3 Lies People in Their 40s Tell People in Their 20s About Work

(Photo via Thuy Pham/Flickr)
(Photo via Thuy Pham/Flickr)

This year, I will turn 40 years old.

I’m not nervous about it, Jay-Z already did it and he seems fine. He’s living it up out there making confusing music services and drinking champagne with Daft Punk, while pretending they’re not dressed like Daft Punk. (At least once, you know Daft Punk has hidden their gardeners behind those full faced masks for press events they didn’t feel like doing.)

There is one weird thing I’ve noticed about people who are my age. We tend to not exactly tell the truth to people who are in their 20s, especially when it comes to work.

There are three lies in particular that we tell you:

1. “You should have your career perfectly figured out by now.”
“What’s next?” we ask, or “What’s your plan?” or “Are you ready for the real world?” The undertone is that at 22 or 24 you should have a game plan for the next 5 to 10 years. That’s ridiculous. The thing you’re going to do in 10 years, might not even exist yet. I spend a good deal of my day using social media to build communities. I tweet @JonAcuff a lot. I develop online tools like the CareerSavingsAccount.com to help people figure out their jobs. Know what I couldn’t have done 17 years ago, when I was 22? Any of that. It didn’t exist. Our world is changing so fast right now that anyone who tells you they have a 10-year plan is lying. You don’t need a perfect plan for the next 10 years. You need a fuzzy vision for the next year.

2. “At your age, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
No we didn’t. Honest people in their 40s will tell you their careers have been full of surprises they never saw coming. I met a CEO of a bank in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I asked him “How did you become CEO?” He said, “I was a teller for a few years but then my manager got arrested for counterfeiting checks. Her job then opened up.” Do you think in his five-year plan he thought, “OK, I’ll work really hard as a teller and then at year three, hopefully someone will go to jail!” Of course not. The problem is that when people like me remember our past, we tend to glamorize the decisions we were making in our early 20s as if we had life all figured out. The truth is, we didn’t know what we were going to do and pretending we did only puts undue pressure on you.

3. “You’ll get your dream job right out of college.”
You won’t. Your first job won’t be your dream job. It’s just going to be your first job, something you build on during your career. It’s a foundation, not a finish line. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be dreamy, it just needs to do one thing – teach you how to work. Your first job’s job is to teach you how to have a job. When you graduate from college you trade 3 months of vacation for 8 days a year at a job. That’s a difficult transition. You’ve got a lot to learn, learn it at that first job instead of feeling like a failure if you don’t immediately get a dream job.

As a soon to be member of the 40 year old club, allow me to apologize for the times we’ve told you these three lies. As a member of the “I’ve been working for 17 years club,” let me tell you the four things that are going to matter most in your career. I’ll even put them into a simple formula so it’s easy to remember.

Relationships + Skills + Character x Hustle = Career Savings Account.

Whether you’re 22 and just starting a job or 52 and starting over, those are the four things you need to invest in.

Why do you need a Career Savings Account? Because there are four career transitions we all go through.

You will hit a Career Ceiling and get stuck, requiring sharp skills to free yourself.

You will experience a Career Bump, unexpectedly losing a job, requiring strong relationships to survive.

You will make a Career Jump, requiring solid character to push through the chaos stepping out always stirs up.

You will get a surprise Career Opportunity you didn’t see coming, requiring dedicated hustle to take advantage of it.

That’s it. Those are the four career transitions you’ll face and the four things you need.

Next time someone my age tells you one of those three lies about work, refuse to listen. If they won’t stop, just ask them about Daft Punk. They’ll get confused, pretend they know what you’re talking about (a cologne, a new social media site, a nickname for Vladimir Putin?) and eventually walk away.

Jon Acuff is the New York Times Bestselling author of five books, including his latest, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck. He’s worked with some of the world’s biggest brands including The Home Depot, Staples and Bose. Read his blog at Acuff.me and follow him on Twitter, @JonAcuff. 3 Lies People in Their 40s Tell People in Their 20s About Work