career

'I'm only 22. And I feel like I have only eight more years to achieve career success.'

At Mamamia, every day is International Women’s Day. But this year, we’re celebrating March 8 by sharing stories from some of Australia’s most influential women, as well as columns from voices spanning 5 generations, on the decade-defining conversations women are having. You can find all our International Women’s Day stories on our hub page.

When my mum was 21, she was the youngest ever editor-in-chief of a well-known Australian magazine.

When I was 21, I was delighted to be working an entry-level job at a media company. I was also completing my fourth and final year of a university degree.

I hated when people asked me if I was “following in my mum’s footsteps”. Because I would hate for myself – or others – to put that pressure on me to replicate such a stellar career. I could never.

Of course, that was almost 40 years ago. And I can’t speak to whether the pressure to find success at a young age was prevalent then, has grown since, or has even dwindled, but I do know that society still has an obsession with the need to be successful, young. Just like there’s that pressure to look young – forever. But I digress.

Billi FitzSimons
Billi and her mum. Image: Supplied.

In 2011, Simone Doonan wrote an article for Slate titled “The Worst of Youth,” in which he stated: "Youth is the new global currency... the extreme privileging and overpraising of jeunesse is a new phenomenon."

Which tells me, I can’t be alone in feeling - and hating - this age-related anxiety.

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In true millennial and Gen Z style, there was a tweet last year that summed it up brilliantly: “Why does being in your early 20s feel so much like only having 5 years of your life left in which you need to achieve as much as possible? Why do I feel like I have an approaching deadline for success?” wrote user Ali in a tweet that received 30,000 likes.

Indeed. It feels like there is a deadline. A “deadline for success”.

It feels like, at 22 years old, I have only so many years to race to the top of some great arbitrary and amorphous ladder, because as a society we don’t just evaluate the success of someone – we tend to divide that accomplishment by their age, to measure the speed at which they climbed to the top. Or didn’t.

Side note... Fashion entrepreneur Nadia Bartel talks to Mamamia about having a career after kids. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia

That pressure to be so successful at such a young age is an omnipresent and ominous aspect of entering the workforce in your 20s. Why ominous? Because I believe it is setting us all up for failure. It doesn’t allow us enough time to gain the hard-fought wisdom we should aim to develop over the course of our careers.

And what’s all the rush for, exactly?

To make a 30 under 30 list?

What happens after 30?

The average age of retirement in Australia is 67 years old. Which… if I add 10, divide by three and add 15… means I have precisely 37 years left in the workforce after I turn 30.

Perhaps, as true for too many aspects for our generation, the all-pervading desire partly comes down to the pressure of social media and the emphasis on needing to be seen to be successful in your 20s. Truth be told, making a 30 under 30 list would look dazzling on one’s highlight reel.

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On Instagram, we have examples of exorbitant fortune and success right at our finger-tips.

Take, for example, Kylie Jenner. Look at her feed and she has made creating a billionaire business look blissful. In fact, she grew her company at the same time she grew and raised her daughter, Stormi Webster. To her 164 million followers – most of whom are 18 to 24-year-old women – she makes being a full-time-working-mother-of-one look undemanding; if not easy, maybe even accessible.

Okay, no. Not accessible. Not in the slightest. Although that’s certainly how she tried to publicise her success, being labelled by Forbes as “The Youngest Self-Made Billionaire Ever”, with no mention of her dynasty and instead, telling the magazine she simply "works really hard".

Side note... Mamamia's bi-weekly podcast Mamamia Out Loud discuss: Is it OK to Want A Mediocre Life?

For women, there comes the added pressure to be successful before child-bearing age dawns upon us (should that be something we individually desire).

It is a dismal reality for too many women that the onset of pregnancy comes with the brakes being applied to your career. As a result, many women will attempt to work harder and faster than their male counterparts to advance their career before starting a family.

In the ABC’s Australia Talks National Survey last year, the national broadcaster found in their survey of more than 54,000 people that women indeed felt pressure to rise in their career prior to parenting responsibilities. They also found that nearly 50 per cent of women said career opportunities were a problem for them, compared with 40 per cent of men.

As far as I can tell, this all plays into us being brainwashed about a ‘deadline for success’. So why do I think this is setting us all up for failure? Well, what is the result of the relentless pursuit to reach your career success by the time your 30?

Burnout, of course.

I think I am going to go and have a lie-down. Sue me.

Mamamia is funding 100 girls in school, every day with our charity partner Room To Read, and our goal is to get to 1,000 girls every day. To help empower women this International Women's Day, you can donate to Room to Read and make a difference in girls' futures.


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