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In 1960, Warren Buffett was the youngest millionaire at age 30. Today, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest millionaire – he achieved that status at age 22.
While many of us don’t necessarily relish earning our first million by a certain age (there’s still a sizeable amount who do, though), we all give ourselves this age benchmark. We tell ourselves we have to achieve our goal or dream by age N.
“I have to start drawing a $5,000 monthly salary by age 30.”
“I need to be a father by age 28.”
“I want my first condominium by age 32.”
I must admit, I did give myself age benchmarks. I wanted to start working full-time when I was 24, be a father by 28, and earn my first million at 30. That was when I was barely 18.
While I didn’t overthink it, probably because I knew those were lofty aspirations, some actually give themselves so much pressure that life becomes miserable for them.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying setting goals for ourselves is bad and will make us miserable, I’m saying not to focus only on the results and ignore the processes.
When we set age benchmarks for ourselves, we often compare ourselves with either the societal norms or someone we want to become.
For example, the average Singaporean male who goes through the education system without failing would graduate and start working at 24. But does it make a Singaporean male, who only graduate at 26 because of his circumstances below average?
Most people would start side-eyeing him, thinking he must be slower than others, less competent, or just plain lazy. What many don’t consider is he could have gotten into a serious accident and needed one or two years to recover, or fought a bout of depression, or work part-time to pay for his parents’ medical bills.
It’s impossible to change how everyone thinks of us, people might not even care anyway. But we can change the story we tell ourselves just because it keeps us focused on our situation and not compare it with others.
Also, achieving what we want later than others doesn’t undermine our efforts and fruits of our labour. It just means we had to take more time and longer route, which is never bad as long as we make the most out of it.
We don’t like to “waste” time, so age benchmarks make sense. That way, we’ll be reminded to keep “on track” and build a fruitful career and ultimately, a comfortable retirement.
Maybe you only managed to get a $3,000 salary by age 30 while all your other peers received paycheques bigger than yours from the first day of their first full-time position.
However, instead of looking at not achieving our goals by a certain age as “wasting time” or even a failure, understand everyone’s situation is different, and every experience is a learning opportunity.
Yes, you may have taken longer to reach a comfortable income bracket. But if that meant you gained more insights on how to be a better person, learn smart, make better decisions, and many other soft skills, is it all that bad?
To me, as long as we learn something from the time we spend on achieving or failing to achieve, that’s time well-spent.
Yes, we might not earn our first six figures before all our friends, or even the ones who didn’t do as well as us in school. Surely, extra zeroes in the bank account, a corner office with a great city view, and a comfy house will make us more comfortable.
But after years of living on a salary lower than many of our peers, I’ve realised what I really want – what most of us want – is to live comfortably. And “living comfortably” can be affordable for many, only if we spend within our means.
Our long-term happiness depends on the relationships we have and the purpose bigger than ourselves we’re pursuing. I wouldn’t want to slog for decades only to realise I’ve traded 30 years of my life to amass wealth that I don’t even need.
We all have our goals in life but imposing a strict (and sometimes unrealistic) timeline on ourselves can suck out a lot of life’s greatest joys, even with the big house, fancy car, and huge office.
Call to action
Everyone’s situation is different, and thus, age benchmarks are unhealthy markers of success. Taking longer than “usual” or the “norm” to achieve something doesn’t undermine our efforts and the outcome, it just means we’ve been through more.
Learn from the experiences because that’s what makes the difference between “wasting time” and “time well-spent”.
Strive for big dreams and crazy goals but don’t think to achieve it sooner makes it any better. Enjoy the journey because that’s what you’ll remember most when you reach your destination.