The Failure of Twenty-Something Thinking and Why You Should Peak at 65

Donald Miller

When I was in my twenties, I thought I had to succeed right now. It’s the myth of the twenty-something mind.

When we’re in our twenties, it’s true we have more energy and fuel than we’ll have the rest of our lives. And the energy is important. It’s the launching pad stage of life.

But when we are in our twenties, we often make the same mistake: We set short term goals of becoming successful NOW. And those goals, even if we achieve them tend to backfire.

The trick is to start to succeed a LITTLE BIT now, but A LOT later.

Here’s the truth: If you set a goal of peaking at 65, you’ll succeed at 25 and keep succeeding for the rest of your life.

If you try to become the “it” writer, speaker, leader of the moment, you might be guilty of trying to become a fashionable leader. Don’t fall for it. If you become the fashionable leader of the moment, you’ll be gone as fast as bell bottoms. The same people who praise you today will be distancing themselves from you tomorrow.

*Photo from Malcolm, Creative Commons

Instead, try to peak as late in life as possible.

What I mean by this is lead for the long haul. Become the next Bob Woodward, Margaret Thatcher, Howard Zinn, Steven King, N.T. Wright or Mother Theresa.

Peaking at 65 means you don’t chase fashion trends or try to assess your personal worth by Twitter followers or how many people have read your latest book. Peaking at 65 means doing excellent work over the long haul.

This couldn’t be a more important goal. Here’s why. If you try to peak now, you’ll wash up by years end. There are only a few leaders in each generation who last. And those are the ones who have long-term vision and produce excellent work year after year.

Here are 4 (of many) ways to peak when you’re older:

    1. Speak the truth. This means losing the battle over owning the moment, because the moment is rarely owned by the truth. Moments are owned by sensationalism, shock-jock comments and emotionalism. Become that trusted source people can come to year after year. Be concrete, not sand.

    2. Produce something of quality with consistency. Production means working, actively creating something. Quality means taking your time and getting it right. Consistency means starting the next project the second the last one is complete.

    3. Find your niche. Are you a filmmaker, a songwriter, an expert on global markets, a magician? Whatever it is, plan on sticking with it for the rest of your life. If you’re thirty and haven’t found that niche yet, get with it. And don’t divert. You are going to have to stay with it for a long time in order to peak toward the end of your life.

    4. Plan long-term. By this I mean envision what it looks like to peak at 65. As a writer, I want to be an expert on seeing Christianity from multiple perspectives without being labeled as in one camp or another. I want to be a trusted source for perspective rather than opinion, and gaining this platform is going to take a very long time to build. Make short term goals, but have those goals take you toward a fixed, distant point on the horizon.

Do this: take out a sheet of paper and write down what you want to have achieved when you’re 65. Don’t think about the goals you have for tomorrow, but for forty-years from now. Think about how you’ll want to be remembered over the whole of your career.

Having long-term goals will keep you from getting panicked. Sure, your friends may have a better Facebook profile picture, or have a bigger project launch, but that’s not the course you are on. You’re thinking long term. You’re thinking about a quality launch of product after product over the next 40 years. About 30 years after your buddy’s cool profile picture is forgotten, you’ll be releasing your twenty-third successful book or piece of art or whatever. Think about winning small battles year after year rather than trying to win the whole war today.

For those of you who are older than 29, what wisdom can you speak to a younger generation who is obsessed with being recognized in the here and now?

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. He helps people live a better story at creatingyourlifeplan.com and grow their business at storybrand.com. Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller). To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.