The unstated assumption appears to be that doing any single thing can be highly parallelized and the window of opportunity is infinite. But reality is rarely that kind.
- Some things take 40 years of consistent mid-level effort. Even if you could quadruple your effort on it, it wouldn’t get you there in 10 years. Building a family, for instance.
- The chronological window. We live in a unique time in history (as have people in every other time). It’s an incredible time to be a web developer, for instance. Ten years from now I doubt there will be as many opportunities. In the 1950’s, you had amazing opportunities at being a worker in heavy industry; in the 1960’s you could play a valorized role in the space race. Nowadays neither is an option.
- Age window. Different ages lend themselves to different things. Sure, people in their sixties can run a marathon, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to do it in your twenties. And unfortunately many of the things we might want to do are early on in life–people’s career paths are fairly set by 30, and we’ve passed our physical peaks by 30. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but they’re both very real tendencies that you’ve got to account for in managing your life plans.
- Some things actively conflict in more than just competing for your time and dedication. It’s impossible to have an undergraduate experience that is both set in a large Southern state university centered around sports and a small private liberal arts college in New England.
Multitasking to the point of constant stress can lead only to disaster, of course. The solution isn’t to pretend that you’ll eventually get to do everything you want but instead to choose carefully what you want most and then do it well.