Don’t worry about pulling a big salary until your 30s. Seriously. Your life on Earth is a journey of self-discovery, and you are at this very moment navigating it at your own speed. You will reinvent yourself at five critical intervals. At times it may feel like you’re stuck, but you are not. You’re living The Principle of 18. Let me explain.
Each formative stage of life lasts approximately 18 years, and offers unique opportunities for you to find your purpose and achieve your goals. You will be: the Dreamer, Explorer, Builder, Mentor, and Giver. Your job is to give each stage your all, and never lose sight of joy.
The Dreamer (our first 18 years)
The Dreamer stage is when we identify our dreams and flesh them out. This is the time to focus on charting a detailed process for realizing your goals. This stage is for you to seek out mentors, learn from them, and go on to create a compelling vision for your future self. There are two action steps in this stage.
• Identify three key dreams for your future. You need a high-definition vision for your future, even if you end up doing something radically different than you originally thought you would. These dreams must be detailed and specific and include all the steps required to realize them.
• Find and work with the right mentor. Learn from someone who has been there before you and can show you what’s around the corner. Find a mentor who can show you what to focus on, and what to avoid. Don’t reach out to super-successful people, but rather to those you respect and who are willing to guide you on your journey.
The Explorer (18 to 36)
In the Explorer stage we embark on a quest to find our calling. Now is the time to commit to serious exploration in search of a field you are passionate about and can excel at. Most of us miss out on this stage because we rush out of the gate too early, taking on jobs we think we should accept and burying our one chance to escape from a humdrum life. We squander the opportunities afforded to us in our youth in order to keep up with the Joneses. What is the checklist for this stage?
• Exhaust each dream before you move on to the next. It’s not enough to give a halfhearted effort and then decide, “This is not for me.” Fully exhaust the potential of each one of your dreams, even if it takes several years.
• Don’t obsess over money. It’s more important to find your passion and plan for your Builder years than it is to secure an enviable salary. Your freedom to explore the one area of your focus when you turn 36 should take precedence over your savings rate.
The Builder stage (36 to 54)
Here you must focus on creating your own empire. By the time you finally do dive headlong into your career, you’ll have a sturdy foundation upon which to build a satisfying and successful future. This is the 18-year stretch when you can fully leverage your unique talents. If you plan it right, you will not need to work as hard after this stage. Although it does take a focused effort to create a solid foundation for the rest of your life, it shouldn’t take more than 18 years if you have a terrific plan and are smart about the way you implement it. What’s on the docket in the Builder stage?
• Board three trains of success. Learn to spot them as they approach by keeping an open mind and considering all options. Jump on the trains that call your name. Minimize your regrets by trusting your intuition.
• Play to your strengths. Don’t focus on your weaknesses, but instead, hone your strengths through repetition until you become unbeatable. Nurture the one area where you can become the world champion.
The Mentor (54 to 72)
Now you’re the mentor. See how that works? This is the time where you continue to work while guiding the younger generations. When we get to our mid-50s and we are still in our prime working years, we often miss a priceless opportunity to mentor younger people and share what we have learned along the way. The Mentor stage provides an exceptional opportunity to raise your head and shift gears again—by guiding the Dreamers, Explorers, and Builders. Your to-do list is simple.
• Share your gifts. As a Mentor, think about the incredible perspectives and life lessons you can share with people at other life stages. In this hurried, digital world, the ability to contribute your time and just listen is a rare treat for others.
• Push people beyond their comfort zones. Your highest value as a Mentor to a Dreamer or Explorer is not in how to get things done. Instead, you are here to help them master the art of dealing with negative emotions, coping with setbacks, developing perseverance, and gaining perspective. You are here to teach them how to find their courage.
The Giver stage (72 to 90)
As a Giver, you remain relevant by dedicating yourself to a community-based initiative. This is your chance to leave a legacy and help create a better future for the next generation. Use your knowledge, passion, and finances to advance the cause that is closest to your heart. This stage of life is all about generosity and compassion. What do you do?
• Remember yourself as a Dreamer. Think about your childhood dreams and aspirations. What could you do to revisit those dreams and involve current Dreamers?
• Seek out connections. Form connections with the Dreamers and Explorers. (The Builders are too busy right now!) How about an inter-generational writing program, or maybe a music class? Find the right way to interact with younger people in a meaningful way.
Remember, life is meant to be enjoyed right now. Wherever you are on the journey, you know more than you did when you started out. In a frenetic world, where it’s common to feel stressed and unfulfilled, The Principle of 18 provides peace of mind through a structured approach to these major transitions. Once you realize all the stages are interconnected, you’re setting yourself up to thrive.
Eyal Danon is a Columbia University– trained life coach and the founder of the Ignite Advisory Group, a global leader in managing expert communities for Fortune 500 firms. He is the author of The Principle of 18, the memoir Before the Kids and Mortgage, and the novel, The Golden Key of Gangotri. Connect with Eyal at www.eyaldanon.com.