In today’s society we are hearing more and more that “thirty-is-the-new-twenty” when it comes to things like career, marriage, and children. This gives off the idea that the twenty-something years don’t matter. Often people view the twenties as our final stage of adolescence or more of an emerging adulthood. But what if that’s not the case? What if this kind of mind set becomes detrimental to a twenty-something’s approach on life?
Last year I read a book that completely changed my outlook on how I will finish out my years as a twenty-something. Written by clinical psychologist, Meg Jay, The Defining Decade shows twenty-somethings that they have been trapped in a tornado of hype and misguided information about their twenties, which she argues is the most transformative period of our adult lives.
While I highly recommend reading the entire book, I will share with you the three things that really spoke to me. They are topics that I have found no one is willing to bring up in today’s society, some of the subjects often being frowned upon in our culture.
1 – Jump Starting Our Career
Upon graduation (from either high school or university) most twenty-somethings find themselves back in their parents house, working a “day” job and waiting for the right opportunity to fall into place. This cannot be our mindset when it comes to approaching how we build our careers.
Jay talks about building what she calls your “identity capital” – which, to put simply, is little bits of experience that you collect that eventually coalesce into a solid identity over time. Stop holding out for your absolute dream job and know that it’s OK to take a job that is not ideal, as long as you can find something about that position that will lead to better opportunities in the future.
If you continue to wait for your dream position you’ll soon find that you are a 31-year-old, underemployed worker still trying to break into your industry at the ground floor. If you are going to choose a job where you are underemployed make sure it is something that will build on your identity capital so eventually you can move onwards and upwards!
2 – The Need for a “Customized” Life
I found this idea very interesting because it’s definitely a category that I would have put myself in. Millennials often find themselves scared of normalcy, running away from the traditional life, in search of something that is unique to them. They don’t want the stereotypical mold of the school, job, marriage, and kids lifestyle. They want something different. They want something new. They want their life to be unique.
I wanted the same thing. However, what we don’t realize is that even if we don’t want the “standard” we still have to start by building with some standard pieces.
In the book she uses her client, Ian, as an example of what she means by this. She writes:
“Ian needed to transfer what he knew about building bikes to putting together the pieces of a life. I asked Ian how a custom bike is built… As he gradually outfitted his bike, it became more functional and distinctive. This took time and money, but Ian enjoyed the pursuit. The bike represented something important: It was all his own creation.
‘So the customized bike fits you,’ I said.
‘And it’s unique,’ I said.
‘It feels authentic and different. Even limitless in a way, because you can keep changing it over time.’
‘But you started with some standard parts. You didn’t literally reinvent the wheel.'”
This made me realize that while I didn’t want the life my parents had, I still wanted all of the same, standard elements of that life. I still want a family, I still want a steady career, I still want a life I am secure in. I can’t put those things on the back burner in my twenties. I have to work towards those goals every day. My approach to how I achieve those goals is what makes me unique and what makes my life special.
3 – Your Fertility Doesn’t Last Forever
This chapter hit me the hardest. Ever since I was a little girl I knew I was put on this earth to be a mother. Growing up in today’s culture this idea is often frowned upon. Women should be focused on having a career and a life outside of children before settling down and deciding to be a mother. Every time I mention being ready to have kids I’m met with the same response, “Oh you’re still so young. Don’t have kids yet. They can wait.”
Because of this mentality we often forget that our fertility peaks in our twenties. Don’t believe me? Here are some facts on a woman’s fertility:
-A woman has about a 20 to 25 percent chance of conceiving during each cycle, up to age 35
-Before age 35 it takes, on average, about four or five months of having sex to get pregnant
-After 35, the per-cycle odds of pregnancy start to drop sharply
-You have a 5% chance of getting pregnant at age 40
-You have a 3% chance at age 41
-You have a 2% chance at age 42
-One-quarter of pregnancies after 35 and half of pregnancies after 40 miscarry
Jay talks about the countless patients she’s had over the last ten years who come in wishing that they had tried for kids at an earlier age.
A patient of hers wrote to her saying:
“What I can’t figure out, and what I feel like I am grieving a little, is why I spent so many years on nothing. So many years doing things and hanging out with people that don’t even rate a memory. For what? I had a good time in my twenties, but did I need to do all that for eight years? Lying there in the MRI, it was like I traded five years of partying and hanging out in coffee shops for five more years I could have had with my son if I’d grown up sooner. Why didn’t someone drop the manners and tell me I was wasting my life?”
If you know that you want to be a parent, don’t put it off. Your family should not be an after thought. This should be a top priority.
To sum it all up Meg Jay said in an interview with NPR, “We know that 80 percent of life’s most defining moments happen by age 35. We know that 70 percent of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of a career. We know that more than half of Americans are married or living with or dating their future partner by 30. Our personalities change more in our 20s than any other time. Our fertility peaks. Our brain caps off its last growth spurts… The things that we do and the things that we don’t do are going to have an enormous effect across years and even generations.”
Your twenties should be fun and you should want to experience all that you can, but remember this, the world doesn’t end when you turn 30. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Set yourself up for a life that is fulfilled and a life that makes you happy.