Meg Jay: “Why 30 is not the new 20”

“Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that’s an investment in who you might want to be”

Carissa sent me this with hesitation saying it would either motivate me or antagonize my fretful nature. Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist who’s talk is about making the most of our 20s, contrary to our culture that is increasingly tell us (“20-something-year-olds”) that we have all the time in the world and that we basically have a decade before we have to start being “serious.” What Jay emphasizes is that this “benign neglect” of making a meaningful impact during these years is dangerous and that we’re missing a particularly special period of our lives that can govern the rest of our future.

Not to make you freak out or anything.

Here are some statistics:

  • 15% or about 50 million of the population is a 20-somethings now.
  • 80% of life’s most defining moments take place before you are 35.
  • The first 10 years of a career has an exponential affect on you salary.
  • More than half of American’s are married, dating, or living with their future spouse by the age of 30.
  • Your brain has its second and last growth spurt in your twenties as it rewires itself for adulthood. (“Which means, whatever you want to change about yourself: Now is the time to change it“)
  • Your personality changes more in your twenties than any other time in your life.
  • For women, fertility beyond 35 gets tricky.

Despite all of this, Jay talks about how the media is trivializing this critical stage of our life as an extended adolescence as we start making our timeline older. As in, we’re expected to have more school, to get further in our careers, then get married, then have kids, and each thing gets pushed a little further back by the thing proceeding it. I remember fretting about this when I was in high school, I kid you not. It might have even been earlier, but I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt. I would read about these prodigies that did this and that by the time they were 9, 16, 20…and so on and I would feel like I was so behind! I was calculating…I don’t graduate high school until I’m 18, then I have 4 years of college, then 2 years of a masters degree, then at least two years of a phd program… and then I’d be 26. I felt like I had to do everything consecutively otherwise, when do I start working? How do I start collecting that sort of experience?!

Ugh. So I turned 24 on Friday (Happy Flag Day, all!). I am like one of those people who is in their mid-twenties. That’s me. I listened to this talk and her warnings I and i really appreciated it because I too had been starting to feel the pressure to indulge in my twenties rather than capitalize on it. I felt it tickling in the back of my head that I should enjoy myself more….

Ok, to be fair, I probably should. But Jay’s lecture didn’t necessarily scare me, it only recharged and confirmed the way I already have felt. It was a little alarming after I first listened to it, but when I reflected on it more I have to say that I really do feel good about the choices I have been making in my life so far. I have always felt compelled to keep moving forward and forward and forward unto the next thing. To collect experience and not to waste my time. I have made conscious decisions on what I’m doing and how long to stay here or there. I’m not perfect, things have not gone always gone smoothly, as human lives are rarely want to do, but they have been going and that’s what’s important. 

Here’s my 20 somethings:

When I graduated from UW I felt more than a little lost. I felt like I maybe I had made a tremendous mistake by not going to graduate school right after college. In fact, I only applied to associate degree and post-bacc programs. Something told me that I shouldn’t commit to anything yet (probably utter exhaustion) and I forced myself to take at least a year off. I panicked during the summer and nearly jumped into a program in Canada out of fear of the unknown. But I stuck it out.

I ended up moving to Denver in the fall for an unpaid internship made possible through the generosity of Carissa’s mom. I got a regular full-time job shortly after that and was super pleased with the way things were turning out. A couple of months later I got extremely restless and needed a greater outlet for my creativity. I engaged in various side activities to feed my need: I was active in AIGA, on a committee for The Denver Center for the Performing Arts, involved in a young professionals organization, going to meetups, and volunteering at the central library.

And still there was a void. I was famished for more design work. I moved to New York. It has been one-thousand percent incredible here. I have fine-tuned my freelance work to some amazingly-wonderful clients and gotten to work on a bunch of different clients on-site and experience a myriad of different work environments. I’ve learned so much in these 5 months in New York.

Shortly after moving here—a little over a month, to be exact—I found out I’d been accepted into my dream program at Carnegie-Mellon. I had to take it, of course. So that’s where I’ll be in the fall. And that takes me up to my birthday in the Friday.

Some things I would change if I had gotten to orchestrate everything perfectly and why it’s fine that things were messy anyway: 

  • I might have wanted to double major in design & English. But it’s ok that I didn’t because it would have been impossible for me to graduate in 4 years otherwise. I would be left with two chunks of time and a lot more expenses.
  • I might have wanted to leave Denver earlier. We both know that I wasn’t loving it. But I had made commitments to the various organizations I was a part of and it was important to me that I maintain them. Plus, I built some really good relationships during the last 6 months of my Denver Days that I really cherish and become immersed in the tech-startup world.
  • I might have looked for a more design-centered job. This was always in the back of my mind, sometimes the front as I admit, inquiries were sent out here and there. But I also really enjoyed the unique combination of communication & design work I got from my full-time job. I loved all the people that my boss put me in contact with. As a tech-driven industry, I ended up learning an incredible amount about the industry, especially start-ups, which I believe is so valuable right now. It really fed into my side interest and now it’s such a huge part of what I want to do.  It really pushed me to think about what I wanted to do as a designer. And I think it’s not that I don’t want to be a designer, its that I am a design strategist).
  • Maybe I should have stayed in Denver until I heard back from grad school and saved up money. Nah. I took a leap of faith and followed a company that I would still love to work for and sometimes you need to take a leap in order to even move an inch. I admit, not being able to work full time has made me feel really unsettled here, but I know that won’t be the a problem the next time around. 
  • Maybe I should stay in New York, it’s kind of the bomb. Not only is Carnegie-Mellon the school that I’ve coveted for years, it’s also a life goal of mine to get a higher degree. I know I would be disappointed in myself if I never at least got my Master’s. Like, who would I be if not a master’s-degree-obtainer? I would be Jacklynn. Besides that, I want this new perspective. I want to see design, English, and communication in a new light and delve differently into how they interact and affect us. Not only do I strongly believe this program will help me develop as a designer, I believe that it will help me as a thinker. And that opportunity in itself is alluring for me. I’m as excited as I am scared.

So you see, everything works out. If they don’t you can make them work out so…yeah, everything does work out. Even if we don’t have control of the forces in our lives, we have control over how we respond to them. I’ve made strategic decisions about my actions and Jay’s talk help remind me of this. To not let myself get stuck in what’s comfortable because what’s comfortable is rarely progressive. I just want to make the most of whatever I have.

What about you? Where are you?



Your Turn:

Leave a reply.