Saturday, May 28, 2016

Why Your Twenties Matter

Once more I find myself writing about a book that is targeted toward a specific audience, but anyone with an interest in psychology or "the twenties" will find the book enthralling.  Because it is so well written, and the author's conversations with her clients so resonant, it is a quick read.

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay has enchanted me. When I first saw the title, I opened it and devoured the inside cover.  I had to read the rest of it!  With hardly any time left in my twenties, though, I fretted will this book tell me I've done it all wrong? have I set myself up for a lifetime of failure and struggle?  Journeying through the aspects of life that Jay dissects as they apply to twentysomethings - among them: love, work, the brain, and the body - has turned out to be much like going through actual therapy with a counselor. The message is sobering, yet empowering: time in our twenties is both easy to waste and precious, but each of us can chart the course of our thirties and beyond by making informed choices right away. 

Much of The Defining Decade consists of conversations between Jay and her twentysomething clients, who I found very easy to like and relate to.  The frustration they express echoes my own sentiment: if my twenties are supposed to be the best years of my life, why have they been so hard?!  Well, Jay has demystified that question.  The twenties are supposed to be hard because they are the crucible in which our futures are forged.  Using her own years of experience counseling twentysomethings, and plenty of research, Jay lays out a road map of sorts that makes the twenties much more manageable.  She offers lots of practical advice, including: challenge yourself with your career choices, don't shy away from commitments, and consider the facts about fertility that our culture all but denies. 

Like I said, this book is an enlightening read for anybody, but obviously for those in their twenties (the earlier the better!), and especially for mentors of twentysomethings.  Part of the difficulty of being in our twenties is that not only do we generally not know the best ways to navigate them, but many of our parents and mentors don't have the knowledge to guide us effectively through the unique challenges we face in our twenties in the 2010s either.  I will admit that before picking up The Defining Decade, I didn't even realize that my twenties were an especially formative time.  Oh yes, I knew I was making tons of big, stressful choices, but doesn't that go on throughout life?  (Jay answers that question as well, for anyone also in the dark - I know I'm not the only one!) 

As for me, I wish I had discovered this book when it was written in 2012 - I would have felt so much better about how difficult things in my life seemed!  I would have realized that the solutions to my twentysomething problems were not so complex after all; that what happened in my past is not as important as the choices that I make now; and that those choices can help my future more than digging up any trauma that might lie in my past.

I'll finish with this quote from the introduction, which pretty well sums up The Defining Decade:

 . . . twentysomethings are like airplanes, planes just leaving New York City bound for somewhere west.  Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in either Seattle or San Diego.  But once a plane is nearly in San Diego, only a big detour will redirect it to the northwest.  

Likewise, in the twentysomething years, even a small shift can radically change where we end up in our thirties and beyond.  The twenties are an up-in-the-air and turbulent time, but if we can figure out how to navigate, even a little bit at a time, we can get further, faster, than at any other stage in life.  It is a pivotal time when the things we do - and the things we don't do - will have an enormous effect across years and even generations to come.  

So let's get going.  The time is now.

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