The best and worst part about being a twenty-something is that every decision you make can change the rest of your life. Once you're in your 30's or 40's, it gets harder and harder to reinvent yourself. In this Q&A with Dr. Meg Jay, the clinical psychologist explains why the twenties matter, and how to make the most of them.
Big Think: Why are the 20s so important?
Dr. Meg Jay: Our 20s are the defining decade of adulthood. 80% of life's most defining moments take place by about age 35. 2/3 of lifetime wage growth happens during the first ten years of a career. More than half of Americans are married or are dating or living with their future partner by age 30. Personality can change more during our 20s than at any other decade in life. Female fertility peaks at 28. The brain caps off its last major growth spurt. When it comes to adult development, 30 is not the new 20. Even if you do nothing, not making choices is a choice all the same. Don't be defined by what you didn't know or didn't do.
BT: You write about several cases of recent grads who feel they're drowning or floundering around in the world waiting for something to happen. Has it always been this hard to thrive in early adulthood?
MJ: No. There are 50 million 20somethings in the United States most of whom are living with a staggering, unprecedented amount of uncertainty. Many no idea what they will be doing, where they will be living, or who they will be with in 2 or 10 years. They don't know when they'll be happy or when they will be able to pay their bills. They wonder if they should be photographers or lawyers or event planners. They don't know whether they are a few dates or many years from a meaningful relationship. They worry about whether they will have families or whether their marriages will last. Most simply, they don't know whether their lives will work out and they don't know what to do. Uncertainty makes people anxious and distraction is the 21st-Century opiate of the masses. So too many 20somethings are tempted, and even encouraged, to just turn away and hope for the best. That's not the way to go.
BT: One of the main themes in the book is the line between thinking and doing. You argue that it's more important to just do something than to waste years dreaming up the perfect path. How can 20-somethings to put this idea into action?
MJ: One of my favorite quotes is by American Psychologist Sheldon Kopp: "The unlived life isn't worth examining." Too many 20somethings have been led to believe that their 20s are for thinking about what they want to do and their 30s are for getting going on real life. But there is a big difference between having a life in your 30s and starting a life in your 30s. If you want to be more intentional at work and in love, try working in a field you're curious about. Try dating someone who is different from that last person who turned out to be a disaster, and try conducting yourself a bit differently while you're at it. Sure the 20s are for experimenting, but not just with philosophies and vacations and substances. The 20s are your best chance to experiment with jobs and relationships. Then each move can be more intentional and more informed than the last.