Take it from a person who definitely didn’t see it coming. I’ve thought for a few years now that no one warned me about the feelings I’ve encountered in my late 20s. The struggle you feel and the extra balance that is needed as you try to achieve the dreams and goals your 21-year-old-self set out for you, while also making decisions your 40-year-old-self can actually live with.
There are all these lessons and cautions for 16,18,21,25 and of course 30. But what about 28, why didn’t anyone tell me what to look out for? Why didn’t anyone tell me the crossroads I knew I’d feel one day would be on my mind most, right now? Consider this your notice of “speed bumps ahead, don’t get caught looking in the rearview mirror too long.”
If you meet these criteria, 27-33, driven, career-focused, engaged or recently married, with child or hoping to be in a year or two, I’m talking about you! I am one of you and I haven’t met another woman who meets this criteria that hasn’t immediately understood what I’m talking about when I’ve said out loud “No one warned us about the feelings of our late 20s.”
My 21-year-old-self was an overachieving and quickly succeeding account coordinator at the Atlanta arm of a large advertising agency, with primetime 30 second spots and 30 under 30 lists on my mind and a dream of one day seeing “,President” after my name. I loved the grind, the praise and how much I was learning and I thought “I’ll be in advertising forever.” Fast forward three years, when the glamour wore off, but the grind stayed, clients changed and my introspective self asked “Is this all there is?” and “Is what I’m working on good for the world?” So I made a move that still suited me, working at the intersection of fitness and brand marketing for the next four years at both non-profit and for-profit organizations.
My 28-year-old-self was a transplant in a new city, who had changed jobs more than expected, an overachieving, still succeeding, global brand manager at one of the top three athletic apparel companies in the world, seeing my new husband for less time each day than I spent in my car commuting, thinking about work every hour I was awake and coming to terms with the fact that my time was running out to make that 30 under 30 list. I loved the praise, could handle the grind and was actually still learning, but I thought to myself “Is this fulfilling enough to be my forever?” Fast forward to 29, when the reality set in that only one female in my department with Senior in her title also answered to Mom, and work/life balance seemed impossible for me to ever achieve. The work/life relationship looked more like that image you’ve seen of an elephant on a see-saw and work was the elephant, with life flailing it’s arms up there, longing for recognition and equal weight. I asked myself “Is it possible to consider being a Mom in this career? Is what I’m working on good for the world or for my future?”
Did you notice how the weight of those questions got even heavier? As a late 20 something we’re concerned with what’s good for the world, what’s good for our future, what’s good for our potential future children and making good on the expectations we set for ourselves. These questions feel so heavy, because our 21-year-old-self is sitting on one shoulder and our 40-year-old-self is sitting on the other, telling us what to do. Consider that another diagnosis for why so many 20 and 30 something year old females carry their stress in their upper back and shoulders.
We find ourselves also asking questions like, “Why didn’t I become an admissions counselor or a nurse?” “How can I revise the career path I’ve created to do more good in the world?” “Are there any occupations where I can still grow, feel fulfilled, make a difference and not actually work every hour I’m awake?” Or is that too much to ask…..
If you haven’t gotten to your late 20s yet, consider yourself warned and be proactive in taking the time to recognize the things you have accomplished instead of only dwelling on the possibly now unrealistic ones you set for yourself at 21 (ex: the 30 under 30 list for me). Also, take a look around your office or another office in your industry, is there a female superior to you that lives a life you would want to emulate? If not, be more aware of that, starting now, as you look to grow in your career and personal life. If so, knock on her door and learn. I’m confident she will be willing to share her stories and secrets.
If you, like me, missed the warning and have fully experienced the weight of these questions and decisions, know that it’s never too late to evaluate what’s important to you now and make changes. After all, you’re likely only a third of the way through this incredible life you’ve been gifted. For me, it was recognizing that the answer to most of the questions I was asking was “No” and I couldn’t continue to invest in the path I was on, where I knew my future self wouldn’t be able to exist or thrive. I knew I had to change directions and build something that would allow me to be challenged, but also balanced and so I started my entrepreneurial journey. For you, whether you feel you need to establish new balance in your current role or seek a different profession altogether, be sure to take the time to recognize your dreams, if they’ve changed at all and appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Then dedicate yourself to the path that takes you to the future you desire, a future that includes both a professional life and a personal life you can succeed in.