What You Should Do, When and Why

 Just as we learn to walk in phases (first crawling, then standing, then taking that first step), we live our lives in a sequence of phases. For most people, the phases of life are:

Phase I (Birth to twenties)

·        Acquiring social skills

·        Learning the difference between right and wrong

·        Learning self-discipline (taught by parents, teachers, and others)

·        Achieving personal development

·        Concentrating on school, college

·        Dealing with peers

·        Staying out of trouble (with the law)

·        Deciding on a career and acquiring job skills

Phase II (Twenties to thirties)

·        Attending graduate school (optional)

·        Getting that first job or starting a new business

·        Avoiding debt; understanding money, credit cards, and other financial issues

·        Developing long-term relationships

·        Experiencing parenthood

Phase III (Thirties and forties)  

·        Planning for buying a house, investing for retirement, having kids

·        Persuading your kids to go to college

·        Learning new skills, volunteering

I have intentionally omitted the fifties and up. By that age, decisions made earlier in life begin to catch up with you.

The Value of Time

Life is not really predictable. Many factors — the decisions you make, your family background, some hidden talent, or just pure luck — will decide your fate. However, you can maximize your chances of a good life if you understand that the key component in the equation of life is time.

Time is one thing you can never get back. Once you’ve lost it, it’s gone forever. Of course, you can waste your teen years using drugs, dropping out of school, getting involved in gangs, or getting pregnant. With willpower and luck you might even be able to pull yourself out. But you’ll lose the most important time of your life — the teen years — which you could have used to lay a strong foundation for the future.

The end result of wasting teen years is playing catch-up in life. While others are enjoying their twenties and thirties — driving expensive cars, buying homes, traveling for leisure, advancing their careers, raising a family, enjoying hobbies, giving to society — you could be in a lower-paying job, trying desperately to get the right education and skills, and looking for a way out. Such struggles often look great in the movies. But real life is a lot harder than that. Granted, you can undo some of the worst life-changing mistakes, but this comes at a price.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose you drop out of school, work at a low-paying job, get sick of it all, and then decide one day to go back to college. Here are the realities you’ll probably face:

·        You’ll have to take evening or part-time classes, thus prolonging your education considerably.

·        You’ll have costly habits that you’ll have to unlearn (a lot harder than it sounds).

·        You’ll have to make significant changes to your lifestyle to save money for tuition. And you might have to go into debt with school loans, while your peers are paying off theirs.

·        Once you graduate, you’ll have to compete with graduates much younger than you are, and many employers prefer younger workers. (Don’t kid yourself; there is definitely age bias in the workplace.)

Keep in mind that time does not stand still. While you’re turning your life around, changes are constantly taking place in the job market. Jobs are regularly moved overseas (especially manufacturing jobs). The remaining jobs require a lot more skills, and technology is out-pacing almost every other job sector. Getting a head start could give you a crucial advantage, while falling behind could hurt you.

Life is tough. Don’t make it tougher for yourself than necessary.


Copyright © Sumant Pendharkar. This article is adapted from his book "Raising Yourself: Making The Right Choices" (for ages 10 - 18). ISBN 0-9708131-3-9;

©2010  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.  All rights reserved.