I spent my entire 20s following the typical set of expectations society holds for us. I went to college and didn’t study a useless degree. I graduated and immediately got a well paying job in NYC that I didn’t love or hate. I fell in love with a toxic man and experienced incredibly traumatic heartache. I even bounced around from one job to another because I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do. What didn’t help also was the fact that changing companies always increased my pay.
I followed what I call the Millennial Dream. Back in 2013 when I graduated, all my friends from school followed my exact path. And it took me until turning 30 to realize that this dream was a myth. A myth that only forced people to fit into a box of loss dreams & expectations. In fact, I would argue that these expectations account for 99% of the issues that Millennials now face: having crumbling student debt, working jobs that hate, and settling in the wrong relationships too early in life or not settling at all. In fact a friend of mine sent me this meme the other day that summarizes everything oh too accurately:
Jokes aside, there’s something about the meme that really needs to be said. The need to get married early, get a high paying job, and have kids by 35 is a lot of pressure for a lot of people. It means making very small mistakes along the way and not not shaking the norm too much.
So what did I learn after pursuing what society deemed as a successful path for me the last 10 years? Two things, really:
1. Don’t marry for the sake of getting married. A relationship will never fulfill you, unless you’re already fulfilled yourself
I learned this the hard way. My college boyfriend and I had an extremely complicated five year relationship. I invested so much into the idea of marrying my first love that I never took time to realize my first love honestly had become an asshole.
Like the beginning of all relationships, it started off sweet with soulmate like qualities. But fast forward five years, we ended up being horrible to each other. Our relationship was fraught with money issues and divisive expectations of each other. My relationship with my first love transformed from love to hate. He became someone I couldn’t recognize anymore — obsessed with his ego and money. At the end, when we broke things off, he had become cruel, manipulative, and a textbook narccicist.
It took me until turning 30 to realize the reason I stayed in a horrible five year relationship was because the thought of being a single, lone woman at prime age of 23 was scary. I wanted to look like I had my life together. That I had a loving successful boyfriend who wanted to explore the world with me, even though I knew deep down it was far from the truth.
And it took a traumatic breakup for me to realize that relationships are not supposed to drain you. They’re meant to complement you in life — not ruin you. And the only way to ever find a relationship that complements you is to know who you are and what you value. But how many of us have that figured out in their 20s?
As I look around the corner and see all my 28–32 something year old friends rush into marriage, forsaking their own needs so that they don’t “look” alone or miss the age of having kids, I realize that, unless you’re willing to compromise your values for the sake of having someone, it’s simply not worth it.
2. Making a living while working at a company should be a short term plan. Plan to have enough money by 40 where you’d never have to work for someone else for money again.
This one was extremely hard for me to wrap my mind around. When I went to college back in 2009, there were so many stories that companies sold when they came to recruit on campus. They’d brainwash us that there’s always a career path, as long as you joined “this said company”. They’d promise us the world- that we’re young and limitless; that they’d promote based on a meritocracy.
Fast forward ten years, and I’d say that ideology is more dead than ever before. Only a handful of companies truly promote within anymore (meaning they will always promote internal talent over hiring someone externally). And I have a handful of friends who even have luxury of ever working with one of these companies.
What is even worse is that, if you’re not working at a promote from within company, most companies only promote a few handful of employees they deem “high potential”. But these people are typically not leaders or really great performers. They just happen to be in the right role, right place, right time.
So what did I learn from all this? Pick a company that meets your needs. Don’t chase prestige. Don’t sacrifice things in your life for the hopes a company will promote you for more money or give you a senior position anymore.
So if you want to live in SF or NYC, move there and find a job. If you only want to work 9–5 and work on a side hustle? Find a company that allows you to do so. We should be able to demand these things. At the end of the day, the average person is not Steve Jobs. We did not create these companies nor is our identity attached to them.
What I also learned is that having just one job isn’t enough to generate wealth in a lifetime anymore. This isn’t the 1960s, where you can work at the same place your whole life time, get paid well, and rise to the top.
So this is my case as to why we need to restart our lives at 30. Though I will admit it is a bit scary, I realized that being a free agent at 30 is the greatest asset ever. In fact, I even asked a good friend of mine who works in HR at a Fortune 500 company if it was true that companies were afraid of single folks in their 30s. The answer is a resounding yes.
Being single at 30, with no mortgage, no kids, makes you a flight risk to most companies. And that’s OK. Because it means you’re in the driver seat of your life. And what honestly could be better than that?
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