Where is my career supposed to be at age 30?
I’ve never given a lot of thought into birthdays. Getting older is sort of a passing burden best gone unnoticed. Like, OK, I’m a little older and uglier; I’m not as athletic as I once was and it’s noticeable; I’ve long ago been out of touch with pop culture and cool things. Do other people have to remind me of this every year? Dave Berry is a man who said it well:
“There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to
make a big deal about your birthday. That time is: age 11.”
Right around this time a year ago, I created a sort of last-minute checklist to get things in order before the day of turning the big three zero. It included vaguely getting in better shape, applying to graduate schools, and having a certain amount of money saved away. I felt a pressure to get my life in order.
But what about my career? Where is THAT supposed to be at age 30?
On my 29th birthday, I accepted the job that I currently have, working in marketing and communications for JotForm, a popular tool to help users create online forms. I remember having that moment of thinking, “Is this a good job to have in my 30s?” Because if all went well, a year later I’d be 30 years old at the same company. You can wing it in jobs in your 20s, but by 30 — you better make good career decisions. At least that’s what I thought. Fortunately, a year later I’m still here and enjoying it as much as I did in my 20s.
Here’s what I believe are the most important career takeaways for the not-exactly-a-recent-grad-but-nowhere-near-experienced souls out there who are trying to figure out the questions lingering around age and what they’re supposed to be doing in life professionally.
Have a semi-coherent way of articulating what your career is all about.
No one has it all figured out. And if they say they do, they’re lying. But we’ve all been in that position where we weren’t sure how to clearly say what it is we do. But by 30, it’s a good time to have sharpened your professional story, even if your career has shifted directions a time or two.
Know what you want to do five years from now.
And if you don’t know, fake it. Winging it is all well and good for a while in your career, but by 30 you should be able to articulate what you’re good at and what you expect for yourself a few years down the line. The thing is, there’s an inverse correlation of getting older and people helping you figure things like this out. It’s wise to spend some reflection time on this if you haven’t already.
Take a least one opportunity to mentor someone less experienced than you.
If there’s one great thing about aging in the workplace, it’s the opportunity to mentor those who are just starting out. I’ve really enjoyed giving other people advice who reach out to me over LinkedIn or even alumni from the same college who wanted to connect over coffee. Even though I’m not that far into my career myself, I was surprised how much I’ve learned the past five or so years, and how helpful I could be to someone just starting out.
Comparison is the thief of joy
Just do you. Everyone takes a different path in their career, and it’s rarely a straight line. So worry about what you’re doing and resist the urge to compare yourselves to others — whether those peers are the president of a major company, or they’re serving burgers at the same job they had in high school. The only thing that matters is you.
Be really, really good at at least one job-related task.
If you see 30 on the horizon, or if it’s well in the rear view, the lesson still applies. Find at least one aspect of your career that you can excel in. Now that you’re getting beyond the entry-level years, it’s time to show you can be an expert at something. Experts are harder to replace.
Of course, there are no set of rules that apply to every single person. And I’m still figuring things out myself. But it’s helped me to keep these tips in mind, and it’s going to help me even more in the future. Just try to have it all figured out by 40. And if you don’t there’s always 50.
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