A common problem that I have seen over and over in my clinical work for the past 25 years is people missing vital windows of opportunity.
Basically, people over-estimate how much time they have to do things and then suddenly rush for the deadline only to find it is too late and then they are full of regret.
This happens across all aspects of life but particularly with relationships, career, addiction and having children. For example, a drug addict can still look cute at 25 or even into their early 30s but by 50 they just look sad.
Typically, people think they have all the time in the world to form a relationship or to take the next step in their career or to quit smoking or over-eating or to have children.
While it is true that some individuals do manage to defy the odds, one thing that I have learned in my job is that most people do not, and there are reasonably strict deadlines on these opportunities if you don’t want to endure the consequences.
Roughly speaking it seems that the 20s is the time to form a long-lasting relationship if possible because after another decade the pool will have shrunk and there will be fewer people who are competent at relationships from which to choose. Your relationship needs to be built solidly and cooperatively as a team so it can act as a platform from which you can both launch yourselves.
Then 30s seems to be the decade to largely sort yourself and your partner out on a personal level. Now you have more wisdom and more frontal lobe on board you can focus on fixing up relics of poor past socialisation and gaining important skills you may have missed. So here, problems that are getting in your way like addiction or anger or sulking can be solved and you can build new skills like assertion and better communication skills to improve your outcomes.
Career is also getting built during the 30s and long-term plans are being laid down for future career pathways. During this time, people will be considering whether or not to have children because fertility decreases markedly after about 33 years of age.
During the 40s career is being hugely consolidated, and depth of knowledge is growing. If you are planning on going out into your own business now is the time to do so while energy and motivation levels are extremely high combined with enormous knowledge in your area.
(Incidentally, people who go on to make mammoth amounts of money in their careers are usually well orientated towards their careers by 20 years of age or earlier and have often been out on their own in business for many years by this time.)
The 50s onwards is the time for keeping on building career momentum and exploiting huge amounts of experience that often result in being able to make excellent judgement calls and decisions – which is ultimately what every CEO in the country is being paid to make.
The 50s is generally NOT the time to re-enact adolescence, act out, make a fool of yourself and divorce. It is the time to have the wisdom to solve difficult problems together, accept and take responsibility for your life choices and rely on each other as age-related health problems start to emerge. It is the time to be wise enough to realise that increasing alcohol does not take away the existential pain of aging in the long-term.
Beyond the 60s (if you have not hit the bottle) is the age of true smarts, dignity and self-respect. Hopefully career continues well on into the 70s and beyond, albeit at a slower pace. Similarly, your relationship is continuing to deepen, and you feel completely at one with your life partner having ironed out most of the differences over the preceding years.
These things help because the decades beyond 70 are frequently times of immense struggle with learning to gracefully accept the inevitable aging process and our very real and often painful physical limitations – while still trying to maintain dignity, societal engagement, vitality and optimism about our lives and the future.