A message to kids: Don’t wait for the perfect time – go for it now

The other day, it hit me that I’ve recently had three separate conversations that led to very similar conclusions. All three were with truly spectacular women in my life, and all three left me hoping that my own daughter (and sons, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all three conversations were with women) isn’t as old as I am and still coming to these conclusions.

The first conversation was with a friend who recently started her own business doing the thing she’s always wanted to do. It’s a big, scary step, and she certainly hadn’t intended to take it in the middle of a pandemic. In the end, however, she realized that starting a business is more or less like deciding to have a baby – there’s never a perfect time, you’ll never really have enough money, and you’ll never feel totally ready. You have to try anyway.

A message to kids: Don’t wait for the perfect time – go for it now

The second conversation was with one of the most talented people I know, who is also making plans for the next big steps in her career. She has a list of things that she wants to happen before taking the necessary risks, and one of them is losing weight. This one haunts many of us, and one thing I told her from experience is that there’s no number on the scale that will make you feel worthy of being in the room. If you wait until you achieve the magic number, you may very well be waiting forever. You have to try anyway.

The third conversation was with a colleague I teach with at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and we were talking about how to help college students who are dealing with impostor syndrome. This one I was ready for, because I remember how deeply I believed that there would be an age at which I felt like I had a handle on life, like I knew what my next steps should be, and like I had earned my place in the (metaphorical) room. Why did none of the adults in my life tell me that magical age doesn’t exist? I’m at an age where I definitely would have assumed I’d feel like I have a pretty good idea what’s happening and what I’m supposed to do next … but here I am, still waiting. The only reason I’m willing to admit in print that I’m essentially improvising most of the time is that I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve had this conversation with a lot of people – including very, very successful people – and I’ve concluded that most of us walk around most of the time feeling like impostors in our own successes. You have to try anyway.

So here’s what I want my children to know that it’s taken me and so many other people much too long to learn: You don’t have to wait until you’re not afraid. You can still be afraid, but try anyway. You can be unsure if it’s the perfect time, but try anyway. You can feel like you don’t belong, but try anyway. You can feel like you’re not good enough, but try anyway. Should we work on feeling worthy, regardless of the situation? Absolutely. But in the meantime, we don’t have to let those vampires of doubt stop us from taking the next steps. You don’t have to wait.

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