They would not find me changed from him they knew,
Only more sure of all I thought was true.
When you are 20 something, straight out of college with a marketable degree and confidence to boot, you face the world as a challenge to win. You are invincible and immortal. In your twenties there is very little you cannot accomplish. The sky is the limit. You are ready to fly high. Your energy level is high. You are ready to do whatever it takes to reach the corner office.
I too was one of those. As a coach today, I meet high potential managers cast in that mould reaching out for the pie in the sky they are told is waiting for them. In recent times, many no longer tread the beaten path of an executive. They venture out entrepreneurially through startup operations as leaders, thanks to the cost-effective performance-enhancing framework provided by the virtual world.
When you reach your thirties, things get different. Your hair starts thinning and graying. A bit or more of a paunch appears. An expiry date seems no longer impossible. As you advance into the thirties there is a growing sense of urgency to achieve something before it is too late. Many of us, as Gail Sheehey says in Passages, want to be President.
What you are driven to, especially in the corporate and entrepreneurial world is towards wealth and power. Often you know where you wish to reach, though not quite clear how, and sometimes even why.
“As one struggles through the thirties, some succeed in reaching the desired destination. A larger percentage does not. The desperation and obsession to achieve what you have not increases, as you reach the forties. Achieving what you set out to and failing to achieve both raise more issues.”
Those who do achieve what they set out to, the corner office or the millions of Dollars, do not feel satisfied when they get their desired goal. They want more. When they have more, they want even more. Dreams get bigger; obsessions get wilder. A wise man said, ‘This universe can fulfill the needs of its billions, but not the greed of one.’
As you reach your forties and do not see what you wanted in your pocket, you feel dissatisfied, unfulfilled, depressed, irritated, frustrated and angry and reach a state Martin Seligman termed as learned helplessness.
Leadership coaches see this happening with executives in the age group of mid-thirties and beyond, including both who succeed embarking on bigger and more shiny goals and, who fail and spiral into negativity. Both realize that they are not satisfied with what they do, but do not know what would fulfill them.
Cases of Confused Generation
Case 1: Highly successful hedge fund executive, barely thirty, with millions in the bank, is burnt out and searches for an alternative that will provide him with a meaning in life.
Case 2: Mid-forty executive of a large multinational is frustrated at playing second fiddle to a controlling boss who is going nowhere. He is struggling to decide whether to get out or wait.
Case 3: A brilliant and successful woman in her thirties has built a growing startup from scratch. Her struggle is between work, which consumes more and more of her and the family, which she feels needs her more.
The question I ask them is, what they would like to see themselves as in another 20 years. Most are stumped. Their vision is limited to 3 or at most 5 years. When you imprison oneself in a short-term time space boundary, rather than venture into the unknown zone of discomfort and creation, you are doomed to helplessness.
When you are confused, you are hearing the call in the Hero’s Journey. You can either wake up to act on that call or stay in bed complaining.
When you decide to wake up:
- Identify the dream you wish to make real and align it with your strengths and support system
- Create a holistic vision 20 years ahead that includes wealth and power, health and relationship, hobbies and learning and some selfless service
- Journey back from that vision to where you are now planting milestones to journey.
- Walk that path relentlessly
When you wish to win the lottery, you need to buy the ticket first. When the universe wants to conspire to help you, it wants you to dream that vision of purpose first. Take the first step in that journey of a thousand miles today.