With my quarter century birthday landing this year, it couldn't have been a more perfect time to read The Defining Decade by Meg Jay. It's divided into 3 parts: Work, Love, and The Brain and Body. The author uses her extensive counseling experience to narrate the obstacles that come with being in your 20's.
PART ONE: WORK
INVEST IN YOUR BRAND
While instagrammy accounts might come to mind with the term 'personal brand', it is something everyone will eventually need to care about. I believe that your personal brand follows you wherever you go. It will attract opportunities, people, experiences, etc. Luckily, we are in complete control of it. Your habits, what you like, what you stand for- all of these can be changed to cultivate the life you want to attract.
“Identity capital is our collection of personal assets. It is the repertoire of individual resources that we assemble over time. These are the investments we make in ourselves, the things we do well enough, or long enough, that they become a part of who we are.”
The goal is to create a strong identity for yourself. Meg says that those who achieve this, have higher self-esteem and are more persevering and realistic.
While some use their 20's to live a 'YOLO' lifestyle, others will foster good habits and set their future selves up for happiness and success. If you fail to invest in yourself during your 20's, it can lead to underemployment, regrets, and an unfulfilling life. Meg suggests seeking challenging positions that will contribute to your experience and character.
SAY YES AND GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
"The one thing I have learned is that you can’t think your way through life. The only way to figure out what to do is to do—something."
Meg says that twentysomethings who don’t feel anxious and incompetent at work are usually overconfident or underemployed. When I started college, I deliberately got out of my comfort zone, and continued this habit thereafter. To the point where I don't think that I have been comfortable in a long time (in a good way). Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable has been one of the greatest lessons i've implemented. This habit helped me land my internship, enroll in the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge, and create an optimistic outlook on my career.
Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job, and your spouse, and even your kids. Even if it’s a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference. —Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google
Additionally, if you are in your twenties, you might have a "no new friends" mentality. If someone reaches out, you may question why, or even ignore it all together. Meg says you should be saying yes to your 'weak ties' because those are typically the ones that will present opportunities.
FOCUS ON YOURSELF
With social media at the fingertips of every millennial, the need to keep up with societal pressures is huge. Meg says that it's worse because, "we now feel the need to keep up not just with our closest friends and neighbors, but with hundreds of others whose manufactured updates continually remind us of how glorious life should be."
If you start believing that you "should" have one thing or another based on what you see on social media, then do some self exploration. What is it that you really want? and why? These questions will navigate your career choices and the jobs you take. Don't settle for a position just because you think that's what you "should" be doing. Don't be afraid to explore your options.
PART TWO: LOVE
TAKE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS SERIOUSLY
At 25, I am engaged with my high school sweetheart. Statistically speaking, our story is not common. I believe our relationship has lasted because we overcame obstacles and have grown together while also growing as individual human beings.
[Society] is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on the decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness. The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. Yet there are no courses on how to choose a spouse.
—David Brooks, political and cultural commentator
There are some quotes that paint the picture for you in a way that you will never forget. Meg's quote did that for me:
"Almost every aspect of your life will be intertwined with almost every aspect of your partner’s life. And let’s face it, if things don’t work out, a marriage cannot just be left off a résumé like a failed job. Even as a divorced couple, you may be forever tied, financially and logistically, as you pay for schools and meet every other weekend in the driveway to exchange the kids."
IS HE THE ONE?
I see a trend in the dating world that baffles me. The in between of wanting to be with someone, but not wanting to put a label on the relationship. It sounds like a clash between wanting to be independent and free versus disclosing vulnerable feelings about one another and being monogamous. Meg says, "More and more twentysomethings are careful not to rush into marriage at a young age, yet many do not know what else to consider."
"The timeline has changed, but a new conversation has not yet begun. Postponing marriage, in and of itself, does not make for a better union. So many of my twenty something clients either don’t take their relationships seriously or don’t think they are allowed to."
One of Meg's clients depicted this feeling when she said, "...Then somewhere around thirty, getting married suddenly seems pressing. Dating for me in my twenties was like this musical-chairs thing. Everybody was running around and having fun. Then I hit thirty and it was like the music stopped and everybody started sitting down. I didn’t want to be the only one left without a chair. Sometimes I think I married my husband just because he was the closest chair to me at thirty. Sometimes I think I should have just waited for someone who might be a better partner, and maybe I should have, but that seemed risky. What I really wish I’d done is thought more about marriage sooner. Like when I was in my twenties."
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility. —Leo Tolstoy, writer
Researchers recommend getting clear on each person’s commitment level before you move in, and anticipating and regularly evaluating those constraints that may keep you from leaving even if you want to.
Me and my fiance' moved in before we got engaged. We weren't clear on where the relationship was going, which made the dynamic confusing at first, and it was tough for a little while. However, after getting clear on our end goal and communicating often, it helped us foster a healthy relationship.
One of my favorite things my fiance' tells me when we have disagreements is, "It's not what we fight about, it's how we fight." It reminds me that we are on the same team, battling one problem/disagreement together.
Part Three: THE BRAIN AND BODY
FIXED MINDSET VS GROWTH MINDSET
The more you use your brain, the more brain you will have to use. —George A. Dorsey.
"...We now know that the frontal lobe does not fully mature until sometime between the ages of twenty and thirty."
"The frontal lobe is where we move beyond the futile search for black-and-white solutions as we learn to tolerate—and act on—better shades of gray. For example, Adult dilemmas—which job to take, where to live, whom to partner with, or when to start a family—don’t have right answers."
When you think in black and white, you tend to have a fixed mindset. You're not able to think in shades of gray, which can affect how you problem solve. People who have growth mindsets will be able to bounce back from failure relatively quickly because they see it as a way to improve.
With practice, you will begin to use your frontal lobe more often and become forward thinking.
DO THE MATH
"Goals have been called the building blocks of adult personality, and it is worth considering that who you will be in your thirties and beyond is being built out of the goals you are setting for yourself today." Meg says, "Our twenties are when we have to start creating our own sense of time, our own plans about how the years ahead will unfold."
When you start doing the math, it really puts things in perspective. For example, many 20 year olds say that they would like to start a family once they hit 30. However, they don't calculate the amount of time it will take to find the right partner, the amount of years they need to be together to cultivate a healthy relationship, and the amount of time it will take to conceive a baby. A huge misconception woman make is that they are extremely fertile. However, statistics show that it gets increasingly more difficult to conceive as you get older.
A great way to figure out what you want to do is to work your way backwards. I have heard this strategy before and I think it's genius! Reverse engineer your goal by starting with the end goal and working your way backwards.