Career milestones in your thirties – what we see vs real life

Holly Wood By Holly Wood0 Comments7 min read173 views
[ad: this post is written in collaboration with Bupa Health Clinics, the content is my own and is entirely something I feel passionately about]

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m quickly approaching my mid-thirties, or whether my second child is now a one-year-old and I’m coming out of the fog of new-motherhood again, but I’ve been particularly reflective this year thinking a lot about where I want to be in life and what my next step should be. I think when you turn 30, it’s such a significant milestone that it comes with a helluva lot of pressure….

Career Milestones & Social Media Comparison

I remember being a teenager and thinking turning 30 seemed a lifetime away. Looking ahead, I presumed I’d have it all figured out…marriage, house, family, career. The last one is particularly poignant with me at the moment. I’m 32 and my career is still evolving and pivoting and has taken an entirely different direction to what I would have thought 15 years ago. I’m not where I thought I’d be, I’m not on the salary I thought I’d earn, I’m not in the industry I started out in. And it’s taken me a little while to realise that that’s okay.

It doesn’t help that my work involves me spending a lot of time on social media which forms a big gap between what real life is and what we expect it to be.

I won’t lie, I’ve had moments over this last year where I’ve felt entirely deflated as the pressure of reaching a career milestone was taking its toll. I was doing what I tell others they shouldn’t do: comparing. With my job being largely centred around being online and creating content for my blog and Instagram, I’m constantly scrolling through amazing feeds and content, seeing everyone smashing it!

don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle

career milestones BUPA hollygoeslightly zara dress 2019 2

Over the last year I have found myself looking at my peers and feeling anxious that I wasn’t where they were in their career. I’ve had worries that I was being left behind. Pressure built up so much that I was feeling down but actually, it was entirely me putting unnecessary pressure on myself.

I heard something that really resonated with me a few months ago was “don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle”. I’d never thought of it like that before. I’ve only been in my current career for a few years. It’s an entirely new and evolving industry and in those few years, I’ve had two children! Yet, I was comparing myself to someone who was in a totally different circumstance to me, which of course they were! Once I heard that quote, I realised that it was okay to be in a different part of that career journey and just because I’m now in my thirties, doesn’t mean it all has to be “figured out”.

I mean, what is “figured out”, anyway? I think it’s a way we measure our own success which will be different for each and every person. For most of us, we measure it against the benchmarks society tells us to: getting on the property ladder by this time, earning lots of money by that time, climbing the career ladder while starting a family and more recently, hitting the gym five times a week. Wow, that’s a whole lot of pressure isn’t it?

New research by Bupa Health Clinics has revealed that, 87% of respondents agreed that society puts too much pressure on achieving life’s milestones and social media plays a pivotal role in that, with 58% agreeing that it creates an expectation of what life’s key moments should look like.

I can totally see that this research is a reflection on where we are at with the digital age and pressures of modern-living. I too have felt pressured and deflated because of all the things I’ve written about above and actually, I think we all need to take a step back and look at the amazing things we have achieved, rather than focussing on the things we haven’t achieved yet.

For me, I’ve managed to start a business on maternity leave following a redundancy, raise two children, grow a community and maintain a healthy relationship, a bit of travel and small but decent social life. I’m pretty happy with that. I’m 32 years old and although I may not be entirely where society or social media wants to put me, I think I’m doing pretty well. You know why? Because I’ve changed my measure of “success”. Ask the 16-year-old me what success meant and I probably would have said it was all about earning lots of money and being in a managerial position with a huge company… neither of which I’m doing now.

career milestones BUPA hollygoeslightly zara dress 2019 3

What does success mean to me?

So what does success mean for me now? Well, at the moment, it’s all about my family and work-life balance. I want to be around as much as possible in these early years of my children’s development, so a flexible working environment that allows me to have days with my baby boy and do the school drop-offs and pick-ups for my girl is what it’s all about. If that means my monthly income needs to take a bit of a hit, then so be it. If it means I’m not quite in the shape of my life, then that’s ok too. All of that can come later, (if I want it to).

Bupa Health Clinics’ Medical Director, Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, says:

“Social media can be a fantastic way of engaging with other people, staying informed and building and maintaining a network. However, it can be easy to forget that what we see on social media is just a snapshot of a moment in time and can sometimes leave people feeling depressed and inadequate when their experiences don’t match up.

This is something I discuss with my peers, colleagues and friends so much at the moment and it’s something I feel passionately about with raising my children. I want to ensure I equip them with the understanding of how great social media can be, but that it’s not always reality and it should not be something else that makes us feel pressured about our careers or anything else. It’s one of the key reasons I’m taking myself back to university and studying for a Masters in Psychology, so I too can be equipped to understand and inform my children in the best possible way.

Bupa Health Clinics’ Medical Director, Dr Arun Thiyagarajan gives his five tips on how to close the expectations versus reality gap:

  1. Preparation is key
  2. Ditch the comparisons
  3. Detox from the negativity
  4. Talk to someone
  5. Fill your feed with positivity

I couldn’t agree with these five steps more…

  1. Giving yourself a head start by looking after yourself is so important. Sleep (if you’re not a sleep-deprived mum like me!), eat well, exercise when you can fit it in and spend time setting  positive goals for yourself.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to those around you, as chances are, they don’t have it as figured-out as you think (believe me, the more people I speak to on a personal level, the more I realise that and it’s a key focus of my new podcast Can We Have It All?).
  3. I say this to a lot of my friends and family…if something is making you feel like crap, turn away from it. If that’s on social media, it might mean switching-off, muting or deleting. That’s okay! If it’s in real life, it might mean you need to step back from the situation and walk away.
  4. Talking is so important. Hopefully you can do that with a significant other, friends or family. But if not, then find your tribe. I’ve found mine with WeBlogNorth and there’s lots of others out there. Finding people on your wavelength that can offer you words of reassurance changes everything! If you are still struggling, then please do remember to see a GP as they can offer support, help and guidance.
  5. Yes! Have a social media overhaul. Ditch the stuff that’s making you feel pressured or negative and instead find new accounts to follow that make you feel positive and good about yourself, accounts that make you laugh out loud or smile when you log-in. Believe me, it’ll make a huge difference.

This has turned into a long post for me, because, I hope you can tell, I feel very passionately about this subject. Our mental well-being is so key these days with the pressures of society and the digital world, that it’s important to check-in with ourselves regularly and using the five points above will help you do just that.

I’m feeling okay about my career growing and evolving at the pace it is now. I’ve stopped comparing myself against snapshots of other people’s lives and I’m actively trying to be more content with what I’ve got now. Because you know what? I’ve got more than a “career milestone” and I feel incredibly gracious for it.