I passed a milestone of sorts last month – theoretically, the halfway point of my professional career.
My career began 20 years ago, in May 1992, when I graduated college. I still remember that entire week very well. I was an honor graduate, which meant that my parents and I attended a couple of functions honoring high-achieving students, including a breakfast on that Friday morning of graduation. I was very good at school, and I already had a job locked up, so it was logical to expect great immediate career success.
Though I’ve had success in my career, I have a lot left to accomplish, and some quick math has amplified the urgency. If I want to at least semi-retire at age 62, I’m half-way there, but not half-way to my goals. Like a NASCAR team in the middle of a race, I’ll need to make adjustments for a strong finish.
Just like college students preparing for a career, NASCAR teams spend hundreds of hours preparing for each race, trying to set up the cars for optimal performance. They test tire combinations and modify the car’s suspension to help the car speed around the track as quickly as possible, minimizing tire wear. They look for any aerodynamic edge, and they prepare their driver with a strategy to be at the front when the checkered flag waves.
Many times, shortly after the green flag waves, all of that preparation goes for naught, as the track conditions change or the car doesn’t respond well to the planned set-up. In this situation, the driver and his crew try to diagnose the problem and correct it as quickly as possible to enable the driver to have a legitimate shot of being out front when the checkered flag waves.
The race to improve performance is a race within the main race, as teams in the pit and garage area try to make their adjustments before their competitors do. The sooner you can optimize your car, the sooner you can make your way to the front of the pack. If others make their adjustments before you or make better adjustments than you make, your race to the front is compromised. Those who don’t make needed adjustments or take too long to make adjustments take themselves out of the race.
I’ve been fine-tuning my career for several years now, making dramatic adjustments ten years ago with a move back to my home state and a change in professions. Now, I just need to make minor adjustments, as the laps seem to speed by even more quickly with each passing year. Though I might not be where I had hoped to be by this point, I like my chances of a strong finish, because I am now much better at making adjustments. That’s the power of age, wisdom and experience.
Napoleon Hill in his book, “Think and Grow Rich,” says that most people don’t experience great success until after the age of 40, because they spend much of their youth in pursuit of the wrong goals, most often, the attention and affection of the opposite sex. As we age, we become more confident in who we are, no longer needing the affirmation of the opposite sex. In addition, we’ve learned from past mistakes and failures. That experience, coupled with the confidence and focus to make adjustments, makes the second half of most careers far more successful than the first halves.
Comedian Jacob Cohen struggled mightily in the first few years of his career, joking that the location of one of his gigs was so far out that it was reviewed in Field and Stream. Discouraged and in debt, he quit stand-up comedy and made a living selling aluminum siding.
Not until he revised his routine to build off his personal struggle to get respect from others and reinvented himself as Rodney Dangerfield did he experience the success with which we identify him yet today. He was 42 years old, 25 years after his first paying stand-up comedy act.
Whether you are well past halfway in your career, or well short of it, be proud of what you’ve accomplished and don’t hesitate to reach for more. Your reach is stronger and better directed than it was at the beginning of your career. Resolve to take advantage of maturity and experience rather than lamenting lost youth. With the proper adjustments, your goals are still within reach.