There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Lost Decade’ in Career Building. Here’s Why –

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I had the strangest feeling as I stood at my mother’s doorstep. I was there to say goodbye before leaving on a backpacking trip around the world. 

“So, you know, this is it,” I said. 

My mother nodded. She thought I was out of my mind, putting my career on hold at a time when my peers were charging ahead making names for themselves.  “You’re throwing it all away,” she said. “You’re making a serious mistake.” 

Was I making a mistake? Was I about to lose a decade of valuable career-building? At the time, I didn’t have good answers to those questions. All I knew was, I had a window of opportunity to live my dream. A few hours later, I was on a plane to Kathmandu. I was 30 years old. 

It turns out, in this particular instance, my mother was wrong. In the years since my incredible journey, I have achieved all my career goals, plus a few more. I founded my own global consulting company, working with Fortune 500 firms such as HP, Amazon and Bank of New York on customer advisory boards. And, as a life coach, I spend time with many clients who are in their 20s. Want to know something? Few of them have a solid plan to guide them from 18 to 36. 

The Road to Finding Your Purpose

What if conventional wisdom about career building is wrong? I’m here to tell you it is wrong. Your 20s are not the right time to start, and the typical trajectory of 40 years is far too long. You can unlock the door to abundance, joy and purpose if you opt out of blindly following the traditional path and structure your planning around life’s natural cycles. 

My advice to you, which I map out in my book, The Principle of 18, is to turn off your life’s autopilot switch and approach your life and career from the perspective of these five consecutive 18-year phases: 

  • The Dreamer (0-18), when you identify our dreams and flesh them out.
  • The Explorer (18-36), when you commit a quest for the one area you are most passionate about.
  • The Builder (36-54), when you focus intently on that chosen area.
  • The Mentor (54-72, when you guide younger generations. 
  • The Giver (72+), when you dedicate yourself to a cause.

The Principle of 18 is a much different way forward. Look at the Dreamer phase. This is when our dreams are sparked and begin to take shape. Then, from 18 to 36, comes the Explorer phase, where we commit to a quest for the one area we are most passionate about. Doesn’t it make sense to spend time on a quest to find that passion before, say, diving headfirst in your early 20s, only to discover it wasn’t the best fit? 

Your Explorer years are all about finding the place where you can excel. In this crucial phase, you will have plenty of time to explore three different dreams before finding the one that’s right for you. 

Where Talent and Passion Meet: Some Takeaways (especially for the Explorer stage)

  1. Exhaust each dream before you move on to the next. The Principle of 18 affords you the time to try out three different, intriguing dreams. Five years is a good stretch of time per dream. 
  2. Give yourself enough time to become a “serious explorer,” committing fully to whatever you are trying to achieve, without considering any other alternatives while you are at it. No halfhearted efforts allowed. Fully exhaust the potential of each one of your dreams, even if it takes several years.
  3. Take more risks in the Explorer phase. A risk-taking attitude will serve you well in the Builder phase, too, but the stakes will be higher then. As an Explorer, you don’t have a lot to lose. Start taking more risks so you’ll learn to push past your comfort zone.
  4. Don’t nurture regrets. By fully exploring your dreams for 18 years, you are drastically reducing your future regrets. Give each dream your all. If you still come up short, you’ll know you gave it all the gas in your tank and you’ll have no regrets about it.
  5. Stop obsessing over money! It’s more important to find your passion, sharpen your skills and plan for your Builder years, from 36 to 54. That’s when you should double down on the one area that you can excel at. 

After you’ve explored to your heart’s content and settled into your purpose, the Builder, Mentor and Giver phases are where you’ll wield your knowledge and powers to change the world. I get it, this mindset runs counterclockwise to what you’ve been led to believe is true about your career — that you must start saving from the age of four and focus on making money as soon as you’re on your own. But focusing on money at the expense of pursuing your dreams will have a more negative impact on your life than your savings rate. 

Above all, remember there is a time and place for everything that we need to achieve in life. The trick is to find the sweet spot between your talents, passion and what the market needs. 

This guest post was authored by Eyal Danon

Eyal is a Columbia University–trained life coach and the founder of the Ignite Advisory Group, a global leader in managing expert communities for Fortune 500 firms. He is the author of The Principle of 18, the memoir Before the Kids and Mortgage, and the novel The Golden Key of Gangotri. Connect with Eyal at www.eyaldanon.com.

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