Switching careers in your thirties or later after you’ve had a successful career, you might place tremendous pressure on yourself to be successful in your new one, and you, like me, might feel a sense of urgency. It’s an all-consuming need to maximize each day—and not just with respect to my craft.
Over the last couple of years, that sense of urgency has escalated. While I’ve never allowed myself to become too comfortable, particularly in my career, I’ve never before experienced the feeling that I’m not doing enough, and certainly not doing what I am doing fast enough. There’s always been a race against myself. I felt that sense of urgency when I was younger without necessarily being cognizant of my mortality. But then changing my life’s path from practicing law for over ten years to becoming a chocolatier made me aware of how quickly over a decade can pass, and as a result, how limited my time is—increasing that sense of urgency tenfold.
I’m more mindful of my mortality now, partly because I’m older. And because I’m more mindful of it, I’ve also allowed myself to step back and realize that the proverbial inbox will never be empty, and that task list will be there tomorrow and the day after—that if I’m entirely focused on my craft, I won’t live a fulfilled life.
Why There’s a Sense of Urgency
When you take a new career path, you might feel you’re behind because when you change careers, to some extent, you are starting over. While there may be many intangible skills from your prior career that serve you well in your new one, in terms of learning tangible skills, depending on your old and your new career, those tangible skills may be useless.
For me, I had to learn the tangible skills necessary to become a chocolatier. That meant not only learning and practicing the technical skills, but also understanding the science, and allowing myself the freedom to explore the artistic aspect as well. It takes time to learn those skills and to make them second nature. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you never stop working to improve.
Also, it was uncomfortable, in my thirties, to begin anew when some others around me were in their early twenties starting their first careers in the same field. When you’re in your twenties, people understand that you’re young and are patient as you make mistakes. Do others give you the same benefit when you’re older? Are they as patient? Are you as patient with yourself? I know I’m not as patient with myself as I should be. I had to remind myself that it was going to be uncomfortable but that I had to devote myself to the process of learning my craft. That process takes time, and when there’s a sense of urgency, there’s never enough time.
Letting that Sense of Urgency Drive You But Not Push You Over the Edge
On the one hand, a sense of urgency is necessary when it motivates you to take action, but if every moment of your life feels that way—that’s a sense of emergency instead and you leave no time for living life. It’s almost as if time’s moving faster than it actually is, leaving you feeling like life is out of control.
In figuring out how to maintain control of time, I’ve found the need to put that sense of urgency in perspective by:
- Setting Priorities: Not only can you not do it all, but even in trying to do a lot, you won’t be able to focus 120% on the task at hand because your mind will be distracted by everything else that needs attention.
For me, I’ve had to simplify life. My weeks have these three priorities: my health (physical, mental, and emotional), my relationships (family, friends, and significant other), and my craft. Everything unnecessary falls away when I organize my days around these priorities, but it began with assessing how I was spending my time—down to those five minutes that I said I would spend diddling online that turned into thirty. For instance, I’ve removed some social media apps from my phone so that I’m not tempted to check them throughout the day.
- Reviewing Progress: I know that as long as there is growth, that sense of urgency is being used to fuel me but not overwhelm me.
For example, I’ve made it a habit to take 30 minutes at the beginning of each month to review what progress I’ve made in the past month with respect to my priorities and to adjust my focus for the upcoming month. I closely monitor progress towards goals related to my craft. I don’t “track” whether I’m spending quality time with loved ones or building relationships that enrich my life and others’ lives. This progress is based on whether my weeks, on the whole, feel balanced given my priorities. With so many opportunities (and distractions), reviewing how I’ve spent my days allows me to refocus along the way.
- Being Flexible: My planning is always perfect on paper, then life happens. I’m forced to revisit how to carve out time for those three priorities.
When my day or week is interrupted, I ask myself: how can I minimize the time it’s consuming? Sleeping less might be a necessity occasionally, but in trying to sustain that over several consecutive days, my mental and physical health suffer. I take a few minutes to reprioritize for the day and the week, knowing that some tasks can wait.
Do you ever feel that sense of urgency? How do you let it drive you but not destroy the balance of work and play in your life?