When versus how

We are conditioned to think in terms of cohorts or classes. It is a consequence of our industrial system of education. We move from one level to the next when we’re the right age. It matters less how we did.

This system breaks down once we finish our education. Suddenly, we move from a world largely governed by “when” to one governed by “how.” But, it is easy to keep asking ourselves “when” questions.

Personal “when” questions: Is it the right time to get married or have kids?
Professional “when” questions: Am I getting promoted too late? When will I catch up to X person who seems ahead of me despite being in a younger cohort? Did I choose to go to graduate school too late?

It is helpful to internalize two truths. First, there is no right time. Our lives and careers only make sense in retrospect. At this moment, all we can do is focus on doing our absolute best. Most of the good and bad stuff that happens to us is unplanned and, often, based on chance.

Second, how we do things matter a lot more than when we do them. It doesn’t matter if you are older than your cohort if you are the absolute best performer. It is how we do things that opens up opportunities for the next stage. And, whilst “when” implicitly has us focusing on everybody else, focusing on “how” keeps our focus to ourselves – a more productive and much happier place.

Finally, and most importantly, all time wasted on thinking about “when” is time taken away from “how.”

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