Twenty-Something Takeover

I’m only twenty. I can do whatever I want. I have my whole life ahead of me. I have all the time in the world. Or so I think…

As a recently inducted member of the twenty-something club, watching “Why thirty is not the new twenty” was absolutely terrifying. In her talk, clinical psychologist and author Meg Jay emphasizes that your twenties, although new and exciting, represent a critical decision-making period in which future life outcomes are defined. Jay specializes in adult development, helping young professionals start the course for work, relationships, and personal growth. By integrating personal stories into her talk, she was able to effectively relate to the young adult audience about real struggles and triumphs of her own clients. She says, “As a culture, we have trivialized what is actually the defining decade of adulthood.” While it is true that young adults are settling down increasingly closer to their early thirties, Jay attests that your twenties are still some of the most influential years of your life. We may not want to believe it, but the time to begin planning for the future is now. The only problem is: where do we start?

Jay advocates that “your twenties are not a throwaway decade,” and provides three key steps to making those years count. First, she says, build identity capital. Add value to yourself in any way you can and shape who you strive to be. Second, branch out of your inner-circle. You are not maximizing your potential by surrounding yourself with only like-minded people. Take advantage of your weak ties – friends of friends or casual acquaintances – and make new connections. Lastly, start choosing your family (What?! I know, this one sent me into panic mode, too). Jay believes that the best time to work on your marriage is before it happens. She pushes her twenty-something clients to be as intentional about their personal and love lives as they are about their work lives. So, are we all supposed to pick a career path and have a family as soon as possible? No, definitely not (sigh of relief). However, we should be mindful that the decisions we make in the coming years could have a weighty impact on our futures. It will be a scary and exhilarating decade, but with some guidance from people like Meg Jay, I hope it will be one we are ready to conquer. Because as Jay says,

“Thirty is not the new twenty, so claim your adulthood… you are deciding your life right now.”


13 responses to “Twenty-Something Takeover

  1. Oh boy. This is definitely a scary but relevant Ted Talk. I definitely felt the same panics as you as I read this, and honestly cannot imagine having my life all figured out within the next ten years. However, I do think her advice was incredibly valuable, as it encourages 20-somethings to branch out and explore. Many companies value the insight and innovation of their youngest employees and I think that if all 20-somethings have Jay’s mindset, it would have a great impact on the business world


    • See this is part of the problem I allude to below. This whole “hurry up and start worrying” tone I think is not healthy. How can you know what you want to do until you know the options? How can you know your destination if there is no map?

      Rather then have a destination firmly in mind, I think it is good to know how to travel well. Being open to new people and to also thinking about the impact choices now have on the future is traveling well, but somehow it seems to me her advice, heard by leave-no-child-behind youth will result in more searching for the “life quiz” to take instead of embracing where you are.


      • Agreed agreed agreed. While it certainly can’t hurt to be forward-looking, focus on the future should never overpower the here and now of life. No one ever has it “all figured out,” and there’s no one right path on the map… that’s what makes it so fun!


  2. I really liked her point about identity capital. It reminded me of concepts from my Understanding Consumers course called social and cultural capital. These emphasize the importance of building knowledge beyond academia that will help you in your career and social circles (i.e. knowledge of art and wine)


    • As another student in Understanding Consumers I had the same response. I do question her first two pieces of advice, building your identity and branching out of your circle, because I feel like I have heard these before. Coming into college I heard the same advice given time and time again, and now I am hearing it again for after college. Why is 30 the marker to stop taking this advice? I understand that by 30 you probably have a self-identity, but why could you not change it or branch out and try something new?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you, and I think Meg Jay would, too. These are strategies for lifelong personal growth, and should not be limited to certain ages. However, it is especially important to recognize and implement these valuable tools in critical developmental periods of life like young adulthood.


    • That’s a really interesting point about social and cultural capital. There are certain norms and expectations that would never be formally taught in your undergraduate or graduate classes, but that are critical to presenting yourself as having decorum, poise, and maturity. Being cultured and comfortable with these has become a major asset in the professional world, and I’m glad that Bucknell hosts a Senior Etiquette Dinner each year to help set us up for success in this regard.


  3. To echo Kerry, reading this was uncomfortable for me because the thought of having my life determined within the next few years is nuts. However, as I step back and conceptualize what Meg Jay is asserting, I can begin to understand how she may be right. Where I decide to work for my first job will likely have an impact on where I end up working for my second job. I feel like this cycle can be applied to our personal lives as well. Each and every decision we make in the coming years will be important; so even though we are often told to make mistakes and take risks while we are young, perhaps we should all make slightly more conscious decisions and take more calculated risks.


  4. THis whole “optimize your life” tone to what you write creeps me out a little. I am not dissing wisdom, not the specifics of her advice, but more the tone.

    Also, I think it is fairly lacking in sociological imagination to tell 20-somethings to hurry up with careers when they graduated into the worst job market in decades.


  5. My 20s, for what it is worth, in a nutshell.

    Ran a non-profit for four years.
    Decided to build my career around spouse’s (an English professor wannabe then).
    Move to Spain.
    Graduate school.
    First child.


  6. I like to try to not take life so seriously and this TED talk suggests. While inevitably each decision we makes impacts the rest of your life, i think this not something that should stress people out. I do not think we have to choose a path now and stick to it. A lot of life is about maybe mistakes, and crossing things of that you know you want to avoid. This does not mean that I think people should try to fail or not try there hardest in everything they do, but rather see where life takes them instead of trying to fit into a life you are planning.


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