Sometimes I resent the click bait that has taken over my newsfeed on Facebook and even permeates some of the boards I follow on Pinterest. I react particularly to the kind that makes claims like “The Top However Many Things You Should Have Learned by Now”.
I take issue with the “should” in that sentence and the arbitrary number and deadline, and then I feel conflicted because I know I’m sometimes compelled to draw readers in with titles like that.
But this morning, as I scrolled down Pinterest, and came across “Four Things Everyone Should Learn by 30”, I clicked on it. What can I say, I’m a complicated and hypocritical being.
I expected to see the overdone subheads you find on Huffington Post lists like “you know you need to save for retirement” or “you own a little black dress/suit that you can wear to nice events”, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of what I found.
It was the third on the list, “a little goes a long way”, that got my attention the most. All the pieces of advice were valuable, but only that one struck me as time-sensitive, and the one I could honestly say has changed my life for the better because I learned it by 30.
Here are the two things I’ve gleaned from this lesson that have helped me to achieve greater success at a young age and set myself up for a happier adult life:
1. Plan your weeks realistically, but dream in big, bold detail.
Part of what “a little goes a long way” actually refers to is our tendency as humans to overestimate what we can do in a short period of time and underestimate what we are capable of achieving in the long term.
Even if you haven’t heard that before, everyone is familiar with this concept. We jam pack our weeks and end up canceling or rescheduling appointments, or forgoing that exercise class, because we realize we’ve set an unrealistic schedule.
But when it comes to thinking out to the future, say one to three years down the road, it’s difficult for us to envision big things for ourselves.
I hear it all the time with clients. They want to set incredibly high expectations for their week to week tasks, but when we talk vision, they wimp out a little and give me something vague and overly cautious.
I remember doing my first meaningful “vision exercise” in my early twenties after a long-term relationship ended and I experienced a series of bad dates ranging from awkward to downright demoralizing.
My mom suggested I write down a list of all the qualities I wanted in a partner. Some of what I wrote seemed far-fetched, and made me wonder if I wasn’t being a little fanciful in dreaming up someone who couldn’t really exist.
But low and behold, every one of the qualities I wrote down back then is evident in my husband today.
Later on in my twenties, my sister told me about an exercise she had done in grad school where they had to write down a day in their life five years in the future in as much detail as possible.
I tried it for myself and had a lot of difficulty at first imagining what it would all look like from my house to my job to how I spent my free time.
Since that first pass I’ve revisited my larger, all-encompassing vision every couple of years. Each time it’s changed a bit and gotten clearer, but what’s remarkable is that I’ve started to see some of my most audacious ideas manifest as reality.
At a visioning workshop I attended recently, an older woman in her early 70s bravely stood up and shared her three-year plan in front of the room. Afterward, she remarked that she only wished she had done this earlier in her life.
There’s supreme power behind dreaming with intentionality. Learning to harness that power means detailing what you see for your future without holding back; it can mean the difference in achieving your dreams and living the life you want, or feeling regret later on.
2. Breakthroughs take time, and a lot of little steps.
Another part of “a little goes a long way” has to do with how we actually go about creating our vision in the day to day.
When we’re in our early twenties it’s often hard to trust that we’re on the right track partly because we just haven’t had enough lived experience to know that sooner or later, if you stick with something, you’ll see the fruits of your labor.
Also, unlike creating a vision in broad strokes that energizes you for the future, the reality of achieving your dreams is often a little boring.
It looks like setting small, attainable goals, showing up every day, and staying the course, even when you can’t always see anything happening.
But something is. You’re slowly but surely changing inside and effecting change in your world.
I think of some of the major shifts I’ve made in the past 10 years. For example, I lead a pretty healthy lifestyle and it just feels like part of who I am. I go to yoga or run 4-5 times a week, eat mostly whole food, and meditate regularly. But it didn’t always look like this.
Six years ago, I smoked cigarettes, barely could run a mile, constantly overate, and felt at the mercy of my relentless anxiety.
The breakthroughs I made to reach my current state took a thousand baby steps like packing healthy lunches for work and exercising more regularly. Every time I binged on junk food, I did my best to come back to my goals.
I couldn’t always see it, but I was changing my mindset about my body image, how I related to food, and eventually the way I saw myself.
It’s the same in coaching. The biggest breakthroughs my clients make often happen between sessions. This used to be something I struggled with because when I didn’t get a major “ah-ha moment!” on a call, I would doubt my ability to be making a difference.
But, as with my own life, I began to internalize this lesson and hold space for all that I couldn’t see going on beneath the surface.
Our ability to follow through and make meaningful changes in our lives requires that we trust things are happening, even when we can’t see them.
I hope these lessons help set you up for 30 and beyond. We’re never really done so put the arbitrary age deadlines aside and just start now from wherever you are.