‘I want to be a pilot, flying a fighter jet or a passenger plane’. That is 11-year-old Me’s response to the question: where do you think you will be in 10 years? Little did I know, when I was writing that in my Year 6 yearbook, flying a plane, especially with passengers, requires years of training, study, and practice. It’s something only a handful of 21-year-olds have accomplished ever. Instead, what I am doing is studying and working full-time hours, with a voluntary internship on the side. Not living out the dream I had as a soon-to-be primary school graduate. But even with big commitments such as these, I still get the feeling that I’m not doing enough to succeed in the future. In fact, I would say the majority of my colleagues and classmates feel the same way, grinding our way through arduous hours, telling ourselves that we just need to get through one more week.
So, why do so many people feel like there is a big rush to succeed? Why does there feel to be an invisible barrier stopping us from doing the things we love after the age of 25? Do we need to be doing everything in our power to be perfectly primed to enter the workforce — and stay there — once we graduate uni? The short answer is no. But let’s try and understand why we might feel otherwise, as well as look at some promising statistics that show life doesn’t end at 25.
In the world of Crypto millionaires and young CEOs, you are bound to compare yourself to the success of your peers. Publications around the world praise those who achieve success at a young age, naming ‘Top 30 Under 30’ lists showing several of the most successful people under a certain age. This, accompanied with the rising cost of living (especially in Sydney), and the fear of missing out on the next big thing, is a pressure cooker of conditions that awaken a sense of urgency in those who are looking to plan their future. You may even be looking at your parents as a measure of success in their respective age. Sure, we didn’t have to climb Mt. Everest and complete the 12 Labours of Hercules just to get to school every morning, as my mum would make it out to be, but did houses cost $1.2 million for a yard-less abode in the far reaches of Greater Western Sydney? There are plenty of reasons to feel like youth is the key to long-term success. Seeing all the success stories might be motivating for some, but can also invoke a sense of hopelessness in our stressed, burned-out, grind-obsessed generation. The shift from your 20s being about discovering what you like and experimentation, to achievement and merit as a measure of self-success further adds to the comparison crisis many feel.
Looking at the facts, there are several reasons which make even the most resilient of us feel uneasy in our seats. As a student, there is a constant battle between choosing what interests us, and what makes us successful. It can feel at times that your interests and passions are worth throwing away in the place of guaranteed stability, and we feel pressured to make those choices at a young age when deciding what we want to pursue in our studies. But many have suggested that taking the time to understand and learn through challenges and experimentation, is far more beneficial to achieving meaningful success. Often those who have taken the time to gain life experience, are able to overcome the obstacle of an impending deadline for success (Masten, A. S., & Wright, M. O’D., 2009).
Furthermore, there are an equal number of stories about changing trajectory later in life. I’m almost certain that every student has heard the cliched “You will have 5-7 career changes in your life”, but it’s true! (Dimovksi, A, 2021). Success can come at any age and there is no rush to get there as soon as you graduate. Harrison Ford got his breakout role in Star Wars aged 35! Even Mark Wahlberg, the most obnoxiously motivated person around, was a rapper before he decided to give it all up for acting. The point is, even if you do commit to a role that will guarantee you some form of success in the short term, if you don’t like it, there is always time to try something else. The hardest part of starting is taking the first step.
So, overall, it’s completely normal to feel like you are not doing the ‘right’ thing in your younger years, and more likely than not, the people around you will feel the same way. This doesn’t mean however that it’s all over. Experimentation is key, try everything once and find out what you like. Even if you find it’s not for you, you can always try again.