Many of us go through life searching for answers to big questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and why do I exist? And “What is the reason for the pain I’m experiencing or for the challenge I’m going through?” “Why did this happen to me and not someone else?” Or conversely, “Why did this happen to someone else and not me?” There aren’t cut and dry answers to these and to some of lives other most important questions, such as which career is right for me or which person should I pursue for a serious relationship? We may never get the definitive answers to these questions in our lifetime, but there’s some solace in knowing that everyone has unknowns in life.
The emotionally mature person will seek advice and be introspective about where your skills, interests and personal needs intersect with the needs of the workplace to make the best possible career choice. If you avoid making decisions because you either fear failure or think it will get easier to decide when you get older, you may end up frustrated and trapped in a less fulfilling life.
Meg Jay, Ph.D and author of The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now, gives great insights about uncertainty and when it’s ok and when you need to do something about it. She says that millenials (20 somethings) who’ve been told it’s perfectly normal to work as baristas, struggle to pay rent and date all the wrong people are misdirected. She says that millennials have taken it too far and that this decade is not a time for indulgent self-exploration. While you can find solace in knowing there is uncertainty during this time of life, it’s best to accept that not knowing how things will turn out is a part of life that everyone experiences no matter how smart, rich, or physically attractive. Jay says that if you follow everyone else’s advice about “finding yourself,” you’ll waste your 20s and be a wreck by your 30s. Just knowing that your twenties are a “defining” period in you life isn’t enough. You have to act on that knowledge. Jay offers suggestions for what people can do to take control of their twenties and points out common mistakes and offers advice on how to avoid them.
Make thoughtful decisions and move forward
Since ambiguity is a part of life, you might as well suppress your urge to control all things. The happiest, most functional people learn to act without the complete picture and make the best decision based on collecting the ideas and data presented by people they trust and from their own research. They understand that sometimes they’ll make the wrong decisions and will learn from them rather than projecting blame on others. The more agile person will surround himself with good people and listen to their suggestions.
Why You Can’t Afford To Waste Your Twenties
80 percent of life’s defining moments happen by age 35
“It might even seem like adulthood is one long stretch of autobiographically consequential experiences — that the older we get, the more we direct our own lives,” writes Jay. “This is not true. In our thirties, consequential experiences start to slow. School will be over or nearly so. We will have invested time in careers or made the choice not to. With about 80 percent of life’s most significant events taking place by age thirty-five, as thirtysomethings and beyond we largely either continue with, or correct for, the moves we made during our twentysomething years.”
Psychology shows that having too many choices isn’t freeing: it’s paralyzing. Jay stresses the importance of being realistic and narrowing career choices. She cites psychology’s famous jam experiment, the conclusion of which is when one has an array of options, as opposed to a smaller selection from which to choose, he or she has a harder time making a decision.
The good news, Jay says, is realistically no twentysomething has unlimited career prospects. If you were never good at chemistry, it’s probably unwise to suddenly consider a postbac program. You have never liked working with kids? Perhaps you shouldn’t apply to Teach for America. Focusing on interests and talents is a good place to start when feeling bombarded by choice.
The ‘urban tribe’ is a myth, and hinders young people from reaching their full potential
The “urban tribe,” as Jay describes it, are your buddies, the friends you call when you want to grab frozen yogurt or play pick-up basketball after work. Yet when it comes to your career development, it’s likely that a stranger will help you more than your best friend ever will. Jay cites a famous social networking study conducted by Stanford professor Mark Granovetter, who found that “weak-tie acquaintances were often more important than strong-tie friends because weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong.” If you are spending most of your time with the same five friends, you are likely missing out on the new ideas and opportunities that stem from these weaker connections.
2/3 of lifetime wage growth happens in the first decade of one’s career
One of Jay’s most important points is that the 20-something years are essential to career development. While it may seem as though there’s more than enough time to get on a great career track later, the reality is that “salaries peak and plateau in our forties.” Jay stresses that those who don’t take advantage of these early working years feel as though “they have ultimately paid a surprisingly high price for a string of random ‘twentysomething jobs.’”
Real confidence comes from mastery, and most millennials haven’t mastered anything yet
It’s healthy for college grads to feel equipped to take on the world. But a few days into their first jobs — when their supervisor essentially renders them incapable of basic tasks — they realize they have much to learn.
This feeling of being inept isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Jay says, “twentysomethings who don’t feel anxious and incompetent at work are usually overconfident or underemployed.” The good news is that work success leads to confidence when the job is challenging, done without a lot of support, and requires effort. Jay cites the work of K. Anders Ericsson, who found that experts have typically spent 10,000 hours honing their craft.
Living with a significant other is generally a bad idea, and can hinder future relationships
Today “more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation,” says Jay, who also reports that “couples who ‘live together first’ are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not.” Some experts think its because these couples “slide” into marriage, rather than making a conscious decision to commit to the other. It may be easier to slide into a living situation with your boyfriend or girlfriend, but more difficult to slide out.
50 percent of Americans marry by age 30, and 75 percent get hitched by 35
Statistically, “most twentysomethings —male or female, gay or straight— will be married, or partnered, or dating their future partner within about ten years’ time.” In Jay’s experience, many 20-somethings start panicking when they reach the 30 milestone and have yet to settle down. Of her patients, she writes, “So many of my twentysomething clients either don’t take their relationships seriously or don’t think they are allowed to. Then, somewhere around 30, getting married suddenly seems pressing.”
Biological clocks are real: a woman’s fertility declines considerably at age 35
Jay insists that the media has given young people a false sense of security by publicizing the successful pregnancies of older women, when in fact, fertility peaks for women in their late twenties.
Despite the attention IVF (in vitro fertilization) has received for helping thousands of infertile couples, IVF only succeeds between 10 and 20 percent of the time. Many clinics won’t even attempt to treat women over forty because of extraordinarily high failure rates.
The fact is, there is no reason to believe that your 20s will be the best years of your life
Many go into this decade thinking it’s going to be the best of their lives, and are caught off guard with the challenges of the job market, economy, corporate ladder, and difficulty with intimate relationships. In Jay’s experience, these years “are the most uncertain and some of the most difficult years of life.” With that in mind, young people shouldn’t waste time trying to make their 20s the best years of their lives. Instead, they should manage these years wisely — since all the decisions they make during this defining decade will have a lasting effect on the rest of their lives.
Those who accept that the choices you make today will be consequential and make informed choices might have less anxiety then those who linger passively during this decade. Complacency often results in laziness and avoidance of making use of your precious time. Life is full of risks and unknown outcomes, but if you wait on the sidelines you’ll surely miss out on the important part of your adult development. Seek advice from mentors, parents and trusted advisors or a coach who can help you gain perspective and avoid unnecessary pitfalls.