A savvy 20something who interviewed me recently told me about a question she was advised to ask herself as she moved through adulthood: “If you keep living your life exactly as it is, where will you be in 3 years?” If you don’t like the answer, now is the time to change course.
One way to keep yourself honest about the future is by making a timeline. At what age would I like to be out of this dead-end job? By when do I hope to be married? How old do I want to be when I try for my first child? How old do I want to be when I try for that last child? It may not be cool to have a timeline, or to admit to having a timeline, but you don’t have to etch it in stone. It’s just a way of thinking about how your life might, or might not, be adding up.
Besides, do you know what’s not cool? Sitting across from the 30somethings who cry in my office every week because they’ve run out of time to have the careers and the families they now realize they want. They look at me and say about their 20s, “What was I doing? What was I thinking?”
She goes on to advise people in their twenties: “Don’t hang out only with people who are drinking the 30-is-the-new-20 kool-aid.”
I graduated college in 1989 and moved into a really good newspaper job. In the early 1990s, a lot of people my age were moving to Prague. I was sorely tempted to. It seemed like the adventure of a lifetime. But I didn’t do it, mostly because I had a job too good to give up — especially given how far it put me ahead on the career track. For a while in my twenties, I wondered from time to time if, by making the safe choice, I had made the right choice. I now know I did. We don’t have all the time in the world to make infinite choices. Time chooses for us; not to choose is a choice.
I wish I had paid more attention, though, when financial advice types would say that people in their twenties should start saving money, however little they can, in interest-bearing accounts. I’d be a lot farther down the road, financially, if I had done that at the start of my working life.
If you’re past your twenties, what do you wish you had done differently then? What do you wish you had known? I can’t claim I didn’t know that I needed to be saving money. I did, but I thought I have all the time in the world to get started on that, that I should just enjoy myself and have fun.