How to Make Your Twenties Count


30 is not the new 20? Guess it’s baby-making time!

Okay. wait. Let’s slow down.

In Dr. Meg Jay’s TED talk, it may sound like she’s telling twenty-somethings (especially female twenty-somethings) that we need to be settling down with “the one,” having babies, and already walking down our one and only career path. Some comments have been left on links to this TED talk accusing Dr. Jay of not appreciating the importance of spontaneous choices, having “prehistoric thinking,” and not believing that success can be found at any age.

I’m a person who has never come anywhere close to finding “the one.” I am still debating if I want to have children and have only just begun my first “real job.” Still, I found the idea behind this TED talk intriguing and helpful—and I’m pretty sure many twenty-somethings would agree.

Here’s what I took away from this talk and what I think is crucial for all twenty-somethings to keep in mind when navigating these years.

Being 20 does not mean that you have an extra ten years to live your life

Yes we are young but in no way does that mean that we should look at our twenties as “extra years.” How can any part of life be “extra?” Your twenties count just as much as any other decade. Perhaps more so. Dr. Jay mentions in her TED talk that 80% of life’s most defining moments happen before 35. We get our second and last growth spurt in our twenties and our personality changes the most in our twenties. During this decade, we should be working hard to develop our future selves.

Starting at 30 isn’t as easy as it may seem

Dr. Jay says that she has heard many young twenty-somethings say, “As long as I start my career by 30 I’ll be fine.”

Who created that deadline? What does that do to our motivation? Think about what happened when a professor gave you an assignment months in advance. I know that there have been more than a few times that I ended up not starting that assignment until about a week before it was due. What could have been a well-thought-out project, edited to perfection, turned out to be a rushed and jumbled C-worthy presentation. Why would I want to do that with my life? Creating a deadline ten years into the future is just asking for procrastination.

Sure enough, Dr. Jay says she later hears, “My twenties are almost over and I have nothing to show for myself. I had a better résumé when I graduated from college.”

Yep, that time spent thinking “I don’t have to worry until I’m 30” shows up on your résumé as gaps or material that does not relate to your field.

She also hears a lot of twenty-somethings saying, “I know my boyfriend isn’t good for me but it’s not permanent. I’m just killing time.”

Why on earth are you killing time with someone who you know isn’t good for you? It’s one thing if you’re unaware that you’re dating a scumbag. But if you are aware that the guy you’re with is doing absolutely nothing for you, why even put up with him for the time being? Don’t think that the relationship “doesn’t count” because you’re young. It counts. Everything counts. Think about it: The more time you spend with people who are bad for you, the less time you spend with people who are good for you.

Your twenties are an “in between” time separating teenagedom from adulthood but should not be thought of as a form of limbo. This is an active in-between time! You should be moving toward your future. Not standing still, biding your time ‘til the future becomes the past and you’re wondering where time went.

What you should do: build identity capital

Nowhere in her speech does Dr. Jay say that she thinks exploration is bad. What she says is that exploration which isn’t leading to anything can be detrimental. This means that waiting tables while dreaming about one day working in advertising is not good for you. You may not have the job you want right out of college, but you should be working toward it, even if it’s little by little. Build “identity capital.”

Identity capital is something that adds value to who you are. It’s an investment in who you might want to be next.

This means:

  • Reaching out to people you might not normally hang out with. Weaker ties are actually more likely to get you job offers. Dr. Jay notes that half of new jobs aren’t posted. The way to hear about these jobs is by word of mouth.

  • Freelancing or working part-time internships in your field of interest.

  • Researching your field of interest. Taking steps toward discovering what you want to do. Conducting informational interviews.

This also means that if you are dating someone who you know is bad for you, dump them! It doesn’t mean that you have to look for the person you’re going to marry.

What I chose to take out of this TED talk in regards to relationships is, just as you would in the job search, seek out relationships that provide you with identity capital. You can be dating someone and have no idea whether you want to marry them or not but if you are getting a positive outcome from that relationship, by all means stay in it! If you’re in a relationship that is affecting you negatively, don’t think it’s okay because you’re young. Move on. I’m not just talking about significant others—it applies to all relationships in life.

Life is short. Even if life expectancy is increasing, there will still never be enough time to do all of the things you can possibly do. Why waste any of your time on anyone or anything? Why label any set of years as “extra”?  Start your life now. Not at some future deadline.

There’s no need to find the nearest eligible bachelor or bachelorette and convince them to follow you to Vegas where an Elvis impersonator will marry you that night. We can still explore significant others and job opportunities. We just shouldn’t be living any part of our lives with a “this doesn’t count” mentality. Thirty is not the new 20. Thirty is 30 and 20 is 20. Make the most of each decade.

Homework time! Share your opinion of Dr. Jay’s assertion that 30 is not the new 20. If you haven’t already, watch her TED talk and leave a comment telling us what points you agree with and what points you disagree with. We want to know which parts of this talk you will use to shape your twenty-something life.


7 Responses to “How to Make Your Twenties Count”

  1. Allan

    I’ve seen this TED talk in the past and it’s still one of my favorites to watch again. Great nuggets of wisdom for all twenty-somethings out there. Following these tips in your 20s can help you be less stressed as you approach your 30s.

  2. Daniel

    Every moment is precious – you’ve got one shot, so make the most of it! That is the best message here. While some people find that true love is their ultimate good, this is not true for all of us, at least not in our 20’s (and good gosh the same goes for having kids!) Both scenarios are OK — whatever gives you happiness and helps you give value to the world, don’t wait a moment!

    • Melissa Suzuno

      Hi Daniel, yes, we agree. It’s not that important what you do as long as you feel like you’re making progress and moving towards your goals. And if you’re not sure what your goals are, your twenties are the perfect time to figure that out.


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