Photo credit (above): Caden Crawford | Flickr
A few weeks ago, a colleague shared a TED video with me by Dr Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist from West Virginia. The topic at hand was Why 30 is Not the New 20.
In it, Jay talks about young people these days saying that life begins at 30, and how people in their 20s put their lives on hold, thinking they have 10 years to waste.
Being in my early 20s, the saying “30 is the new 20” isn’t something alien to me.
Many of us in this age group tend to be a little more laid back. We like to look at our 20s as our downtime – the honeymoon period where nothing matters, except having fun.
We have jobs, but we do not rush to build a career. That can wait, we say. We’ll worry about that when the time comes.
Make every step count
I personally believe that I did not give enough thought to my first job. I didn’t consider how much it could teach me or how it would help me in my career. I took it because I thought it seemed like something I would enjoy doing, and it paid well.
It was only after spending 10 months there that I realised that there was no opportunity for career acceleration, that I had learned all that I could in the first three months and that I needed to know what else I was capable of doing.
People around me started working later than I did, but they were all starting to build great careers.
Only after I had signed the employment contract did I start getting bigger and better job opportunities.
I decided that I needed to look for a great career, not a great job, and a few months down the road, here I am at Leaderonomics.
Back to Jay’s talk. She shares that a large number of people in their 20s put life on hold and become passive, because they believe they have plenty of time to build their careers and start a life.
Since the pressure is being taken off people in their 20s, a huge amount is being transferred to them when they reach their 30s. They suddenly feel the need to find a life partner and make immediate big decisions, like choose a city to settle down in, build a career and build a family.
The problem with this is that the decisions they make are not based on what they actually want; instead it is because they feel they have to make these decisions as fast as possible.
The 20s = A development sweet spot
Jay shares that the 20s is a person’s development sweet spot, where it is easier for people to change their personalities and alter their destinies.
The best and worst part of being in your 20s is that every decision you make can change and effect the rest of your life.
It gets more difficult to reinvent yourself once you are in your 30s of 40s. It is not impossible, but it takes a lot more effort and energy.
She says the 20s is a person’s best chance to experiment with jobs and relationships. Each move can be more intentional and more informed than the last.
While I see truth in not letting your 20s slip by, I personally know a few 30-year-olds who had a downtime in their 20s, and are doing perfectly fine now.
At the same time I also have other friends in their late 20s and early 30s who are already regretting taking their 20s too easy.
Some people are fine with kickstarting late, while others aren’t. So make a decision for yourself and own the consequences.
If you’re interested in making the most out of your 20s, here are two tips from Jay:
1. Forget about having an identity crisis, get some identity capital
A large number of people in their 20s now are living with an overwhelming amount of uncertainty.
Many of them have no idea what they will be doing or where they will be in the next five to 10 years. They have trouble choosing a career, leaving them anxious and causing many to have an identity crisis.
Jay urges people in their 20s to do something which adds value to who they are, something that works as an investment in who they might want to be next.
For most young adults, being good at work increases their self–confidence and value. They feel better about themselves and also happier with life.
Identity capital is your collection of personal assets. It is the collection of individual resources that you put together over time, the investments you make in yourself, the things you do well and make part of who you are.
2. Leverage your “weak ties”
People in their 20s tend to stick to their own inner circle, people who are they are already very familiar with, such as close friends and acquaintances.
These are your “strong ties,” says Jay. Some of the most exciting things happen outside your inner circle, where your weak ties lie.
That great job opportunity might be waiting for you in your weak ties. Step out of your comfort zone and meet and talk to more people.
There are plenty of opportunities you will never know about if you remain stuck in your own inner circle.
Originally published online on 18 November, 2013.