“Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22!” Taylor Swift gave us the best possible motto for a Friday night out of control and the worst possible motto for a future under your control. Why is that? Aren’t your twenty-something years a time for dressing up like hipsters, eating breakfast at midnight, and forgetting about the heartbreaks? Yes, they are. And they are better, because more than any other period in your life, they are absolutely yours.
As Meg Jay explains in her book The Defining Decade, you define those twenty-something years, and those twenty-something years define you. This metamorphic, transformative, volatile time is so powerful because it makes meaning for the years that follow– including that terrifying milestone of 30 years old. After all, you can’t wake up on the morning of your 30th birthday with your dream job if you slept through summer work shifts during your underemployed “Starbucks phase,” to use Jay’s terminology. You can’t find yourself surrounded by a diverse, supportive, encouraging friend group if you’ve stuck to the same people who are hardly any different from yourself. Most importantly, you can’t be the person you want to be later in life if you aren’t actively trying to be that person right now.
Jay’s book talks about how to do exactly that: make your twenties a period not only of crazy fun and great stories but also self-actualization. With chapter titles such as “My Life Should Look Better on Facebook” and “Being in Like,” Jay tells the truth about being twenty-something through anecdotes, science, and real life experience from her work as a clinical psychologist. In her popular TED Talk on “Why 30 Is Not The New 20,” Jay reveals that “80% of life’s most defining moments take place before age 35.” In other words, these years matter; now is the time to explore other career options, fall hard for someone and try to make it work, decide what is important to you and forget about what you think your twenties and thirties should be like.
And when you’re feeling 22, remember that what you’re really feeling is the power, freedom, and authority to live your own life. It’s time.
Article originally published in the November 18th, 2013 issue of The Chapel Bell.