Meg Jay: “Why Thirty is Not the New Twenty”

If you have a twentysomething kid, or think you might ever have one, Dr. Meg Jay has a message that should not be missed by our children, or us. Jay is a clinical psychologist in private practice, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Virginia and the author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now

I got married at thirty and, before that decade was out, had given birth to three kids, quit my career, resumed my career, restarted a different career, moved back and forth across the Atlantic four times and lived in seven places. At the end of the ten years, I felt confused, exhausted and more than a little lost.

It was not until I watched, Meg Jay’s Why 30 is Not the New 20, that I understood the reason why. I was trying to find out who I was as a wife and mother while trying to figure out a lasting career and constantly dealing with movers. I had tried to pack into my 30s some of the things I should have done in my 20s because, quite honestly, I believed that my 20s would last forever. I came to this notion because it takes soooooo long to get from age 10 to age 20, that it never occurred to me that I would get to 30 a whole lot faster.

In her TED talk (viewed over 7 million times) which I cannot recommend highly enough, Jay explains why I made this mistake and how you might help your kids not make the same one.

The predicament that I got myself into was believing that my 20s didn’t matter, that they were a long luxurious extension of childhood and that I still had all the time in the world. I saw my 20s as the “middle school” of adulthood, the years of fun and frolic before anything “counted.” But Jay so clearly explains how science shows us why that is not true, why so much of the die is cast when here I was thinking I was in 7th grade. She explains:

“We know that 80 percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age 35. We know that the first 10 years of a career has an exponential impact on how much money you’re going to earn. We know that more than half of Americans are married or are living with or dating their future partner by 30. We know that the brain caps off its second and last growth spurt in your 20s as it rewires itself for adulthood, which means that whatever it is you want to change about yourself, now is the time to change it. We know that personality changes more during your 20s than at any other time in life, and we know that female fertility peaks at age 28, and things get tricky after age 35. So your 20s are the time to educate yourself about your body and your options.”

I have conveyed the same misguided message to my kids that I once believed. No rush. You have all the time in the world. Look around, take your time, commit to nothing, see what you want out of life. But is this the right message, did this really work for me?

In her wildly popular TED Talk, Dr. Meg Jay explains why our 20s are not the throwaway decade but set the pattern for the rest of our lives.

Jay tells us that twentysomethings need to invest in themselves, to develop what she calls, “identity capital.” While she says exploring is fine, she feels young adults need to invest in themselves both career wise and socially. They need to expand their circle of friends and contacts and not just huddle amongst those they have always known and who make them feel comfortable.

She suggests young adults meet and date people they might want to spend their lives with, not people they are just biding their time with (she does not suggest marrying in this decade but preparing). “The best time to work on your marriage is before you have one, and that means being as intentional with love as you are with work.” Jay counsels. “Picking your family is about consciously choosing who and what you want rather than just making it work or killing time with whoever happens to be choosing you.”

We have been fed a pretty heavy anti-helicopter parenting diet, been told that we should not interfere in our teen or young adult children’s lives. But like any good swinging pendulum, this one may have swung too far. While no one wants to be that hovering parent who disables their twentysomething, equally no one wants to be that parent of a thirtysomething who could have used some words of parental advice.

Jay makes the case for not just stepping aside when she says, “Twentysomethings are like airplanes just leaving LAX, bound for somewhere west. Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in Alaska or Fiji.Likewise, at 21 or 25 or even 29, one good conversation, one good break, one good TED Talk, can have an enormous effect across years and even generations to come.”

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