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What's Really Expected of You at 18, 22, and 30

4 min read

I'm a Creative Director, working in the advertising and design industries for over 15 years.
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There are a few pivotal ages in our early lives: 18, 22, and 30.

Gary Vaynerchuk calls it "The 18, 22, 30 Thesis" and how there's a lot of pressure put on us at those times. At those ages, society puts so much emphasis on how we define ourselves: in our careers, our experiences, and our accomplishments.

I admit it: I've given into these expectations that literally nobody put on me but myself.

The problem is, those expectations that we think society has for us, make us make dumb decisions. But the reality is, what we think society expects of us and what is really expected of us are drastically different. And if we knew the difference, it would save us a lot of pain and stress.

So, here's what the difference is...

(NOTE: There may be a creative career tint to this whole article, but I'm pretty sure anybody can get something outta this.)



18 and You Don't Need Anything

When we're 18, most of us have to make decisions about college: where do I go, what do I major in, or should I even go to college? Shit, I believed I was already the best creative in the world and didn't even need to go to college. I didn't even know how much I didn't know.

But I want you all to know that at 18, you don't need to be the best creative in the world. You're expected to know nothing, and most likely, you'll know less than that. It's part of the charm of that age.

You may even look to define yourself as a specific type of creative. That's a bad move. All you need to be is a few things:

  • Open to anything: Don't let anything define your passion at this point. Use this time as a newly annointed non-minor to explore.
  • Be a sponge: You'll have so much energy over the next few years, so use it to take every opportunity from every single person to absorb knowledge.

Accept the fact that nobody expects anything of you other than desire. Desire to make something of yourself, whatever that may be. And this is the time to explore the possibilities.

22 and Terrified

Once you've finished college, and thrust into the scary world of adulting, you may feel like you're expected to have some sort of plan. A plan, which you'll stay on for the rest of your life, hitting benchmarks and goals along the way. Again, bullshit.

When you're 22, you get that chance to prove yourself. Prove all that knowledge that you've banked up over the past few years can amount to something. You're just starting out in your creative career, but by no means have you hit your stride. Now, at this point, you're not expected to know nothing. You're expected to know just enough to get you in trouble. But that's ok.

Along with the basics, keep these expectations of you in the front of your mind:

  • Ambitious, but humble: At this post-grad age, you need confidence enough to attack any problem, but more humility to know that you're probably gonna screw it up. So, reach out to everyone and anyone to learn.
  • Hungry: Having a fire in your belly is one of the most attractive characteristics of someone trying to break into almost any industry. I can speak from a creative director's point of view: someone who is excited and driven enough to put work into a project (even if they may not nail it right away) is miles ahead of an indifferent genius.

Be driven and interested in making opportunities. Take the knowledge you have and build on it. This is when you start picking out your pencil, not sharpening it.

30 and Unaccomplished

Everybody, no matter who they are, at 30 feels like they are complete failures. We compare ourselves to people who've done the impossible at our age, and think we've fallen short.

The dirty secret of 30 is that it doesn't matter. Sure, there are some biological clocks that start going off at this time, but career-wise, just settle in. The times of retiring at 55 (or 60, or 70) are gone. And unless you're one of those FIRE (Financially Independent, Retired Early) type of 30-somethings who live on a shoestring budget, you've got a long road ahead of you.

Here's where it gets fishy, because the expectations of you at this age can change:

  • Self-awareness: While it would be great to have this a long time ago, at this point, it's essential. It doesn't mean you need to have everything figured out. It just means you need to know where you're aiming.
  • Growth: And when you know where you're aiming, you're expected to want to figure out how to get there. What got you here, won't get you there, so you need to know how to grow beyond what you're comfortable with.

The trick is to remove expectations at this point. Don't expect to be at a certain place in your career, or your life. Work towards something, but enjoy the journey towards it. When I did that, I realized that I was getting there a lot faster than expected.

The Ages Don't Matter

We all feel these ways at different points in our life. Maybe add a few years, if you restarted your career. Subtract a few if you were a genius. Swap them around if you love a little chaos.

As creatives, whatever age we're at, we feel like we're either ready to take the next step (probably too soon) or that we're too old to be where we're at in our lives (also bullshit).

But the truth is that those expectations society has for us at 18, 22, and 30 shouldn't matter. What should is what we expect out of ourselves. And when you remember that you're the only one that defines those expectations, you'll be excited to meet them.

Thanks for reading!

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