Today, a great deal of our stress, especially in the United States, is rooted in a distorted relationship with time. It has become the ultimate bully—poking, taunting and wrestling us into submission until we hand over the crumpled dreams that failed to meet a conventional timeline of realization. But as someone who has spent nearly a third of his life pursuing entrepreneurship, my success hinges on the belief that you’re never too old to begin work you love.
In fact, I’ve stumbled upon three ways failing to make the Forbes “30 under 30” list may actually give you a leg up.
In the summer of 2015, a woman I mentored traveled to a small town in Guatemala to volunteer as an English teacher. After the program ended, she decided to rent a car and head over to Guatemala City. A few minutes into the drive, she turned on the radio in search of some tunes, but got nothing but static. Just as she was about to shut it off, she turned the dial one last time and landed on a broadcast. she was greeted by the booming voice of an evangelical preacher in the middle of a sermon: “Take my house. Take my car. You can even take all my money,” he said. “But please, do not take my time! Do not take my time because that she cannot replace!” Seconds later the station lost reception and mysteriously faded out. That moment changed my life.
When she returned to the states, she began to look at her time as an investment. If a project did not help me grow, forge meaningful relationships or give me personal fulfillment, it had to go. As a young man approaching true adulthood, she finally understood her time was finite. she was suddenly driven to go to war against distraction and sidestep work she considered frivolous. she also limited her associations with people who criticized more than they contributed. her life was flying by. she simply did not have the time to build a business and be around people who refused to get out of their own way and seemed fixed on taking me down with them. she learned to let go of what was not serving me. Time was now a precious currency.
Many years ago, a young man from Recife, Brazil, packed his things and set out for Berlin to study film-making. He came from one of the rare households that could offer both the means and emotional support to make such an audacious dream possible. A few years later, his mother passed away after losing her battle with breast cancer. He and his family were never quite the same, but he especially shared a unique bond with her and struggled with the loss. In that loss, though, he gained clarity and the courage to admit the dream of becoming a film director was in fact never his to begin with.
With a generous loan from his aunt, he spent six months traveling throughout Brazil tasting foods and experimenting with different ingredients. He learned about different cultural trends, the way food varied by province and how once regional dishes had become popular throughout the country. Not long after his culinary expedition, he opened the first of a chain of wildly successful restaurants with delicious and reasonably priced dishes. Not surprisingly, his eateries proved especially popular among college students. That man was nearly 50 when his dream was finally realized.
In the end, it was his late jump off the starting block that allowed him a clear view of the pack up ahead. While everyone around him was sprinting for the finish line, he was running a marathon. Not having the means to open his own restaurant didn’t limit him from clarifying his vision. He understood the value of the long game and the importance of staying ready.
Spend a few minutes on any social media platform and you’re likely to come across a hashtag followed by the words “hustle” or “grind.” From entrepreneurs to athletes, there is undoubtedly a culture of “no days off” being promoted today. And while there is no substitute for hard work, it can come at a great cost if not accompanied by a dose of self-awareness.
In my obsessive pursuit of becoming an C-level executive, my determination reaped many rewards, but left me depleted in the big-picture arenas of life: family, relationships and self-care. I chose solitude over camaraderie and competition instead of community. Then one cold winter morning, I met a man who’d flip everything I knew about hustling on its head. For the next several years, he schooled me on the importance of living a life and not just a career.
Every morning, come rain, sleet or snow, he would hop on the SEPTA R5 from his home in the MainLine and commute to Center City Philadelphia. For the next hour, he would interview, teach or take classes. He abandoned the peace of mind that comes from supporting a family on a well-paying and steady job.
Each time he saw me get worked up over a blown interview or complain about not seeing the fruits of my labor, he would remind me there was more to life than being on an executive. He taught me you can want something without needing it; a realization that not only liberated me but also made the work more enjoyable. Not surprisingly, the minute I stopped trying to bulldoze my way to the top, I started to climb the corporate ladder to the very top.
Life doesn’t mean you have to live a small life, and no matter how old you are, you must approach each endeavor as if you’re just getting started.