Take Two #73: A New Look at Twenty-somethings

By Kyra-lin Hom

Some morning last week, I was driving peaceably along I-5 S when it felt like the bottom dropped out of my car. My smooth, new-tires-for-the-first-time-in-my-life commute suddenly turned into a jarring, jerky ride over massive invisible train tracks. I then vibrated my way over to the shoulder and proceeded to get friendly with AAA.

Turns out a major bearing in my main driveline broke. The main driveline is essentially what connects the engine to your driving tires (everything after the transmission) – it's kind of important. Following that, car part mix ups and whatnot left me Metro bus bound for the next seven days, which gave me plenty of time to read.

Conveniently, my boyfriend had just lent me clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay's new book The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now. In it, Dr. Jay draws on her extensive experience counseling twenty-somethings to correct several of the social myths that have been driving us into the ground. It hit incredibly close to home. Just pages into the forward, a well of emotion hit me right in the chest. Finally someone besides my peers understood. It was a relief. A breath of truth.

That said, the book is not a soft pat on the back. It's a hard shove forward. Thirty is not the new twenty. Biology and time just don't work that way despite everything that popular culture would have us believe. Your twenties are likely not going to be the best years of your life. They are hard, stressful and anxiety-ridden, full of paralyzingly important decisions. Confidence does not come from the inside out. Confidence only comes with skill and experience, and that comes with time. Telling us we can accomplish anything we want just leaves us with the glaring question of 'what do we want?' And last but not least, we are not all perfect and unique little snowflakes. But we are adults – something that cutesy phrases likes 'adultescence' would have us forget.

Essentially yes, we have been lied to our entire lives. Every ounce of culture that feeds the illusion that our twenties are about wandering soul-searches, partying, casual relationships and low-brain, low-potential, low-wage, low-investment jobs has lured us into a dissonant trap of frustration and complacence. Sure, all of those things can be fun and have their places, but if that's all your life has going for it you're just treading water in the overall arc of your life. (Of course that's assuming you want your life to eventually include a good, steady job and a family.)

I said earlier that it was a relief to finally realize that someone outside of my generation understood. What I meant by that was acknowledgement. What many of us want is simply that: acknowledgement that we've been lied to and are scrambling to make up for our false expectations. It's a steep learning curve, but that doesn't mean we're hopeless or helpless. We might just need someone like Dr. Jay to give us that honest and understanding kick into gear before we find our way. She's saying, 'Yes, life isn't the cake you were promised. Now it's time to get over it and move onward.' That seemingly little thing can mean so much when you're used to feeling or being told that the problem might just lie with you.

On the other hand, I also felt better after reading her book because I do have a plan and I am actively following it through. Further, it's okay that things aren't coming together as they're 'supposed to' right now. That doesn't happen until much later. And that's okay. The twenties are fun. This odd stage of uncertain early adulthood is a time of exploration and open opportunity. It can just also royally suck. Reading Dr. Jay's book rewired my perspective, and I'm better for it.

Even though the book is written specifically for twenty-somethings, I recommend it to anyone who regularly interacts with one. It has the potential to be a very valuable window into a mindset you only thought you knew. It was to me.

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