Season 1 Episode 5
Age-related milestones play such a massive part in our culture. Sweet sixteen, the age of consent, 18, becoming an adult, able to vote and drink, 21, a big deal in America so I guess we like to celebrate it here too, 25, the quarter century. And then of course the big, but slightly sad birthdays you have as you enter a new decade – your 30s, 40s and 50s etc…
These milestones are supposed to signify important steps we all take on our journeys through life. Each step bringing with it a certain degree of expectation: of things we are now supposed to start doing, of things we are now supposed to stop doing, and things we are already supposed to have done. The milestones imply that we reach similar stages of life at the same time, a time that is perfectly illustrated by your age. When we reach one, society puts a label on us, a label that’s used to measure whether or not you are living up to our age-related forecasts. If you’re doing a good job at life or not. If you’re in front of the pack, or behind. If you’re sticking to the script or if you’ve veered far off the beaten track. As a result, you better believe that when you hit one of these birthdays, you are opening yourself up to an immense amount of judgement from your family and friends. They will whisper behind your back:
“She needs to hurry up if she wants to have kids”
“Geez, he looks much older than 40”
“25 years old, and he’s still not got a girlfriend?”
The worst judgement will come from ourselves, however. We end up wishing wish we had done more of the things we hoped of by now; we rue the missed opportunities, complain about our rates of progress and kick ourselves for not ditching those bad habits.
The way age and expectation interplay in our lives and in our society has major ramifications on how we feel about ourselves and what decisions we make.
We live in the age of expectation, where expectation is tied to age, and the clock is always ticking.
As someone who reached an important milestone just a few days ago, I hear the clock ticking louder than ever…
This is episode 5 of Tim Quit His Job. The show that follows me on my adventures into the wilderness as I quit my job, start a business and try and make it on my own. It’s a show for people who like to do things differently. For people who believe there is more to life than the 9-5. I’m not a guru, not an expert, not a preacher – and I don’t try to be. I’m Just a regular guy with a microphone trying to document my journey, share what I’m learning and be honest about my experiences. The podcast is produced, edited and instrumentalised by the extravagant and theatrical Henri Victorious – an aspiring and upcoming music producer with a passion for potent hip hop beats. Look him up on Spotify or Soundcloud. And For extra content and transcripts of these episodes, head over to timquithisjob.com – it’s still a work in progress. ****** To my regular listeners, I once again say thankyou for your support and feedback, it’s what keeps me going. I’m sorry that the episodes are not released as regularly as I would like, it turns out that it’s a lot of work to write this stuff! When I first started the podcast, I hoped I could just stand in front of the mic, start talking, and come up with interesting things to say about my experiences. Sadly, that is not true – it absolutely sucked when I tried that. So, with my ego bruised, I have to write this stuff down beforehand, edit it, proof it, then record it – every episode. It’s a lot of work! My advice to everyone out there is simple, don’t start a podcast and a business at the same time, either one of them suffers, or they both suffer – I’m currently in the latter camp. We have however organised for some guests to come on the show, this should allow us to bring you interesting unscripted conversations on a regular basis – and you won’t have to listen to me mumble on for so long. I’m actively looking for guests to come on the show, so feel free to reach out to me on social media or email firstname.lastname@example.org, to let me know of someone who’d like to be interviewed. Thanks for listening, and as always, enjoy the show.
A few days ago, I turned 25. Apparently this is now a pretty big deal, and I should either be freaking out about it, or pretending that I’m so accomplished for my age that adding another year onto it doesn’t faze me in any way – I’m still not sure which one of these I should choose. Age-related jokes have now started finding their way onto my birthday cards, a trend that will no doubt only get worse every year. Luckily I can take a joke, and as anyone who knows me will attest to, I’ve got a particular soft spot for Dad jokes, so this shouldn’t bother me that much. Hopefully.
There’s a phrase that I’ve seen banded about quite a lot these days. Maybe it’s always been there, and I just haven’t noticed it as it didn’t relate to me. Or maybe it’s because as me and my old schoolmates reach the age of 25, it pops up on social media, as it’s a legitimate thing that is affecting a significant proportion of us. It is, of course, the ‘quarter life crisis’.
Firstly, by saying you’re having a quarter life crisis at 25, you’re implying that you think you’re going to live to 100, and I know way too many smokers, drinkers and mcdonald’s eaters for that to be the case for most of us – myself definitely included. At this point I’m either praying for a medical miracle, or for the NHS to somehow survive until then.
Secondly, and this is what really gets me, is that it’s called a crisis. Seriously people, a crisis? That’s got to be one of the most overused words of the last few years. Mental health crisis, obesity crisis, energy crisis, family crisis, masculinity crisis. Either the world is falling apart, or the meaning of the word has become so incredibly watered down that it is now almost meaningless. The word crisis used to be reserved for earthquakes, hostage situations and doomsday events. Now it’s used to describe a one penny increase in the price of petrol. I know I’m probably being unfair. As far as I can tell, the quarter life crisis is a derivative of the midlife crisis, and the word is clearly used in this instance in a tongue-in-cheek manner; to describe the process a man goes through when he impulse-buys a convertible with the family savings. But the point still stands, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as everyone is making out to be.
Still, this birthday got me thinking about the role age plays in our lives, in our careers and in our aspirations.
Thinking about age, I realised that all it is, is a measure of how many times you have rotated all the way round the sun whilst being alive here on earth. That’s the one thing we all do at the same rate. The one thing, no matter how motivated, talented or lucky we are – we all do at exactly the same speed. However, that’s basically it. Everything else, we do at different rates, at different paces and more importantly – at different times. So it’s a useful measurement when we are finding out where someone is on their journey round the sun, but not that useful when finding out where someone is on their journey through life. And yet, the way we use it implies that everyone moves through life at the same rate.
When we’re in secondary school, we understand that people develop at different rates, and that it’s normal to do so. In year 8, you could have two kids in the same year, one who looked about 8 and another who looked about 19. I remember complaining to the referee during football matches on a Sunday morning that there was no way the opposition striker was 14 – as he was 6ft tall, stunk of beer and had a full chin of stubble – whereas I hardly had my first pube. At this age, we understood that people develop and do things at different rates – and yet as soon as we finish school, we fall into the same pattern of thinking as everyone else, and age becomes far more than just a number.
As a result, we compare ourselves against people the same age as us, because we know it’s something that we have in common – perhaps the only thing we have in common. But it’s what’s different about the two people that really sets them apart.
For example, take two hypothetical people – both 28 year old men. The first guy has been hustling and grinding since he was 19, sacrificing much of his social life and building up a business that is now doing really well. They are proud of their work, and have developed a large amount of financial security and freedom. The other bloke went the classic university route. Loved their course, graduated with high marks, got a good job. But then after working it for a few years, slowly comes to the difficult realisation that it’s not really for him. He no longer loves his job or chosen path, and decides he’d much rather pursue a business idea he had when he was younger. He looks over at the first guy, the same age as him, but already running a successful business. He feels disheartened. He’s jealous of the other guy’s success compared to his own. Was he wasting his time? How come the other guy gets to be so successful and he doesn’t, even though they’re the same age?
Sure, they’ve both been flung round the sun the same amount of times, but is that really what we should be measuring here? Is that really what matters in this scenario? The first guy has been trying to run a business for 9 years! Enduring all the ups and downs and hardships that come along with it. The second guy hasn’t even been trying to run a business for one day! Shouldn’t we be comparing them, If we’re going to compare them at all, by how long they’ve been in the same game? They’re not the same age in terms of their business experience, in terms of how long they’ve been pursuing entrepreneurship. Therefore our overall age isn’t really a useful thing to get too worked up over – and yet we do. Oh how we do.
I was lucky that I managed to understand this lesson, the fallacy of age, quite deeply through training and fighting in a variety of martial arts. I started training in martial arts 5 years ago when I was living in Australia. It started with a bit of boxing, then moved on to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, kickboxing, MMA and now I’m back to boxing. Through these disciplines, you learn that age doesn’t mean much at all. It’s not how long you’ve spent on this planet that determines your skill; it’s how long you’ve spent on the mats. How many long, hard hours you’ve put in. I was quite skinny and small at the ages of 20 and 21, but after a while, was able to beat up fully grown men who hadn’t been training as long. You can tell that some of them were wise enough to know that it’s not all about age, but you can tell that some of them got really annoyed that a fresh faced 20-something was kicking them in the head. And If I didn’t learn the lesson then, I’m sure as hell learning it now. I’m basically the oldest guy who trains out of my boxing gym, it’s mostly juniors and teenagers. But despite my age, and even my experience in other martial arts, I get messed up on a pretty regular basis by guys in the gym who have been boxing a lot longer than I have, but are only 16 or 17.
What am I supposed to do, get mad at the fact that at 25 I’m getting beaten up by a 17 year old on a Thursday night? Or accept that they’ve been training harder and for longer than me, and that this is what counts, not age. No crying about the injustice of age is going to change it, only putting my head down and working harder will. You learn a lot about life from getting beaten up by a 17 year old… Apparently.
Another interesting and frankly annoying thing about age, is that society ties it to the career stages you are expected to reach – in whatever profession you choose. Unless they aren’t very motivated or good at their job, we sort of expect people to just keep steadily climbing the ladder. Promotion after promotion. And hence to keep earning more money, and gaining more power and authority. For most professions, there is a timeline you are expected to stick to and keep up with. That’s why it’s often so painful when we have a boss that is younger than us, it’s usually got nothing to do with the boss, they could be eager, optimistic and a joy to be around. It’s because of the way it makes us feel about ourselves, our own rate of accomplishment, our own use of time on earth. It’s a kick in the teeth because it makes you feel like you have done something wrong, or maybe that you’ve just been unlucky. We feel like we are lagging behind the timeline of expectations that society has laid out for us. But it shouldn’t, we are all on different paths, and one metric rarely paints the whole picture.
In nearly every job I’ve ever had I’ve been the youngest or second youngest person there. And I’ve always loved it. Some people hate being the youngest. But I loved it. People take you under their wing, want to show you the ropes. You learn a lot faster, I think, when you are the youngest. You don’t feel scared to make a mistake and learn in the process. People also tend to expect less of you. Sure, this means you can get away with more, but I like the fact that it means you can surpass expectations and surprise people with your skill and determination. I’m not sure if I ever actually did surprise anyone come to think of it… but I certainly tried.
When I think about my age in relation to career progression, I suppose I should be pretty happy with myself. Becoming a freelance consultant and starting a business around that, independently of a bigger company, is usually something that only people with years and years of experience do. The classic model of consultancy is one where you spend decades working for other people, usually raising a family at the same time, picking up lots of specific knowledge that can’t be taught in universities, learning the game and the players. Earning your stripes in the 9-5 routine. Then when your kids are no longer such a burden and your mortgage is nearly paid off, you have more disposable income and more time, you’re able take the slight risk to start selling your knowledge and experience at very high hourly rates, to clients who need only look at your impressive resume to see the value in paying for your services.
I don’t have the luxury of having all that experience and knowledge, and I certainly don’t have the luxury of plenty of savings, or a house that’s had its mortgage already paid off. I only had one year of experience working for a charity in Leeds, and three years of university. Considering that my current business model relies heavily on writing applications for charities, it’s strange that I only wrote one application for the charity I previously worked for – and it wasn’t even successful. Luckily, in the three years of uni and one year of work, I did a fairly ridiculous amount of extra-curricula and after-work stuff that left me with a nicely developed CV; but it’s still nothing compared to what I really should have under my belt – particularly when dealing with international charities who want to put their trust and their money with someone who has seen it all and knows the ropes.
But although my age, my relative youth, is probably my biggest handicap – well, that and laziness – it’s also my best asset.
I’m a child of the internet, growing up on sites like Reddit, Wikipedia, Youtube and of course, Google – I can research stuff on the internet incredibly quickly, and learn things from it fast. I know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Something people who may be considered my competitors are not so good at. I’m handy with all things computers. At my last job, people thought I was great at graphic design, just because I knew how to use a free online software like canva, that anyone can use. The same is true for video editing, they thought I was some kind of skilled videographer, a young Scorcese, when actually I just know how to use free apps and film in landscape.
I understand that in a rapidly changing world, where the things that are important to know often jump from one thing to another, and careers are ended overnight with the introduction of clever bits of software and technology, that the ability to pick up new knowledge, adapt and learn things quickly, is probably going to be more important than the ability to progress in a straight line for a long time.
I’m optimistic and naïve, in more good ways than bad, able to aim high.
I understand that opportunity sometimes presents itself as risk.
I worry about failure, but I’m not scared of it.
It’s these things that have enabled me to somehow carve out a Tim Spinks sized niche in the world, and embrace that niche. Own it.
But although I’ve managed to worm my way into a business that I, with my lack of experience and wisdom, have no right being in, it’s not as though it’s suddenly all fine and dandy, or that I’m actually doing that well. Let’s face it, whilst I’m surviving so far, the business would be going astronomically better if I genuinely knew what I was doing. In my case, If I had spent 5 years as a community development worker for a charity, 3 years for a local council, 4 years for a grant making organisation and 6 years for the UN – I would have all the skills, contacts and razzamatazz needed to make a killing in this game. But I don’t! So I’ve got to try and be more innovative, more original and more risk-taking, in order to compensate for my lack of knowledge
I’m by no means a good example, as I’m not yet successful at what I do – but if you think your age is holding you back from working in the areas you want to work in, holding you back from doing the things you want to do – then perhaps you should think again. Where there’s a will, there’s quite often a way…
I currently find that it’s hard to know whether I should just enjoy being young, with the careless optimism and endless potential that brings: live in the moment, as I always try to do. Or embrace the growing realisation that achieving anything of merit in life takes time and dedication – and usually a good deal of planning. People are always asking me what my 2-year, 3-year, 5-year, 10-year plans are. When I think about such plans, it feels like I am already at the age I will be at the end of those plans, the next few years just whisked away in a speculative blur, their only purpose being to get me to a hypothetical point in the future, with the progress I think I want to have made. I have begun to realise what not pursuing something into the future can cost you, I think back to things I could’ve started in my teens or early 20s that would’ve landed me in a completely different position to where I am now – I’m even slightly jealous of that imaginary version of myself who did things differently. In the last episode I said to only be jealous of the person you could become, but what brings the most pain is the converse of that – being jealous of who you could have been. So I now, slightly painfully, know how important it is going to be for me to be able to commit to something for a certain length of time – that takes planning. And when you start planning, particularly if you buy one of those big calendar posters that fits a whole year on one page, you start to realise just how short a year is, and how quickly you move through it. It’s a blur. So if you really want to do something special, accomplish something great, you’ll probably need to set a bigger timescale than 6 months or a year, and before long, you are planning your life away.
There’s a modern saying that expresses this:
‘Most people overestimate what they can achieve in one year, but underestimate what they can achieve in five or ten years’. Every self-help guru puts their own spin on this, but Tony Robbins takes it a bit further:
‘Most people overestimate what they can achieve in one year, but underestimate what they can achieve in two to three decades’
Two to three decades?! My mind briefly flashes that far into the future: I see a mental image of 30 calendars lined up next to one another, I imagine seeing all the little boxes for all the days of those years just whizz by in a blur. I arrive into the future, dishevelled and confused. I look around me and see that all my dreams and goals came true. I did it, I planned ahead, worked backwards, stuck at it, and here I am. But what were those years between then and now? Just pages on a calendar that I crossed off and used for the sole purpose of getting me to a speculative end point? What if I don’t like that end point, and it was all a waste?
I used to be pretty fond of the maxim: The journey is better than the destination.
But now, cringey entrepreneur/influencers on Instagram are telling me to sacrifice my time, energy and social life to the ‘hustle’ – whatever that is. To working evenings and weekends, to running around like I’m on speed 24/7, getting stuff done, building, growing, developing. ‘No days off!’ They tell me. ‘Sleep is for pussies’ they yell at me. I occasionally here someone saying ‘enjoy the process’, but in general, what happened to enjoying life as you went through it, not being stressed or high-strung. What happened to living in the moment?
At the same time as seeing all this kind of stuff proliferate and surround me, I’m also seeing a growth in the mindfulness movement. A philosophy teaching us the skills, techniques and mindset needed to embrace the beauty in every moment, to not let life slip away without appreciating it. With its roots in ancient Eastern wisdom, it’s practical application in the modern west, the growth of this philosophy and movement – along with things like the growth of yoga – stands at an interesting juxtaposition to the hustle-hard, live-for-the-future mantras that are also growing. I have a book on my shelf titled the ‘power of now’, about living peacefully in the moment, from a guy who experienced a deep life-changing epiphany at the age of 29 and began living without ego or a sense of self. It’s fascinating stuff. The book next to it? ‘How to be Fucking Awesome’, about, you guessed it, hustling, growing your businesses and WINNING.
The juxtaposition between these two ever-growing narratives and lifestyles has created the thin tight rope we all must walk in the modern world, between living peacefully in the present, and working towards the future.
I feel like in my case, I walk the same tight rope, but rather than being 3 feet off the ground, it’s now three stories off the ground. Being self-employed – in charge of my activities, my schedule and my income – I feel the pull of both sets of ideas more strongly, and with bigger consequence. It’s very easy for me to just not do any work today, or less work at least, and enjoy the present. Go see friends, take a walk, have an extra-long lunch, read a book in the sun. It’s also now far more possible to reach towards ambitious future goals. I can make plans for my consultancy business, my NGO and my podcast that stretch years into the future. I can get stressed over their current outlook, and work tooth and nail to make them more productive and more profitable in the years to come. I can get lost in the future, bitter in the past, and absent in the present.
Someone once asked me what my 5-year plan was whilst I was at university. I scoffed at the question. ‘Just live in the moment!’ I said. And I was right to a certain extent. However I now see that without an understanding of where you want to go, and what it’s going to take to get there, you risk sailing through life, letting the sands of time slip through your fingers without making the most of it. But what I’ve also gleaned from mindfulness books, and retained from my early twenties, is that if you don’t live in the moment, you hardly live at all, you just live in your own head, spending all your time lost in projections and hypotheticals. Accommodating these two ways of living is a narrow path to take, a fine line to tread, a difficult tight rope to walk – and life hangs in this balance.
As I now enter my 26th rotation of the sun, I feel the mounting pressure of the world’s expectations of me, adding to the already heavy burden of my own. As I wonder about what the next few years will bring me, what successes, what highs and lows, I begin to realise that the rate of improvement, progress and change made in my own life isn’t going to be determined by how far round the sun I travel – my age. It’s going to be determined by my own actions and outlook. By whether I can learn from the past, without getting stuck in it. By whether I can live in the moment, without losing sight of the bigger picture. By whether I can plan for the future, but not become absorbed by it.
If I can manage that, people’s expectations of me won’t matter. Because I will have already surpassed my own…