Twentysomethings: The Defining Decade?

*This post was originally published through the Life List Club Blog on April 27, 2012.  Thought it was time for another discussion.

I was driving home one night listening to my guilty pleasure, Wisconsin Public Radio, and the topic for the evening really stunned me.  The radio host, Joy Cardin, was speaking with Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in adult development especially twentysomethings.

Dr. Jay is the author of The Defining Decade:  Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now.  Dr. Jay works as an assistant clinical professor at the University of Virginia and keeps a private practice as well.  Interacting with so many college students and recent graduates, she noticed the hits and misses my generation was making time and time again.

When asked why she wrote the book, Dr. Jay said she’s trying to make an impact on the 50 million twentysomethings who are looking for guidance in their lives while still being treated like an adult.

So why are the twenties so defining? 

  • 80% of life’s most defining moments take place before the age of 35.
  • 70% of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of a career.
  • More than half of us are married or living with our longterm partners.
  • Our fertility rates peak in our twenties.
  • And our brains do their last growth spurt in our twenties.

If you had the same reaction I did, you’re probably thinking, “Sweet God, it’s all over!  I may as well start digging my grave, drop down in it, along with my unfinished book, my birth control pills, and any other unfulfilled dreams while we’re funeralizing!”


Fear not!  Dr. Jay says Never Give Up. 

She does emphasize that my generation is in the midst of some crucial crossroads and the decisions we make now CAN AND DO impact the rest of our lives.

She talks about “identity capital” which she defines as the collateral you build up so when you go in for an interview the person looks at your resume and says “Oh that’s interesting, tell me more about that!” We know we’re in an economic crisis right now.  The job market is not ideal.  The Veteran Generation is staying employed longer in need of more stability, and yet year after year more college graduates are flooding the market.  We’ve got all four generations competing and cohabiting the workforce.  Ages 20 – 70+.

Many of us twentysomethings opted for an alternative route.  I’m sure all of you know someone who decided to take time off, travel the world, date around, etc.  Dr. Jay’s concern with some of these routes is that for those individuals they’re having a harder time trying to get back on track whether it’s the job field or family planning.  Employers start to look at your resume and think “hmm, you really haven’t done too much” and the person that stands out is the twentysomething who jumped right in and planned their career path just like an adult, setting goals or achieving higher degrees, whatever it might be.

In regards to family planning, she wants twentysomethings to be aware of fertility information.  Women’s fertility peaks at 28.  What she tends to hear from the twentysomethings she counsels, is so many of them spend time in cohabitation with a partner or spouse for 4-5 years before they realize that maybe that relationship should have only lasted a year.

Now, I will totally say that family planning is a personal choice!  And Dr. Jay agreed.  What she wants is for us to have the facts about fertility so we are thoughtful in planning who our partners are as well as when we want to start having children because the health risks are increased the later into the 30′s you are.

That being said, I may have ran in from the car, found Joe, and screamed something like, “We have to start having babies now, my fertility is peaking!!! What are we doing with our lives??!”

So then he said, “You’re not allowed to listen to the radio anymore…”

Our generation is at its peak for adaptation.  If there is something you are unhappy about in life, or you’re wanting to make changes, then do it!  We have the capability to transform and rise to the occasion.

When I graduated from college, I started having anxiety attacks.  I panicked about “what I wanted to do with the rest of my life!”  I fell in suit and took the first full time job that came my way.  I worked all the time, and was too exhausted to pursue my writing or hang out with friends.  You know what, I got really sad and really bored real fast!  It’s been an ongoing process to change.  While I’ve done well for myself career-wise, I quickly learned that what makes me happy is writing and travel, and if I was going to get that back in my life that meant change!

So, three years ago I started blogging!  And I met amazing writers and readers online!  Through them, I got involved with some writing contests and critique groups.  I also saved up my money and used my vacation time to attend writing conferences and travel around the world.

There is hope!  And it’s never too late!  All of us can define the decade we’re living in!

So what are you waiting for?!  What’s on your life list?

What do you think about Dr. Jay’s theory and your 20′s being the Defining Decade?  Are you currently in your 20′s?  Would you do anything differently if you could go back?  What advice do you have for a new adult in their 20’s, or for parents raising a 20-somthing?

14 responses

  1. One of your last lines hits the nail right on the head: “All of us can define the decade we’re living in.” No one decade defines us – they prepare us, shape us, help us for what comes next. That’s it, really. My life list? To live in Italy for a month each year when I retire (or sooner!). If I had my 20s to do over again, I would skip the drama of the decisions I only thought were “huge,” focusing more on the question of “what do you want your life to look like?” and setting about to make that happen. 🙂

    1. I love your plan to live a month in Italy! Have you picked a city, or will you change it up each month? I loved Florence and Assisi! Eat plenty of pasta for me!

      And I like your advice about perspective on decisions. Right now I think everything I do will drastically impact my life path. I’m probably ok on most of this. LOL

      1. Actually, we loved Venice and Rome, but you’re right – we’d like to change it up, just to see different things.

        I had the same thoughts – I felt like every decision I made was “monumental,” but as I aged, I realized they really weren’t. Some, sure, but most decisions were more flexibly approached than I realized at the time. It took a while for me to chill!!

  2. Pretty depressing stuff, if you take it at face value and are well north of your 20s. But for me personally, I’ve always said I didn’t truly start living until my late 30s. Most of MY defining moments have occurred since then. Whew! Plus, I’m pretty certain there are no fertility problems happening here.

    1. I don’t think you’re alone. Majority of my friends are over 30, and in truth, I’m nearing closer to that bracket myself anyway, and they all say their 30’s are way better. I think it’s the fact that we’re more sure of ourselves. We stop stressing over getting everyone to like us and blustering around. I’m working on it anyway.

      *Beetlegeuse, Beetlegeuse, Beetlegeuse!*

  3. You are welcome to come to my house and listen to the radio!

    1. Lol. Thank you, Sharon!

  4. I’m allowed to listen to the radio – just not talk radio. Bill’s afraid I’m going to join some para-military organization bent on cleaning up our political process.

    1. But talk radio is SO good!!!

  5. As a soon to be 50 year old, this post makes me happy! There is still time!

    1. Good! I need to hear that!

  6. I just hit 30 and haven’t done the big life things but I think people are generally doing things later and taking time to be sure of what we want. I’d say 30’s are becoming the defining decade but I’ll let you know in 10 years time if that’s true for me ha 🙂 I’d say never do anything just because other people around you are, you have to do things when they’re right for you!

    1. I completely agree, Vicki! I think as a whole we are doing things later in life. We can keep each other posted with how our 30’s go!

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