Your Twenties…the Lost Years

by kayorourke

A persons twenties can be a very misguided and confusing stage of life. Around that time young adults may graduate college, struggle to find a career, backpack Europe, etc. In our recent economy a persons twenties can seem somewhat surreal; popular slogans suggest that these years should be the best of their lives, the last years one has before really “growing up”   this way of thinking can suggest to young adults that they should not be taking these years too seriously, a “whatever goes” attitude toward life, or at least until the economy becomes more welcoming to them. However, as much as these young adults are hearing that their twenties are a wasteland of years until the economy starts improving, the fact is that their twenties are not years to be spent without a direction, but instead, they are  years to follow a direction and goals for oneself to ensure ones success and well-being in the years to come.

According to some psychologists it is common for young adults, before graduating to experience anxiety about their future once their college years have come to an end. Meg Jay, the author of the LA Times article College Grads, 30 isn’t the new 20 and clinical psychologists  gave an example of one of her clients, a graduating senior, who said that she hopes to figure out what she is doing with her life  by age 30 because “30 is the new 20” But this idea did not originate from Jay’s client, some researchers say that the twenties are extended adolescence, “emerging adulthood” and the “changing timetable” however, all of these can be harmful because Jay explains, they “demote young adults to the ranks of kids, just when they need to engage the most.”(Meg Jay) By making these years seem like part two of their teens, these young adults do not feel they are mature enough to take on the responsibility of careers, marriage or family.

As if these years were not already confusing enough by seeming to be “years that don’t matter” they are also fetishized, generating even greater confusion. Child stars and your average children and teens spend their childhoods trying to act 20, maturing too quickly and leaving behind their youth. On the other hand mature women and mothers on the “Real Housewives” and in our society try to grasp tightly to their twenties and strive to appear in their twenties, clinging to their youth.

Jay sees these mixed messages as very detrimental “These are contradictory and dangerous messages. We are led to believe that the 20’s don’t matter, yet there is little to remind us that anything else ever will.”(Meg Jay) Young adults in their twenties can be greatly confused as to what exactly they should be doing with their lives. “…Caught in a swirl of hype and misunderstanding, much of which has trivialized what is the most defining decade of our adult lives.”(Meg Jay)

Studies have shown that the twenties are a very defining decade of ones life and that some of the decisions made during that time, are better to take care of in ones twenties than to postpone until the thirties. The article states that “About two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens during the first 10 years of a career, with the biggest gains coming from job-hopping or earning advanced degrees before marriage, family and mortgages take hold.”(Meg Jay) If a person in their twenties can find their way through post-college jobs and degrees, they can take comfort in knowing that the majority of wage losses are greatly reduced by around age 30.

The twenties are a prime time to discover ones self, goals in life and engage in adult roles. As the article suggests “Good jobs may seem elusive, but even some workplace success – even just goal setting – in our 20s is associated with greater confidence and well-being in our 20s and 30s.”(Meg Jay)

By the time a person reaches their thirties, more than half of Americans are either married, dating, or cohabitating with their future partner. Through the participation in meaningful committed relationships in a persons twenties they are more likely to feel secure and responsible when it comes to marriage because they have experience with meaningful relationships in prior years. Other researchers have found that the brain endures its last growth spurt in ones twenties, making these years important in learning to manage ones self emotionally and grow into adult roles.

Instead of viewing our twenties as a decade to live mindlessly and immaturely until our thirties it would be more beneficial to view this decade as one to be lived with purpose and direction. Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay says that the one thing that is more compelling than her sessions with “overwhelmed twentysomethings” are her sessions with people in their thirties and forties. About them she states “I have witnessed the true heartache that accompanies the realization that life is not going to add up quite as they’d like.”(Meg Jay)  She explains that when a lot of big life steps are left for a persons thirties, such as, making money, marrying, graduate school, buying a house, starting a family, starting a business, and saving for college and retirement are left for a shorter amount of time it can add great pressure and stress to a person’s life. Research is beginning to show that postponing work, marriage and family is harder to do in a persons thirties and especially in regards to marriage and family “40 is definitely not the new 30.”(Meg Jay)  Jay explains that mid-life crisis have changed “The new midlife crisis isn’t buying a red sports car. It’s smart, well – meaning 40 year – olds grieving a little as they look at themselves… and say about their 20s, “What was I doing? What was I thinking?”(Meg Jay)

Young adults fresh out of college face a great deal of uncertainty. This uncertainty leads them to feel anxious, stressed and discouraged. The idea of your twenties being a decade to live without an agenda is a temporarily comforting distraction to keep one’s mind off the inevitable responsibility they will eventually have to face. “It is easy to stay distracted and wait for deliverance at 30. It’s almost a relief to imagine that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count.”(Meg Jay) Young adults in their twenties living in this mindset do not see jobs, let alone marriage as something to be taken seriously until the ripe age of thirty. Marriage is postponed and delayed because it has become more normal to not take relationships in your twenties seriously, that they “do not matter”.

psychologist Meg Jay has witnessed enough young adults in their twenties admit that they really do want to take their lives seriously and people in their thirties that feel betrayed by themselves in their twenties and wish they had spent them more wisely. Jay leaves us with one last note “short enough to tweet” “30 is not the new 20. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or do. You’re deciding your life right now.” (Meg jay)


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