Age and Your Option Set

I meet a lot of young people who have the skills, interest, maturity, and resources to do right now the very thing they want to be doing in five years.  Almost none of them realize it, or feel free to do it now.  They feel as though they need permission, or need to be in the “normal” age bracket for it to be in their set of options.

I know some coders who have the skill and interest to work for a software startup.  They don’t enjoy school.  They don’t feel it’s making them a better coder.  They have a job offer right now to go work someplace they love.  They even say that the job offer is exactly the kind they want to get in four years when they finish school, and voice disappointment that it came their way too early.  How could it be too early?  The company wants you and you want them, right now, today!

The conveyor belt mindset is so strong in most of us that we are incapable of seeing options in front of us if they aren’t part of the set of options that is supposed to be in front of a 16, 18, or 24 year old.  At 18 your options are among different colleges, internships, summer jobs, or gap year programs.  That’s the norm, and that norm blinds people to the massively larger set of options they actually have.  This blinding is so strong that even when offered something that they hope will be available four years hence, they are unable to see it as a serious, viable option, and they say no to go suffer through something less interesting for four years and untold thousands.

This isn’t just about college.  Our tendency to stick with the age-defined conveyor belt option set society expects is strong throughout life.  I’ve met women who desperately want to stop working and have and raise children, but they feel like they aren’t allowed to until they’ve put in a certain amount of time as a working woman, even though they could afford it today.  I’ve met people who want to play gigs at bars with a band, but they feel that’s the kind of thing an accountant can only do when he retires.

Don’t be blinded by social averages and expectations.  If you want to learn code today, who cares that you’re only 10 and supposed to be doing other things.  If you want to switch careers, who cares that you’re 60 and it’s supposed to be too late for that.  If you have a job offer today that matches what you hope to get after graduation, who cares that you’re only 18.

The conveyor belt sucks.  Get off.  Pave your own path.