the internet, I discovered there are actually a lot of articles on this topic. It’s super cool when you find out you’re not the only one writing about something!
Turns out, all of these things were on people’s lists of things you don’t have to have figured out:
- Finding the One
- Knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life
- Owning a house
- Traveling the world
- Your style
- Cooking (I disagree with this . . . but my brother in law is living proof)
- Body of your dreams (#bornwithit) — by now i hope you see my sense of humor
- Your “passion”
- Your long-term plan (it’s going to change anyway)
- Whether you should start your own business (most entrepreneurs start a business in their 40s)
- How you’re going to make 6 figures (guilty, guilty, guilty)
Looking at this list, I would say I have stressed over 80 to 90% of it.
But, I’m realizing now, thanks to my friends, girlfriend, family, and siblings, that sacrificing myself for a bunch of paper is not my desired outcome.
Sure, that paper can allow for some pretty awesome things. But in the end, it’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.
Instead, I must find some combination of discipline and trust. I must decide what’s important and makes me happy — besides not being broke.
The Things About 30 That’s Still Rough
One aspect of Alison Armstrong’s lecture that stung was a clip from an interview with Markt (an audience member).
Alison stated that men in their 30s are super driven by their desire to provide for those they love, but also painfully aware of that gap between the level the want to provide out and reality.
“Part of being a prince is being painfully aware of what you can’t provide.”
— Mark from The Amazing Development of Men
Many days, I have a relentless fear that says, “push harder, gain security faster, be stable, close the gap!”
If you’re dating someone or married, this can become more complicated, because your partner needs you to be stable — which is hard if the work you’re doing doesn’t fit.
In such moments, there are a few things I believe should be said in response:
- I don’t need to have this figured out. I need to ask myself what’s truly important and meaningful.
- I need to be honest about what makes me happy NOW and find out what makes partner happy (a.k.a. what we love and want out of life).
- I must separate what I want for my life vs. what other people want.
Frankly, it’s okay if I stop and start things, as long as I’m learning something about myself.
It’s okay to make bets on new books, new courses, new careers, new internships, etc. as long as I learned something about myself.
Sometimes the option you want may not appear, and plan B will become plan A, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve missed your destiny or sold-out or cannot pursue other dreams in the future. After all, most noble prize winners had their breakthroughs around age 40, and men’s salaries peak round 48 (pretty sweet right?).
Will I Ever Find The Answer?
I don’t have it all figured out . . . I’ve got slivers that come through sometimes. On occasions, I feel the epiphany of life here and now.
I feel content, capable, humble, and accepting of what life throws my way.
But then it slips away and self-reflection and becomes self-consciousness and doubt.
As Terry Walling states in his book, Awaken, an excellent book about transition for all ages, it’s relatively normal to bounce between excitement and anxiety during this period of life.
In spite of these challenges, I remain hopeful—a phrase that is also a great mantra.
“I’m hopeful” sparks something in my soul, my spirit, my heart. It gives me the courage to believe that the doubts, failures, inconveniences, and surprise speeding tickets (thanks, Belgium) will ultimately be balanced by hard work, successes, love, great conversations, adventures, beautiful moments with friends, and more.
It gives me the hope to believe what I wrote on the front of my journal for this period of my life: “Total Reset. Transformation. Total Trust. Right On Time.”
Sound like a bad infomercial, right? ;)
The question to ask at 30 is simply: “With each effort, attempt, and engagement, are I learning more about who I am and who I am not?”
Choose The Few Things That Matter
My time at West Point was filled with talk about values: Duty, Honor, Country, Loyalty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.
Many moments often seemed trite, pedantic, and overly zealous.
However, almost a decade later, I can see why we focused so much on them. They are the things that matter when you start asking yourself the hard questions. They (your values) are “the reasons why you do what you do.”
They support what Luke in the MasterHeart Man program calls, “The Deep Call.” It is that part of you that knows, deep down, I was born to do this.
As much as it sucked to doubt my intentions, my judgment, and motives for the past year. I’m seeing now that it worked to purify my focus. It helped me understand more about myself by learning who I am not and some of the things that make me feel alive.
So, if you’re like me and don’t have most of life figured out, don’t worry about it. The question to ask at 30 is simply: “With each effort, attempt, and engagement, are I learning more about who I am and who I am not?”
If the answer is, “Yes,” and you haven’t given up, then you’re on the way.