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The best career advice for every decade
In your 20s
There are over five million twentysomethings in Canada, which means there are over five million twentysomethings wondering at this exact moment “What am I doing with my life?” That’s totally normal, says Kali Rogers, founder of L.A.-based Blush life coaching. After years of objective measures of success—exams, essays—we’re practically set up to feel lost, she says. To help, focus on setting yourself up for the long haul with education and experience. “Get the job on the other side of the world, that graduate degree, that internship,” says Meg Jay, clinical psychologist and author of the bestseller The Defining Decade. “Use these years before marriage or kids or mortgages to get experience, skills, jobs or degrees.”
PRO TIP Don’t chase the money. Admittedly that’s a difficult task in a society that equates success with the size of your bank account (and in a time when there’s a rapidly increasing cost of living), but research shows that a sense of purpose in your career may leave you feeling richer than any bonus. Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of organizational behaviour at the Yale School of Management, found that people—from custodians to lawyers—who saw their work as a personal calling were more satisfied than those who just clocked in and out. So choose wisely.
In your 30s
Congratulations: You’ve reached the point in your career when you no longer feel like you’re making things up all the time. With that often comes the inevitable ennui of a world of water-cooler convos and soul-sucking spreadsheets. This decade is also the hardest for work-life balance as many people are starting families. Try not to focus on “having it all”—that can lead to burnout, which can trickle into your personal life. “If you’re miserable and burned out at work, you’re going to be miserable and burned out at home too,” says life and health coach Dr. Susan Biali Hass.
PRO TIP Keep working, even if you’re not working. “The best advice I received as a woman in my 30s was to never have a blank year on my resumé,” says Jay. “That meant that even when I may have been working less in the office because of babies or toddlers at home, I was always doing something: publishing a paper, teaching a class, presenting at a conference. That keeps your skills and your resumé current and your confidence high.”
In your 40s
Welcome to the power years. This is the start of your peak-earning period. The downside? You might start to feel as angsty about life as you did when you were 16. Here’s why: Women tend to covet more meaningful careers than men, says Souha Ezzedeen, professor of human resource management at York University. “So there’s often the question of ‘Am I making a difference?’ especially around the 40s.” It doesn’t help that changing careers feels so much scarier and more difficult now than it did when you were 25 because there’s so much more to lose. Taking classes and leadership workshops can help you stay motivated at work while also setting you up to move up the corporate ladder.
PRO TIP Stay on your boss’ radar. You should be scheduling biannual meetings with her to discuss your career progression and salary, says Keshia Khan, director of marketing (Americas) for Hays Specialist Recruitment. She also recommends planning “stretch” projects (challenges to see how well you perform tasks that are above your pay grade) during these sit-downs. Adds Jay: “If you want to be paid more in your 50s, then you need to have more to offer in your 50s. For many, this will come through seniority and leadership positions, so be sure you are moving into those in your 40s. Own being the expert.”
When you’re 50+
Who’s the boss? Hopefully you—which is great, but it also means you’re a top earner and a target, so keep learning and hustling every day. “This may be the last full decade of your career, so be sure you are taking on the projects and issues that matter to you the most and saying no to those that wear on your body and your brain,” says Jay. It’s also the time to focus on the legacy you want to leave behind, which may mean stepping up your mentoring game.
PRO TIP Trust your team. With age comes experience but also a tendency to default to tried-and-tested ways of solving problems instead of exploring new solutions. “Power aggravates the problem,” notes Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino in her new book, Rebel Talent. “As we climb the organizational ladder, our ego inflates and we tend to feel even more threatened by information that proves us wrong.” Instead, listen more to those around you and encourage their ideas. A smart team will ultimately make you look good.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of ELLE Canada.