Whether you’re young and trying to jumpstart your career or a seasoned professional returning to the workforce after many years away, it’s important to remember two things: your age doesn’t define you and your accomplishments — no matter how big or small — should be celebrated.
To achieve success, it’s important to define it for yourself. What it means to you is not what it means to me. We all have different goals, different aspirations — and they will change. When I was in college, I wanted to pursue a career in book publishing. I did that and I was very successful at it, and at a very young age. But then my career goals changed. Now, at 28, I’m redefining my version of success. Here’s what I’m learning in the process.
You Can Find Inspiration at Any Age
At 23, I attended the largest book fair in the world and pitched to foreign publishers who were more than double my age. I was met with many raised eyebrows, a few laughs, and the occasional comment or question regarding my age. I didn’t have the decades-long experience that many of my predecessors had, but this didn’t deter me. I had the knowledge, I had the skills, and I had the confidence needed to thrive — so I did.
Ask any successful woman if she has received criticism or resistance for being too young or too old for a position. Did that stop her?
Whitney Wolfe Herd is the Founder and CEO of Bumble and she’s only 28 years old. Brynn Cartelli, 15, just became the youngest contestant to ever win The Voice. Lupita Nyong’o, on the other hand, didn’t get her Hollywood breakthrough until she was 31 years old, in a role which earned her an Academy Award. Julia Child didn’t learn how to cook until she was 36 years old. Barbara Bradley, who never earned a Bachelor’s degree, started Vera Bradley with her neighbor when she was 42 years old. You’re never too young or too old to find success — or redefine it.
It’s Really Not a Competition
As much as women want other women to succeed, it’s difficult to watch someone your age — or someone much younger — move faster up the ladder and achieve things you’ve been wanting to achieve. Whether it’s in the workplace or in life, we often find ourselves comparing our successes with others — and this can be problematic.
According to Juanika Dildy, Founder & CEO of Ladypreneur Academy, LLC, “Women don’t offer full support because they’re always reminded of the challenges they face to reach their own goals. It’s unfortunate because the glass ceiling will usually break faster if multiple high-heels are banging against it.”
In order to thrive, you have to let go of the idea that you’re competing with the women around you. Doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 65, your successes will not be achieved at the same age as the women around you — and that’s okay. The best thing you can do is celebrate their successes and they will be there to celebrate yours.
You Never Outgrow the Need to Be Proactive
During undergrad, I did four internships. All were unpaid (which I don’t necessarily advise), but I understood their value and I did everything I could to make them worth my while. I asked questions, I pitched ideas, and whenever I finished a project, I returned for another. As an intern, I learned about different industries, I acquired relevant skills, and I networked — which eventually led to a job offer.
You don’t have to be young — and in college — to gain valuable experience in your desired industry. This is especially relevant for women over 50 who are returning to work after time away. Finding a mentor, volunteering, taking an online course, or attending an industry event can help you get ahead. Building your social media profile will benefit you as well. Unsure where to begin? Find a free social media marketing class. If there’s something you don’t know, but feel it will advance your career, learn it. Don’t let your shortcomings get in the way of your career goals.
It Helps to Find Your Tribe for Failures (and Successes)
At one point, I left behind a senior manager role to focus on an MFA degree. This choice was ill-advised by many, but it was the right choice for me. I needed to pivot my career and I’m glad I did. We shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to redefine our future. It doesn’t mean our successes are any less successful.
In graduate school, I became friends with a group of highly successful women, all of us of various ages, backgrounds, and career paths — and yet, all of us aiming for the same goal: to become authors. Instead of being competitive, we support each other. We share books and contests and opportunities, and most importantly, we celebrate failures. Each time we receive a rejection, we text the group. In doing so, we are reminded that we aren’t alone, that we’re in this together. Secondly, we motivate each other to keep submitting.
Rejection, I’ve learned, is a result of courage. The more rejections we receive, the more courageous and determined we are to reach our goals. So whatever age you are, remember this: you are never too young to get started or too old to start again.
By Sarah Sheppard