Accepting Your Life Cycle Stages Will Make You More Successful
Resistance is futile anyway
Today, my oldest son finished packing and drove away to start his first year in college. We knew this day was coming. We’ve been preparing. It is meant to happen. That doesn’t mean that it is easy.
Part of me tried to avoid thinking about this day. Part of me resisted accepting it, hoping that he could just stay home and our lives wouldn’t change. But, they will, and it has to be this way. He's growing up and leaving is a natural part of life’s cycles. It must happen for his life to be what it is meant to become.
With age comes perspective. I can look back on my life and begin to see patterns emerging from the chaos and pain. Patterns that are natural and inevitable. Resistance didn’t stop them from eventually forming. In fact, resistance only prolonged the pain and delayed the next stage in life that was coming.
“What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher. What we can’t understand we call nonsense. What we can’t read we call gibberish. There is no free will. There are no variables. There is only the inevitable.” - Chuck Palahniuk
Careers have a life cycle
My father’s generation had one career, and usually one job. You chose a profession, found a steady job, and stayed with the company until you retired. That’s exactly what he did.
My generation (Gen X) thought we would have one career. That’s what we were told when we entered college. Choosing your major would define your profession, and that would be your career path for life. We found out the hard way that wouldn’t be true.
I’ve participated in more layoffs that I can remember, from both sides of the table. IBM, Apple, Yahoo, and a few startups I joined all had numerous layoffs. I guess that these experiences made it easier for me to make peace with the fact that there is no such thing as having one and only career for life.
Jobs have smaller, tighter arcs and life cycles. We’ve all come to see that. Get hired, move up, or move out to a better opportunity to repeat the cycle. I now recognize that careers have a life cycle as well, although it’s a bigger arc and harder to see at first.
At some point, you need to move up out of an independent contributor role into a more senior role, often management and leadership. Otherwise you are seen as “too old” and relegated to less desirable projects and roles. Think I’m exaggerating? I’ve participated in interviews with older candidates, and literally had interviewers turn to me afterwards and say, “He’s too old. He won’t be innovative.” I’ve experienced it myself when a partner at a VC firm told me and my cofounders that we had “too much gray hair” to have a startup.
At some point, you will hit a ceiling in your career. You will have either “made it” as a C-level executive or missed your window of opportunity. This varies by industry, but I think we all know it exists. Just today, someone was talking about being turned away by a mentor who told her that she was too old and it was too late for her to pursue the career she had chosen. Yes, it is illegal to discriminate based on age, but good luck proving that.
You will be more successful in your career when you start to recognize the transition points between life cycle stages. When you see one coming, you can embrace it to make the most of the opportunity it represents, instead of resisting it. Being caught up in an age discrimination lawsuit has a remarkably negative effect on being able to pay your mortgage, college expenses, etc.
It wasn’t long ago that I thought it was crazy to consider transforming my 23 year career into something new. Now, I recognize that it was time. Time for something new, and time for something that better fit my desired lifestyle.
I have a few clients going through a similar process. At first they say, “I can’t imagine no longer being in this profession. It’s who I’ve always been!” But, once they realize that they can now choose to do something entirely new with their career, they light up like it’s their birthday.
Trying to pretend that your calling is something that it is not will frustrate you and lead to eventual failure (e.g., my calling was not to spend my days adjusting resource allocation spreadsheets). Clinging to the past means that you aren’t focused enough on the now, and you certainly cannot plan effectively for the future because you’re always too many steps behind.
When you embrace your new life cycle stage, you can lean into it. You can make the most of it. It’s not a familiar opportunity, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great one for you. I’ve been there, so I can guarantee that it will be uncomfortable and a bit frightening at times. But, you will grow and achieve a new level of success.
Relationships have a life cycle
Some people have lifetime friends. I’ve always admired that, even though I find it mystifying. I’ve spent my life moving to different parts of the country, popping in and out of the corporate world, and changing what I do in a somewhat regular cycle. As such, I often have friends who flow in and out of my life in synch with this cycle.
As we get older, it becomes increasingly harder to make friends. Middle-age men, in particular, seem to be notably poor at maintaining friendships. We get busy with work and family, leaving very little time for friendships outside of the office. So, when you and your friends keep changing jobs and moving around in your career, you tend to lose touch.
But, that might be ok. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. This can elevate you, or drag you down. As you are transforming your career to adapt to your new life cycle stage, you may find that your relationships need to transform as well.
I’m friends with numerous entrepreneurs who found that they needed to find a new inner circle of friends. Their old friends from their old lifestyle simply couldn’t accept or support who they were becoming.
Find friends who will support you, want you to be happy, and want you to succeed.
Your life cycle
I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished and now it’s time to give back. I’m farther down the trail. I’ve stumbled, tripped, slipped, and fallen. But, I also learned how to get back up and keep going. I’ve survived and found my way into a life that I truly enjoy living.
Now, I can turn back and offer a hand to others. Yes, there are some things that need to be experienced and mistakes that need to be made in order to learn. But, there are some mistakes that are too costly and painful. If they can be avoided, they should be.
Some of my biggest frustrations in life have been when I failed to recognize that I had crossed a transition boundary into the next phase of my career or life. Or, when I resisted that next phase, trying to cling to a past phase that was known, comfortable, and reassuring.
Change is often scary. Life cycle changes are some of the most nerve-wracking events. Partly because they have such significant implications, and partly because they are intertwined with a growing sense of your own mortality.
I recently moved away from Silicon Valley after 20+ years. We just sold our home there last week. It’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying. But, the most meaningful changes in your life usually will be.
Change is inevitable. It’s a natural part of life and growing older. Stasis and stagnation won’t lead to success.
Recognize when change is in the wind. Accept it, make peace with it, and that will allow you to transform it into an exciting new opportunity.
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Larry Cornett is a Leadership Coach and Career Advisor. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, two Great Danes, two chickens, and a stubborn old cat. He does his best to share advice that can help others take full control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter and Instagram @cornett.
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