I can remember only embarrassing figments of my last few birthday celebrations, and sometimes I consider that a blessing in disguise. Between the ages of 18 and 22, I must have untagged enough photos to fill an entire hard drive with scandal.
Yesterday by comparison, my 24th birthday, was a relatively sedate affair.
Instead of scraping pizza from a beer-sodden kitchen counter, I carved steak from a pool of watercress and braised shallots. Instead of being spanked, and whipped, and publicly abused by Geordie strippers with candles not designed for cakes, I enjoyed the quiet company of my girlfriend, who thankfully, was not carrying handcuffs.
Unlike those who create New Year’s Resolutions to focus on their goals, I prefer to wait until I’m hanging up my birthday cards. I use the moment to reflect on all that I’ve achieved, or haven’t, and I redefine goals for the year ahead.
I’ve always seen New Year’s Resolutions as a shameless merry-go-round of excuses. If January 1st arrives and you’ve missed your targets, there’s little sense of failure in setting the same goals again. But there’s something much more powerful about using your age as a measurement of development.
“Before I turn 24, I want to achieve…”
As opposed to the open-ended, “My New Year’s Resolution is to…”
You could be setting the same resolution for the rest of your life, but you’ll never turn 24 again.
Most people don’t need to endure such a rigorous round of annual self-appraisals. But then, most people already have structure to their working lives. It comes in the form of a career ladder.
You aim for promotion at 25, a nice middle-management role at 30, senior responsibility at 40 and perhaps one day, with fingers crossed and wood touched, a stake in the company at 50.
Your career ladder is placed before you in granite stone. If you haven’t climbed sufficient rungs by your next birthday, you’ll choose politics or mismanagement as your justification, backed up by a hope, a prayer, and a promise from the wife that things will ‘fall in to place‘ soon.
I’m generalizing quite badly, but from a personal perspective, I never felt the same pressure to succeed as a 21 year old web developer, that I do as a 24 year old master of my own destiny. I think that’s partly down to having nobody to blame but myself.
We love hierarchies of order. For an Internet Marketer, there’s no hierarchy. We can only compare our fortunes with those posting screenshots of their earnings, and the forum members recounting stories of ‘how much I earned today’.
In a typical job environment, we look at ageing directors and senior managers with fading hairlines as the best representations of what we hope to become. These figureheads are reassuring to anybody with a 9-5 because they remind us that time is still on our side, or more importantly, that experience breeds power.
The same comfort does not extend to Internet Marketers, or anybody who runs a business online.
We are forced to look to the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world for our perception of what is achievable. The scale of relative achievement for online businesses is simply immense, and we formulate our own hierarchies around these vaunted young entrepreneurs. We want to be like them: rich, famous, powerful.
The fact that many of our role models rose out of nowhere to take the world by storm gives us many sleepless nights. The ambitious prodigy in his 9-5 may wish to leap up the career ladder, but it’s difficult to find examples where the road to success has been travelled at the speed of light, as it is so frequently by Internet millionaires.
The jump from office cubicle to director’s executive suite is daunting but clearly mapped. We assimilate that time, politics and good fortune will get us there someday, so we aren’t hard on ourselves for the years that go by where nothing seems to happen.
For an Internet Marketer, the years that pass without huge success can be crippling to morale.
When people like Zuckerberg transcend industries before leaving college, it scrambles our perception of the hierarchy. We no longer associate role models with those who have accumulated vast swathes of experience and paid their dues; we associate them with brilliance, innovation and the ability to rise from basement dwelling zeroes to billionaire heroes in the blinking of an eye.
The weight of expectation we shoulder by simply knowing what is possible in our industry makes it difficult to measure success in any reasonable manner.
In short, we lose access to all the excuses that justify the career ladder’s predictably slow ascent.
We’re forced to accept that any mismanagement, politics or glass ceilings are strictly of our own making.
The regular reminders that other young entrepreneurs are blowing up billion dollar empires before their 21st birthdays adds even more pressure to our lives. We compare ourselves religiously, and it’s difficult to keep success in perspective when the scale of achievement is so huge.
What kind of career allows for you to double your income on a yearly basis and still feel hopelessly at sea? I’ve tormented myself on many occasions, stargazing at the obscure wealth I know to exist, while resenting my own good progress just because some Internet Marketer somewhere is even further ahead.
These are troubles that are best kept in check by developing a sense of what success means to you as an individual, rather than as an industry average. So when I was setting my new goals yesterday, for the first time in five years, my #1 target did not involve taking over the world.
Some might call that a stain on my ambition.
“Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Well… I fucking hate that quote.
Every time I hear it, I feel like offering the dimwit a straight swap with one of the Russian Cosmonauts currently lost in space. Go and see how much they enjoyed missing the moon.
Whimsical ambition should never be favoured over realistic, achievable targets. And that’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve taken from the last year.
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