When I was 10 years old, I knew I could be anything.
My imagination ranged free and wild, unfettered by the harsh realities of what was to come.
My mum and dad had already lived through difficult times and operated from an entirely different perspective to mine.
Likewise today, in their 70s and 80s, they operate from the mindset and expectations appropriate to that season.
Somewhere in the middle, the seasons of our life morph through early adulthood into midlife.
The expectations imposed on us become quite different and as a result, we function differently, too.
Our appetite for risk, our available resources, our knowledge and experience all shift, and these are important to recognise as we balance our dreams against the realities of each season.
You can try to ski powder in summer all you like but the seasons are the seasons.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean you can’t adjust your environment or reframe the outcomes…
We learn about risk-taking early on through adventurous play.
What height we can jump from, can we leap to that rock in the middle of the stream, how many falls does it take before we can cartwheel; how much pain can we endure before quitting something?
We learn about authority and the limits it imposes.
Relationships with friends are formed and broken.
Our resources are constrained by time and pocket money but we learn how to use them to get what we can, and we start to grasp the concept of delayed gratification.
During this glorious and innocent period, the constraints are obvious – parents and their rules, school and its rules; gravity, and its rules!
Within that framework we have few responsibilities outside of homework and chores. Life is – or should be – simple and mostly fun.
When we start working, our financial resources increase significantly, and we’re imbued with boundless energy and ideas.
The world is our oyster.
The shackles of education and parents are loosened, and our newfound prosperity allows us to do stuff! We’re free!
But we also face a paradox.
We have almost total freedom to choose the direction of our life but we lack the experience, the perspective and the scars of previous battles to make sound judgements.
We still depend on trial and error to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Gradually we take on responsibilities and accept the constraints that they impose. We buy our first car, get a place to live, and later, a wife and kids.
Suddenly, we have new framework – with less free time and less spare cash.
Our appetite for risk is tempered a little but we’re still young enough to recover from failures and new experiences are appealing to us.
We’re relatively mobile and could move to a different city to take on a new job if we really wanted.
We believe our dreams are still achievable.
They say that man’s greatest surprise is aging. Almost before we know it, we’re pushing 40, and the arteries of life have become clogged with liabilities and constraints.
Often it’s financial pressures that are uppermost, through mortgage, car finance, putting kids through school and so on.
Our careers may have stagnated and become less satisfying, too – compounded by ever-longer hours.
One thing I noticed as I moved into this season was a significant drop in energy.
I used to be unstoppable.
Eighteen-hour workdays were a common thing for me and even when I was physically exhausted, my mind was still very active.
But my 40’s? Ugh! Can’t do it anymore.
And all of a sudden, my appetite for risk has vanished, too.
There’s just too much to lose.
Betting the farm is no longer an option.
In fact, it’s my wife who now decides my appetite for risk because unless she’s on-board 100%, I can’t do anything.
And it’s the same for you, too.
In fact, J. Paul Getty, founder of Getty Oil and the world’s richest private citizen in the 60’s, said, “Your chance of becoming wealthy with the wrong wife is zero.”
Fortunately for me, my wife is an entrepreneur through and through. She’s been in business for herself most of her adult life and is no stranger to big ideas and really hard work.
Embrace the Constraints
Many years ago, I attended a huge rah-rah style convention in Sydney, where a loud caricature of a man called Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones had command of the crowd.
He would have been 50-something at the time but possessed the energy of a 30-year-old.
He regaled us with stories of his years with the Combined Insurance Company founder, W.
Clement Stone and many others who possessed that elusive quality Napoleon Hill called PMA (a Positive Mental Attitude).
He once described Stone as being so positive you needed a gun, a whip and a chair to handle him!
He went on to say, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years of success and failure, it’s that life gets better at 50, life gets better 60, life is better at 70! Hell, I can’t wait to get OLD!!”
You can’t be twenty-five again and wishing otherwise is a waste of energy.
Not for the obvious reason but because it fails to acknowledge how much better life gets as you age.
For one, your forties, and fifties and beyond are your prime earning years.
Your experience, your expertise and your wisdom can command a higher price than they did in your twenties.
Likewise, this accumulation of knowledge and skill can be put to effective use outside of your current work environment.
But in your middle years, you almost certainly have more responsibilities than you did in your twenties – financially, towards your family and your career or business. Atrophy plays a part, too, but most of this can be addressed quite easily.
These are your constraints.
They’re all quite tangible and each can be accommodated in your grand plan for reinvention.
They’re not impediments; they’re just circumstances.
You certainly can’t ignore them or take irresponsible risks that might impact your family and those you love.
What you can do is acknowledge them and work around them.
You start from where you are.
Time is our most precious and finite asset.
If you have a full-time job or you run your own business, then your way forward is clear-cut.
For you, it means earlier mornings or later evenings.
It means less TV, fewer social engagements and less ‘chill’ time.
It comes down to what you want, how important it is and what you’re prepared to give up now so you can reinvent your life for later.
It certainly doesn’t mean less time on the things that really matter to you.
Your wife and kids needn’t pay the price for your dreams, but some adjustments might be necessary.
If you eat out four nights a week, make it two.
If you watch TV for three hours a night, make it one.
Embrace your constraints.
Work with them.
You’re not a kid anymore so going all-in is no longer a given.
At this age, consistency and patience are your allies.
They key message is to gradually build on what you have.
“Build” is the operative word.
Keep what you already have, even if your day job is part of your dissatisfaction.
If it’s paying the bills then hold on to it until you have a more suitable job, or a more flexible one.
Jumping ship before you’re truly ready is a sure-fire way to destroy your dreams – especially at this age.
It isn’t worth the stress.
Some people can prepare the ground within a year, then take the leap.
Many require three or more.
Those three or four years will pass anyway, whether you reinvent your life or not.
Use the Seasons to your Advantage
What all of this tells us is there are seasons in our lives and we can’t ignore them.
Instead of pushing against them, we have to leverage them.
When you’re 12, you can try all sorts of weird stuff because people will forgive you.
They’ll smile at you and say, “What an enterprising young lad!”
You can be and do just about anything because no one will take you seriously anyway!
There’s no pressure and no expectation to perform.
I use to make things in my dad’s shed and sell them to the neighbours.
I collected balls at the local golf course and sold them back to golfers and the pro shop.
I worked in a health and fitness club – all before I was 14.
Today, kids are becoming millionaires just by playing video games and posting on YouTube.
My 14-year old daughter has over 120,000 followers on YouTube and earns a solid income from that.
God knows what she’ll be doing in another few years.
When you reach your early twenties, you can live in a basement with a bunch of other dudes and survive on 2-minute noodles and 5 hours sleep a night.
You can bet everything on your ideas because you don’t have anything to lose.
You don’t carry a tonne of baggage around with you.
You can start small, iterate as you go and perform wild experiments.
You can fail over and over again and come back smiling with your next big idea.
This is the time to take big risks (without debt, if possible).
Once you settle down with a wife and start popping out offspring, the game changes.
At this point, it’s all about the grind – doing the work, paying the bills and keeping the wheels turning.
Your attention is pulled in multiple directions and it feels like every dollar you earn is already spent.
A lot of young couples go crazy at this point because they want to impress their friends.
They buy fancy cars with loans, a house they can’t really afford, a Jet Ski and a $10,000 holiday every year.
Their friends, Dave and Josie sign their kids up for private school so they do the same thing.
This is the time to apply the power of compounding – in knowledge, relationships, experience and especially money.
This is your foundation-building period.
Sadly, most people piss it away by chasing short-term gains and it makes the next season so much tougher than it should be.
That’s because, in your middle years, a perfect storm approaches.
Part of the story is the dreaded midlife crisis but that’s more a disruption to the storm than part of the storm itself.
What I’m talking about is the convergence of three powerful elements:
There are plenty more, I’m sure, by I like the number three.
Notice anything unique about these elements?
None of them can be bought or faked.
They must be lived.
If you’ve made it to the other side of 40, you have each of these in spades.
That means you have the most valuable asset you can bring to the table.
You’ve done, seen, felt and been damaged.
You’ve had highs and lows, victories and failures.
And because of all this, you have things to offer those who are coming up behind you.
You are, without question, expert enough at something – probably a few things.
This puts you in an enviable position. Seriously – the twenty-somethings with stars in their eyes don’t have what you have.
Think about your career/s, your skills, your natural talents and the things you love to do – even if you barely get time to do them.
There is stuff you know, things you’ve done, perspectives you have and wounds you carry that people want to hear about.
Not your uncle or your sister, but other people.
Remember, we’re living in the most opportune environment we’ve ever known.
For the first time in history, it’s possible to reach over three billion people using a simple little blog.
The rise of smartphones and social media amplifies this to a scale unseen before.
Best of all, even the most narrowly focused topic can appeal to thousands – perhaps millions – of people.
Not long ago, I met a young woman at a YouTube conference who was making an excellent full-time living from modifying dolls and posting videos of the process she followed. Really.
She even had an agent.
Regardless of what you do for a living; no matter where you are in your life right now, there is a special niche just for you.
It needn’t be unique or particularly appealing to the masses because the uniqueness and the appeal will be YOU.
Yes, you must respect the constraints of the season you’re in, but don’t let them stop you from formulating plans and taking consistent action towards the life you want.
In the 1979 Muppet Movie, Kermit said, “Life’s like a movie; write your own ending.”
Be yourself, stake your claim, and go do something extraordinary.
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