This past weekend, I had the privilege of spending the weekend with 4 of my childhood friends celebrating our “year” of 40th birthdays. I have known these gals since I was 8 years old; looking back over our long 30+ year friendships, I realized that we had figured out pretty early in our lives an important principle: “Don’t Peak Too Soon.”
Just like everyone else in junior high/high school, we faced the challenges of peer pressure and popularity, but through it all, we had developed an individual sense of ourselves, and seemed to “get” early on that there was a whole other world out there waiting for us to step into. We all went off to different colleges, moved to different cities, towards a combination of different goals: graduate schools, careers, marriage, motherhood…Seeing these gals at this stage in our lives, I was reaffirmed that we are all still growing and learning, and continue to propel forward in our individual journeys.
Over the course of my adult life, I have used this principle of “Don’t Peak Too Soon” to give advice. It’s not a terribly unique idea considering most of us are familiar with the story of The Ugly Duckling, and have seen a few romantic comedies with this theme. But – whatever happens to the ugly duckling after it turns into the swan? Does it meet the mate of its dreams? Does it have a mid-life crisis? Is it forced into early retirement, having to reinvent itself? The story doesn’t really end there.
At this stage in my life and my career, I find that this phrase is not just a simple piece of advice that I gave to former students or friends – it is truly one of my life principles…something that I try to life by to guide me and keep me on track. In recent years, I went through a long “plateau” in my own development – sometimes even in a bit of a “death spiral” for a short periods of time. During those times, I was just surviving – treading water, staying in one place, not growing or evolving, just spending enough energy to stay afloat.
But let me share with you something really important that I learned: when plateaus or spirals happens you have 2 very simple choices: 1. Do Something, or 2. Do Nothing.
Here is another “a-ha”: Doing nothing is still a CHOICE that you make. And let me tell you – the energy it takes to do nothing can be exhausting, just like treading water for a long period of time. This is where resentment and victimhood can creep in and fester. Remember the wise Isaac Newton and the concept of inertia? Objects in motion stay in motion and objects at rest stay at rest. Gut check right now – are you resting, or are you in motion?
There is so much power in realizing the choices that we have in front of us. With the challenges we have had in this tough economy, I talk to a lot of people who are not happy with their careers. There are a lot of victims out there, blaming circumstances for their unhappiness. I have been there myself. If you find yourself there now – ask yourself: are you making the choice to do something or do nothing? Are you stuck in a plateau? What is holding you back? What choices are right there in front of you that you haven’t considered yet?
Figure it out – and get help from a friend, mentor, or coach – and do something to propel yourself forward.
I recommend some inspirational reading: “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Passion, Profits & Purpose” by Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos.
Take charge of your journey. Grab the wheel and drive… as the song “Drive” by Incubus says: “When I drive myself, my light is found.”