As I reflect on the anniversary of each decade in my life, I only remember a couple of “stop and think” moments. When I hit thirty, I realized I was going to die one day. I thought it was a ridiculous thought until it was validated by Steve Jobs who had the same thought at the same age. In fairness, he realized this insight first.
The next self-reflective moment came at forty. After being on a focused growth track for twenty years, crazy events started to occur. I lost my job as a CEO and lost my interest in running companies at the same time. I had a newborn two weeks before my 40th birthday and was five months sober in AA. I came to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, and a college buddy invited me to escape and go on a motorcycle ride to Key West. At forty, I still had a fire in my belly to make a mark, build a legacy and build wealth.
Through another unique set of events, I became an angel investor. I embraced a new goal of “Invest in twenty startups over the next twenty years.” Off I went. Investing. Networking. Volunteering to help build the community. Advising entrepreneurs. Helping make my investments and the people in them successful. Shuttering companies and selling companies. The last twenty years were a whirl.
This got me thinking. I wonder if there is a purpose to each decade. Here is what I came up with as I thought about my life and the lives of the people I know.
20’s Purpose: Establish Your Value in Society
The twenties is the scariest decade. You enter it by saying goodbye to all you knew for the last twenty years—education, childhood and play friends. You wade into the life your parents lived. This includes marriage, kids and career.
But you have to make money, and it has to be meaningful and enjoyable. These are tough criteria to meet, but meet them you must.
30’s Purpose: Farm Your Value in Society
You are now recognized by your occupation. Lawyer, doctor, business person, whatever. You are now an expert at what you do, your career. The thirties is the wealth, houses, cars, kids accumulation decade.
40’s Purpose: Leverage Your Value in Society
This decade is where leverage kicks in. You are no longer doing what you do to make the money. You now have others who are in their twenties and thirties making the money for you. You’re the boss.
50’s Purpose: Ride the Wave of Your Value in Society
The fifties rarely show any change in behavior. You are now in a great position to ride out the position you carved out in your career. You earned it, so ride it. The kids are off to college. You and your spouse are empty nesters. Life is good.
60’s Purpose: Give Away Your Value to Society
Every other decade was about building value. The sixties is very different. It is about finishing strong by giving away the value you built all your life. You become a teacher, mentor and encourager. Wisdom, money and time is your value and not the work of your hands.
I will be sixty-three in a couple of months. Now what? I need to get on with my purpose. I need to stay engaged to accomplish this new purpose. Society tells me to retreat into retirement. “You’ve earned it,” they say. But if I retire, then whatever value I built is retired with me.
I have expressed purpose in a timeline of decades of life. If life goes according to plan, this neat chronological package holds true. But life doesn’t always go according to plan. Illness, family circumstances, failures, addictions and divorces can easily disrupt our decade purpose. For instance, a wrong career choice could have you redoing your twenties purpose while in your thirties. This impacts each succeeding decade of life.
What’s important is to recognize the purpose you should be living now, and live it. Life rarely happens when we expect it. But establishing value and mining it with purpose brings success at any age.