I recently finished reading The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, PhD. The book is geared toward Millennials, dispelling the notion from extended adolescence that says “30 is the new 20”. She argues that far from being a throwaway season, your 20’s are perhaps the most formative of your adult life. It is a season in which personality and brain growth peak, and the ability to change may be the easiest it will be. There is no magic transformation that happens on your 30th birthday -- the life that you create in your 20’s is the one you will build upon in your 30’s.
As a late-twenty-something myself, I was intrigued as to what Jay would say to my generation. More than ever before, the life stage of my peers varies all over the map: I have friends my age who have advanced degrees, live abroad, married with children, and are rooted in their career and friends who have struggled to launch, uncertain about their career path, engaging in a string of meaningless relationships, or living at home with parents. And perhaps more common, I have friends who have a combination of the above, living on a solid foundation in one domain while figuring out the ropes in another. It’s a life stage unlike any others so far, exchanging the timeframe and achievement markers provided by academic calendars with the more ambiguous process of personal, relational, and career development. I have heard both friends and clients say that they feel behind, comparing their lives to their peers and wondering if they are measuring up.
After working with many young adults in her private practice, Jay aims at encouraging twenty-somethings to make intentional choices about 3 areas: career, relationships, and their bodies. She challenges her readers to make choices that are consistent with their values for their future. In careers, this may mean ditching the part-time barista gig and putting in the grunt work for the career that you hope to have in 10 years. For relationships, this may mean dating compatible people that you would consider marrying rather than hooking up with people you meet at a party. For your body this means taking care of yourself in ways that prepare you for the life you dream of, whether that be in fertility, self-care, or physical well being.
Millennials certainly get a bad rep in culture, pegged as the trophy generation, entitled, or lazy. And yet millennials also are the first generation in recent history to be unlikely to pass our parents’ earning potential. We are a generation weighed by student debt, high cost of living, and emerging into the workforce during the great recession. We are a generation willing to challenge the status quo of “success”, accompanied by great risk and great gains. And yet we are also a generation who is postponing major life milestones unlike any generation that preceded us. Maybe Jay’s advice sounds simple: build the life you want to have. And yet few people, twenty-something’s or not, live intentionally creating the life they desire, but rather hoping that life will fall in their lap. Adulting can be hard work. Working toward health, in whatever context, is a message we all can use in every decade.