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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

5 Things You Actually Don't Have to Have Figured Out by 30

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Our careers are such a big deal. They are. For many of us, our vocations help define who we are, what we value, and what we’re here on this Earth to contribute as humans. And so, for these reasons and more, it’s completely understandable why so many of us are in a perpetual state of fear about getting them right.

The stakes just feel so high, particularly as we approach life milestones—such as turning 30—and begin doing the obligatory “reflecting on if I’m where I ought to be in life” song and dance.

As someone who has worked with hundreds of milestone-approaching professionals and, herself, made two dramatic career shifts through her late ’20s and early ’30s (all while worrying about all the same things you do), I will tell you flat out: You really don’t need to stress about some of the stuff you’re stressing about.

Certainly, you should plan and curate your path. Lord knows, no one cares more about you having a wonderful, fulfilling career than you do. And you should totally care about things like putting money into a 401(k), not burning bridges, and building valuable alliances with people in influential positions.

But careers evolve and grow not just by worry and hyper-planning, but also through life experience, chance meetings, epiphanies in the night, and sometimes? Dumb luck.

And so, if you’re nearing or at 30 and in that state of turmoil or rumination about your career, please do give yourself permission to quit worrying about these things:

1. Following Your True Passion

First of all, how or why we all came to take as fact the notion of “do what you love and the money will follow” just mystifies me. I could right this minute point you toward 10 people who quit their jobs to follow their bliss, only to find that they either no longer felt passionate about that thing they used to love (because it became work) or they weren’t good at making money doing that thing they love.

And few of us feel career satisfaction when we’re not able to make ends meet.

In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Cal Newport, a computer scientist from Georgetown University, presents statistical evidence that people are much more likely to find fulfillment if they stop trying to follow their passion. (Yep, that’s right.)

His research uncovered that professionals are much more likely to find happiness at work by leveraging their career capital (stuff they’re good at) and and applying it in roles that give them access to the “attributes” that matter most to them, such as freedom, money, work-life balance, authority, and so on.

The world will try and convince you that, if you don’t follow your passion, you’re hosed. Newport proves that this is not the case. So you can officially stop stressing about it.

(And if you still don’t believe me, grab the book. It’s terrific.)

2. What Your Long-Term Career Trajectory Looks Like

I recently met with a 29-year-old middle manager from a large corporation that many, many people want to work at. He was miserable. The culture didn’t fit his personality, his manager was an egotistical micromanager, and he was working 60+ hours a week, only to be told he wasn’t working hard enough.

When you hear this, you probably think what I did, “Holy cow, dude. Run.” At face, he knew he should, too, but his concern was that, if he left, he’d no longer have the predictable career path that he anticipated he’d have at this company.

And that “career trajectory fuzziness” was freaking him out, in spite of his daily misery.

Folks, when you’re 29, 30, or even 42, you don’t have to have the entire storyline of your career mapped out. In fact, you could miss out on an incredible opportunity if you don’t allow yourself to be open to possibilities that come your way, curious about alternative paths, or flexible in how you define “career success.”

Certainly, be thoughtful as you entertain new jobs and career pivots, but don’t stress for a tiny minute if you don’t have the 25-year plan all mapped out.

3. How You’re Going to Balance Work and Raising Kids

This one admittedly cracks me up. I wanted to simply write: “It’s impossible, people, so it’s not worth worrying about.” But I’ll behave.

As a business owner, wife, and mother of three, I’ll tell you straight up that managing the (sometime intense) demands of work and kids is not easy. It’s really better defined as a constant, unrelenting juggling act that sometimes makes you question if you can handle it all.

You can handle it all.

Certainly, you’ll want to do what you can to find a job or employer that gives you at least a little bit of flexibility to dazzle clients at noon then make it to the school spelling bee by 2 PM.

But you need not let the topic unravel you. Kids are amazing and exhausting. If you decide to have them, you’ll get the yin and the yang—and you’ll also figure out how to make everything work just fine.

4. Whether You Should Start Your Own Business

For those of you who are dreaming of starting your own business, but concerned that it could quickly become “too late,” stop that. There’s no expiration date on when you can launch a company, grow an online entrepreneurship, or buy the franchise of your dreams. Heck, I didn’t launch a business until I was 34, and I was nearly 40 when I started the next one.

If it’s a seed in your mind now, it will either grow over time or shrivel up as you find other interests. Now, if you’re ready to pull the trigger, it may be time to start building a tangible transition plan. But if you’re more just concerned that you won’t get to it on time, let yourself off the hook. You’ve got plenty of runway ahead of you.

5. How You’re Going to Make Six (or Seven) Figures

The money worry is a formidable one for most of us—formidable and multi-layered. While it’s certainly understandable how you may want to reach, grow, and climb the proverbial ladder as your career evolves, obsessing over getting to a certain salary milestone can be detrimental to that career, and your well-being.

Case in point, I recently met with a frazzled 32-year-old who had—over the past four years—shuttled through five sales jobs. It wasn’t that he’d been fired or laid off from each; it was that he was so hell-bent on earning six figures that he’d quickly panic when his commissions weren’t immediately bringing him to that income. And then he’d be off to the next thing with big promise.

Certainly, having an income goal in mind can be healthy and motivating. But if you obsess over the numbers—at age 30, or any age—it could lead you to make bad moves, and inevitably, interfere with your ability to pull in the salary you desire.

As you approach (and pass) milestones like “turning 30,” it’s completely understandable that you’ll want to spend time assessing where you’re at and figuring out if you’re making the most out of your life and career. But if you find these five things on your list of stressors, give yourself at least a bit of leeway to cross them off, drop them off, or shove them to the back burner.

And then use that free brain space to plan a cool dinner party, rearrange your furniture, or invent a signature cocktail—all of which will make you feel accomplished, without that yucky layer of unnecessary stress.