Millennials have been called lazy, distracted, and entitled. To many, we seem to have no sense of direction or purpose. I would argue that being lost and possibly weary about the future is more of a twenty-something rite of passage than a generational issue, but that’s a separate matter.
My stepdad is one of the most practical people I know; he thinks with his brain first, emotions placed aside. Growing up as the youngest of ten children, he overcame obstacles to become a successful entrepreneur, and along the way he learned a lot of things that he’s been able to pass on to me that make growing up a lot easier.
One of the best pieces of advice he’s ever given me is that whatever I am doing today should add up to what I want to do tomorrow. So it’s not necessarily about fixating on what I’m doing today, but the big and small implications of those actions and decisions in the future.
More importantly, though, is the reminder that my path is my choice. If I want to get to point x, why waste time pursuing a path that isn’t going to lead me there?
His advice pushes me to always ask myself why I’m doing something, and if I can’t answer that, I know it’s probably time to switch direction. Every twenty-something could benefit from learning how to ensure that we are fulfilling our purpose and desires—something many of us doubt our ability to do. Hopefully my stepdad’s words and his two guiding questions make that easier for you too:
So what are you doing?
That seems like simple enough of a question, but sometimes it feels like a loaded one—bearing whispers of all the things we’re not doing. But so what? I’m not at all suggesting that we shouldn’t be willing to alter our plans and improve them by trying other things, but if you’ve got a plan, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to it. There will always be something else we could aim for, but talking about our current state of existence reminds us to applaud who we are, and the strides we’re making in the present.
In 2014, I took a year off from school, and for the most part, I did very little related to my current master’s program or my planned career path; however, I don’t feel that I squandered my time. Some encouraged me to enter graduate school immediately. Others said I should consider cutting my work days to pursue substitute teaching. Despite their advice, no one was offering to do any of that for me, so I made my own choices.
Taking time off from school meant I could mentally refresh before starting a new program. Working full-time at my job meant I could move into a nicer apartment. I had a plan, and I let it work for me even if my strides were visible on a day-to-day basis only.
After all, days add up to months, which add up to years, which all hopefully add up to the futures we’ve imagined.
How is that beneficial for you?
In our twenties, we start to establish real paths that we hope will lead to our larger goals. It’s the first time most of us have true autonomy over what happens in our daily lives.
Adapting my stepdad’s words, I try to focus more on the practical application of my actions. That is, even though I understand the motivations behind my decisions, how do those decisions actually translate into the world; into something that lets me know I’ve got it right? Before I started school again, my stepdad said, “I hope you’re not just going to school to have another piece of paper in your hand.” That might seem a bit stinging, but he was right. Aside from being able to say I have it, it was important to know what was going to be the real-world payout for getting another degree, and that meant having an honest conversation with myself.
We have to be conscious of how our decisions add to the framework of what we are building. The last thing I want to do is look up in five years and realize that I’m accidentally in the same place I am today because my personal plans had no purpose where I wanted to apply them. Again, it’s nice to have a plan in effect, but plans make it easy for us to get preoccupied with completing steps as opposed to remembering that those steps should lead to completing larger goals.
Wherever you’re headed, if you know what you’re doing and why it’s meaningful, you can probably bet that success is imminent.