Is age just a number? I would bet more than half of you will agree. From TV ads extolling the virtues of ageless skin to a self-help industry with endless secrets to staying mentally and physically young, we live a world based on the assumption that youth is timeless. “Youth” has become a human trait for all ages rather than just a period in one’s life out of which one will eventually transition into the next phase.
There is great value in staying mentally sharp as time goes by because the human brain can always use more connections to fend off the ruthless effects of neurodegenerative diseases. However, none of this really puts off aging. The fact is: we only get to be young once. With each passing year, we are more distant from our younger days. Besides the effects of biology, our society also imposes a new layer of expectations for the not-so-youthful people not to mention the effects of age discrimination.
As I am going through my early 30’s, I feel that I have somehow squandered my youth. The late teens to late 20s is what I consider the “youth” period. My inability to find a direction in my life along with my not-so-wise choices led to a rather unremarkable decade. That’s not to say that I was not successful academically. I contributed knowledge to my areas of study and won awards. I also got to write for a prestigious newspaper. With the accumulation of credentials, I thought I would have been a more valued member of my society. What I learned from this is that higher education is really a piece of paper that does not correlate with your success in the real world. My education did not open more doors than I would have liked despite what people say. I spent more time in school than gaining real-life work experience. The real reason was that I was lacking in the social skills that I would have picked up had I been more active in my community and talked to more people. Was I afraid of going out to the real world? By hiding in an Ivory Tower? Had I been more social or more open to new challenges by distancing myself from my comfort zone, I would be in a very different position in my career right now. I would not have switched my career directions a few times. At my age, most people in my cohort are leaders and game changers. It is no surprise I report to younger and younger people at work. As much as people want to stay young forever, you cannot change the fact that you started university in the age of dial-up internet, there is stigma attached to older people looking for jobs in a more crowded market than ever. Your resume reveals more about your age than you think. Not to downplay degrees or credentials, gaining important job experience is just as important or even more important.
You only get to be young once. What you do as a youth has a heavy impact on your career and rest of your life. Try to get it right the first time around. If ever you feel lost, find a mentor. It is often not a good idea to surround yourself with like-minded people because most likely, they are like you with the same set of uncertainties. They are often not the greatest guides for you. Your youth is the best time in your life; and this is the time to gain the necessary skills of life. It is the time to build not just your education, but also skills such as interpersonal skills, learning to assert yourself when you have to, being strategic in your communication and public speaking. How do you stand out in a competitive world? You surely don’t want to be learning all of these skills in your 30s and 40s.