Have you ever heard the axiom that waiting until you are 25 to get married gives you the greatest chance of happiness and success in that marriage? Like most axioms, it does not account for many other contextual things, not the least of which that each of us are unique. But 25 is a consistent number when it comes to identifying the right time to get married. From the politically conservative Focus on the Family organization (recommends 22-25) to the quantitatively driven Gallup research organization (recommending 25-27 as the best ages), to the cheeky and decidedly un-scientific Cosmo (25), that ol’ 25 number keeps showing up. And, with good reason: 25 is a typical age where many of us have started getting much closer to finding ourselves. We’ve gone to college, likely left home, and have entered the workforce. We’ve experienced life as an adult and – in most cases – had one or more jobs, one or more lovers and one or more domiciles of our own. We’ve experimented with the world a bit and figured out, on our own two feet, some degree of what works for us, what does not, and how we fit into the whole thing. This process, which gives us clarity and stability around who we are, strongly positions us to choose a good partner and forge a relationship that is worthwhile. Often without intending to do so, we’ve really started understanding ourselves.
This notion of “finding yourself” is every bit as important in our careers. The best jobs are those where there is alignment between the company, the people around you, the roles the job will require of you, and what you enjoy and succeed at doing. The less aligned any of these things are, the more likely we will be unhappy, ineffective, and/or not stay very long – a classic lose-lose scenario.
It took me a long time to find myself professionally. At first, I did not take my professional life at all seriously, sleepwalking thru my BA and MA before financial pressures forced me to leave the academic path and start making more money. I am naturally energetic and eager-to-please, so for a time whenever an opportunity that seemed interesting came up I was excited to just jump right in. The good news, during this period, is I learned a lot. The bad news is I kept picking things that were not good fits, leading to the thrill of learning and success quickly turning to the frustration of not enjoying what I was doing. For me, it was also complicated by ego and wanting to be “the best” in some completely generic and generally unfocused way. These were necessary steps toward my gaining real understanding.
After repeating this pattern with employers it only continued when I started out as an entrepreneur. I just sort of continued on the paths that were already before me, striving forward without really stepping back and evaluating what I wanted to and really should be doing. In my case, I was actually in my late 30′s before I had a clear picture of not just what I was or was not good at, but what I really enjoyed and did not enjoy doing. That clarity – fairly recent, still – has enabled me to evolve toward a professional life that gets the most out of me while proving fulfilling in personal and professional ways. It is a path that now allows contentment and happiness to join with the previous success and effectiveness I’ve long enjoyed. It is a far better place for someone to be.
My situation is just one example, but finding ourselves professionally allows us to feel the most rewarded and have our overall life positively impacted by what we do even while contributing more and better for the organizations that employ us.