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I have never in my life thought, "I want to accomplish X by age X". Of course, now it is the elephant in the room. Ignorance was bliss...


This post really resonated with me, as I have struggled with insecurity as well. I remember giving myself the goal of publishing before 30, which didn't happen, and so I seriously questioned my abilities as a philosopher. I have since then decided not to give myself specific goals like that. I don't find them to be helpful and I'm generally a productive person anyway.

Marcus Arvan

This post also resonated with me. I have done almost everything in life "late." Like Jason (and Helen), I once gave myself specific goals indexed to times. For example, when I started grad school at 22, I expected to get a TT job by the age of 27 or 28. I ended up missing that target by about a decade.

The lesson I learned from this is the same as Jason's. I don't set goals like this anymore. I don't set specific goals, like which journals to publish in; nor do I set timelines. Instead, I try to focus on the things right before me: working hard to be the best husband, philosopher, etc., I can be. My attitude then is to just let the cards fall where they may.

In any case, I wholly agree with Helen's closing thoughts. If I have learned anything from life (not just my own, but also those around me), it's the maxim: "as long as you are alive, it's never too late."


To add to Marcus and Jason, I never really set specific goals. I know goal-setting works for some people (and if it works for you, great), but for me it just causes a ton of anxiety. And in the end, most of these goals are out of our hands anyway. So I just try to work as hard as I can, and accomplish as much as I can. This isn't to say I don't fall into the trap of being disappointed I didn't achieve certain things, but as much as possible, I try not to formally have specific things I'm working toward, other than the most broad and general sense, "be a good person", a "good philosopher". Admittedly I did have a goal of getting a job, but that is still pretty vague.

Sam Duncan

Re the hope that your best work might still be ahead of you at 40: It's worth noting that everything Kant wrote that's of lasting importance he wrote after the age of 57. The same goes for John Locke. John Rawls was more precocious and started doing his best work at 50. So it strikes me as a perfectly reasonable hope.


Hi Helen,

Thanks for the post. The practice of setting age-based goals is an interesting one. I have done this myself to some extent (some I have hit; some I haven't). Although some such practices might be beneficial, I think that they become toxic when tied to ideas about self-worth. Perhaps (and just perhaps) it is okay to have a goal of doing x or y by the time one is 40, but when we say to ourselves "if I haven't done this or that by then, I am a failed philosopher" then, it seems to me, we have a problem.

I do think it is important to recognize that some have more obstacles than others, but also that some (like Kant, Locke, and Rawls, as Sam notes!) take a little longer to get their ideas into shape.

One noteworthy thing about some of the goals discussed (specific publications, job status, etc.) is that they depend to a large extent upon things outside of our control. Do you have thoughts on age-based goals that are (or at least seem to be) within our control to a greater degree? Is there something healthier about having the goal of completing a novel by a certain age rather than that of publishing a novel at that age?

Andrew Y Moon

Good thoughts!

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