A friend and former classmate called me to talk about her latest job interview and how it went. It was for a job she really wanted, the first job she would hold fresh out of graduation with her master’s degree.
“I think what will hold me back more than anything, even more than lacking experience, is my age,” she said. I took a deep sigh because, man, I’ve been there. Graduating college early (because you busted your ass) isn’t always the gold star you hoped it would be.
As millennials, we are constantly bombarded with labels and definitions for our generation. We are the “I” Generation, self-absorbed and entitled. Or, equally as often, I hear that I am “just a baby!” (doting older women love to say this, usually with a wave of their manicured hands) and I have “all the time in the world” to do anything I want to do. The message is that twentysomethings can’t do anything or – equally discouraging and debilitating – that twentysomethings can do anything and everything and have all the time in the world to do it.
The hard bottom line is that neither message is true. I can explore and try out new things and take some chances. I cannot, however, afford to piss away my twenties in the name of fun and expect fully to wake up on my thirtieth birthday with a loving partner, a viable pregnancy, a spacious home which I own and the career of my choice. And neither can you.
If we (twentysomethings) want those things in our thirties, or before thirty, I have to take small and intentional steps today to get there.
If you are a twenty something going through the quarter life crisis, you’ll love “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now” by Dr. Meg Jay. Dr. Jay specializes in the twentysomething years, and throughout the book addresses the major topics so many of her counseling clients struggle with: career, dating, money and fertility. These seem like big things, way off in the distance, things we don’t need to bother with now. But…We can’t get there tomorrow, or many tomorrows from now, without doing small things today.
“Twentysomethings are like airplanes, planes just leaving New York City bound for somewhere west. Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in either Seattle or San Diego. But once a plane is nearly in San Diego, only a big detour will redirect it to the northwest.”
What we do now determines whether or not our path to our final destination is a smooth one, or if we come barrel-rolling and crash landing at the last minute into those things we really want for ourselves: like romance, career, financial independance and a family.
It’s easy to put off thoughts of marriage or partnership, or a baby, or a career, or a retirement…it’s heavy stuff and we are forced to make big decisions at the most unstable time. How can we focus on what we want in a family (marriage? kids? no kids? roth IRA?!) when we are preoccupied with inconsiderate roommates and b-rate jobs we have to have in order to afford school. Which, by the way, we really need to study for.
Yes, it’s easy to justify this or that, or talk around the big things. But statistically, we don’t have that kind of time. Our twenties – all of it, from the stroke of midnight on our 20th birthday till the final minute of our 29th year – matter. Because, as Dr. Jay points out:
“Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age thirty-five. Two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first ten years of a career. More than half of us are married, or dating, or living with our future partner, by age thirty. Personality changes more during our twenties than at any time before or after. The brain caps off its last growth spurt in the twenties. Female fertility peaks at age twenty-eight.”
Those are the scientific facts, things all doctors and psychologists and sociologists know to be true. Intially, that really scared me. Everything about this book scared me, and it will probably scare you. But it also allowed me to reexamine where this jet is headed, and also take a moment to appreciate and celebrate the great things about being a twentysomething: the excitement, the challenge, the opportunity of creating the life I want to live and love. This book, and this blog post, is a call to all twentysomthings: we matter. These years matter… Probably more so than any other decade of our lives.
If you feel stagnant, or unsure, or like your generally about to lose your cool because you’re so overwhelmed with decisions…Pick up this book. It’s probably going to make you sad, and angry, or even a little disappointed in yourself in certain areas. But you’re also bound to feel proud, too. And excited, and ready to pull out your map and throw some darts, to stake claims on the things you want in this life. And you’ll feel empowered to go out and get ’em.
PS – If you want to dive deeper into this topic, check out Dr. Jay’s TED Talk. Share it with your friends, or parents, or kids…It’s a hard subject but, in my opinion, the most important conversation we can engage in as educators, parents, partners and a workforce.
photo credit for second image: martinteschner via photopin cc, text overlay by me.