Thoughts on how to keep growing and stay energized as you leave your most formative years
As I write this, I am 30-years-old. Taking into consideration today’s medical advancements, living in a relatively stable United States, and my (so far) lucky heath and economic situation, it’s fair to think that if I can successfully avoid distracted drivers and natural disasters, I am roughly one-third of the way through my life. And, I am in a crisis.
Being 30-years-old is odd. Life-altering events are never more frequent and impactful as the first one-third of life. Up to this point, my life has essentially been a series of circumstances, choices, and coincidences that have drastically impacted the course of my life and led me to where I find myself today. They have molded me into my personal uniqueness and set me off on a far clearer course for how I will live my remaining years. I went to college, had fun with my friends, experienced adventures traveling, joined the Peace Corps, made tough decisions to start my career, met my partner, and landed in the community I will invest long-term in — among many other defining experiences. They are the most formative years of life and they are fun, hard, happy, sad, and scary.
All of sudden, it feels like those years are over. Kids are arriving, priorities are shifting, and, well, I’m comfortable. I now find myself with a legitimate fear of falling into complacency. Complacency is how days, months, and years begin to blur together. I fear that I’ll wake up soon and be 60-years-old, wondering why the second-third of my life went by so much faster than my first-third.
And I know that I’m not alone.
I hear this often from others who are around their one-third life mark. It certainly doesn’t mean that we’re not happy, it’s just that we want to continue to evolve as a person, find new fulfillment, and grow even if it seems as though our most transformative years have passed.
As I am going through this crisis, I have found a few techniques that help me stay energized and keep me growing personally. Now it simply takes more of a concentrated effort.
Here are the top four techniques that are most effective for me.
1. Give every day the uniqueness that it deserves
While days may seem to blur together, no one day is the exact same as another. Each day throughout life is completely unique, and I don’t want one to go by without giving it a tip-of-the-hat. What I do every night right before bed is I reflect through the entire day in detail. I find that this exercise helps me be appreciative of the subtle aspects of life and to find the beauty in every day. It helps me realize what makes me feel good, productive, and happy, as well as unproductive and unenergized. It inevitably makes me think of the next day and where I want to put my energy. Doing this on a regular basis over time will slowly contribute to personal growth and ensure that every day is fully taken advantage of. Daily one-sentence journaling is another way to do this and can be a cool documentation of your life proving that each day is, in fact, valuable.
2. Learn something new and talk to others about it
Reading and listening to podcasts about a subject that you are already really into and know quite a bit about is great. It is enjoyable and can be a stress release — not to mention you become an expert of sorts in the matter. It takes more of an intentional effort to pick something totally new and random to learn about, and even more of an effort to do it with others and talk about it. Book clubs are great examples of this. Even reading a book with one or two other people and talking about it together. It is so productive to say learnings out loud, hear other perspectives, share your own, and have a healthy dialogue (or in the case of my friends and me, a healthy debate). Recently I read a book with my wife that revolved around being a woman and the process of childbirth in the Old Testament era… most certainly a book I would not have picked up on my own. It led to some interesting conversations. I find that it not only provides the obvious benefits of increasing knowledge, it is motivating to remember that you can continue to learn and grow in ways you wouldn’t have thought and that you have the rest of your life to do so.
3. “Work” outside of your day job
If you are a person who works five-to-six days a week at the same company, it is easy to experience monotony. Especially if you have the same start and end time and daily commute. Days and weeks can start to blur together. One of the things that keeps me motivated and learning is joining additional working groups and working on side projects. It’s different than a side-hustle — it’s not for money, it’s for experiences, challenges, and skills. An example of this is how I joined a nonprofit board as the Treasurer. I had an inkling for financials and budgets, but was far from an expert, and I seized the opportunity to learn those skills. It gave me meaningful work to do on the side, I had meetings a couple weekdays per month, and it led to a lot of great connections. I had additional coffees with board members to talk about our career paths and what we’re trying to accomplish. Sharing ideas makes me feel energized and adds another element to my routine. It led to valuable side projects and it continues to help me carve my path. I will always try to have at least one group I am a part of at any given time.
4. The power of the word “proactive”
How many times have you started a phrase with, “I’ve always wanted to try…”, “Someday I want to be…”, or “I’ve been thinking a lot about doing…” and haven’t taken steps to actually make it happen? I can raise my hand on this one big time. I think I’ve said that “I’ve always wanted to try cross country skiing” for the past 15 winters of my life and have yet to do so. I hear these a lot. “Someday I want to be a speaker.” “I’ve been thinking a lot about writing a book.” “Someday I want to live in a different city.” “I’ve always wanted to try a dance class.” I had an epiphany a few years ago that I often say these types of phrases multiple times and do nothing about it. Then, I found the power of the word “proactive.” What am I doing to be proactive to make it happen? Things don’t just fall from the sky in a pretty package, it has to be an effort. If I want to write an article, am I proactively working towards it? If I want to donate my time to a social endeavor, what proactive steps have I taken recently? It sounds simple, but it has had a profound impact on me. Some days I’ll simply check-in with myself — am I being proactive to grow into the person I want to be? When one becomes comfortable, it takes a true effort to proactively take steps out of that comfort zone. But the effort is worth it to stay fresh and continue to grow throughout life. Don’t be like me, cross country ski.
I have to remind myself that the first one-third of my life resulting in feeling more comfortable is a good thing — that is really the point, to an extent. It doesn’t mean that I will sit back and kick up my feet for the rest of my life. I can still define myself as a person by challenging myself and putting myself out there. I don’t have to be in a crisis. Life is finite, but learning and growing are infinite. It is just about making an effort and evolving what that effort looks like as I enter this new phase of life.