This article is part of our series, “Lessons to My Younger Self.”
I had lunch this past week with a very old friend of mine. We met sometime right after college, at the Macy’s Kings Plaza store in Brooklyn. She ran the Accessories Department and I ran Cosmetics. Our birthdays are one day apart, and this month, we both turned 50.
We couldn’t help but talk about what we thought our lives would be at 50. I asked, was her life what she expected? And she replied that she’s always enjoyed the moment—rather than looking ahead, she’s tried to be happy at each point she’s at.
My answer was quite the contrary. I’ve always charged full-speed ahead, desiring to successfully move forward—even if I didn’t have a clear expectation of what I wanted when I got there, wherever “there” was. When I was 14, I wanted to be 16 so I could drive. When I was in high school, I wanted to get to college. When I was in college, I wanted to graduate and start my career.
My career has reflected that, too. When I began a three-month training program at Macy’s, I was ready to get out and start my first job as soon as possible, so that I could get promoted as soon as possible. I have always been competitive and driven to succeed. I wanted to be sure I could take care of myself and live the way I wanted to live.
Of course, this drive never ends, and at each turn I wanted more.
But as I got older, many of my career choices began to have to do with my children. When I opened up the first Women’s Entrepreneur Festival in January 2010, I told the audience that there was a point when I looked in the mirror and felt like I had somehow let my young, ambitious self down. When I spoke those words, I saw women in the audience nodding their heads in agreement. My words hit home to a lot of people who felt that somehow they had lost their identity with some of the choices they had made.
Perhaps it’s my generation—or perhaps it’s just life—that many women find themselves in the exact same position as I did. They took time off or they took a different career track that wasn’t as time-consuming. Or they did the opposite—they continued moving forward at a frantic pace and felt guilty about leaving their kids in the dust. Either way, I’ve learned that there’s really no “right” answer or perfect path for us to follow.
So what is my advice to my younger self? Do what feels right at each step of the way. You can always pivot or do something different, but you can never recapture the time you spend with your kids and your family. (Julia Child didn’t start her career until she was way into her 40s, and look at the mark she made on the world!) Do what makes you happy and everything else will fall into place. Don’t be so concerned with what’s next, and instead, do what my friend has managed to do: enjoy each moment.
Life is short. Take time out to smell the roses. Carpe diem, give back, and move forward, but, most importantly, do it under your own terms.
For more in this series, check out: Lessons To My Younger Self
Joanne Wilson, also known as Gotham Gal, has been a buyer at Macys, ran a company in the rag trade, spearheaded sales of a start-up magazine/e-zine/events company, chaired a non-profit organization focused on technology in inner city schools, and is involved with a variety of start-ups as an advisor and investor. She recently chaired the Women Entrepreneurs Festival in New York. Follow her at www.gothamgal.comMore from this Author