30 is Not the New 20, Says UVA Professor

Dr. Meg Jay: One of my favorite quotes is by American Psychologist Sheldon Kopp: “The unlived life isn’t worth examining.” Too many 20somethings have been led to believe that their 20s are for thinking about what they want to do and their 30s are for getting going on real life. But there is a big difference between having a life in your 30s and starting a life in your 30s. Even Erik Erikson, the father of the identity crisis, warned that young adults who spent too much time in “disengaged confusion” were “in danger of becoming irrelevant.” If you want to be more intentional at work and in love, try working in a field you’re curious about. Try dating someone who is different from that last person who turned out to be a disaster, and try conducting yourself a bit differently while you’re at it. Sure the 20s are for experimenting, but not just with philosophies and vacations and substances. The 20s are your best chance to experiment with jobs and relationships. Then each move can be more intentional and more informed than the last.

Dr. Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia who has a book out about why your twenties matter so much. In sum: When you are in your thirties, you want to be living your life, not still figuring out how to get your adult life started. Your twenties are for figuring as much stuff as you can, she says, and answering a bunch of questions on your list of priorities, things like: Do you want children, and if you do, by what age would you like to have them? Okay, so you have a job that you don’t love, but it’s paying the bills—by when would you like to leave this job and move on to something else?

Basically, Dr. Jay doesn’t like it when young people say they’re just going to let life take them wherever it takes them. She wants them to think about what they want, and to start making decisions about how they’re going to get there.

Of course, we live in a time when it is very difficult for a lot of people to get a job. So, what about that, Dr. Jay? She says people in the jobless group who want to get in the employed group should focus on looking for opportunities outside of their inner circle. Jobs are going to be coming from “weak ties,” she says, or from people you don’t know too well, i.e. your roommate’s friend who started a business. What she means is that the way to get new job leads is to meet new people, which you won’t do if you’re hanging out with the same people every week.

Though this is all good and fun, I want to add a little something here about how it’s not the end of the world if you are a 30-something who didn’t figure things out in your twenties. I have friends and relatives who reinvented their careers or finally got their acts together later in life, and they’re living very full lives right now. And I still can’t stress enough about how important it is to have mentors who can help you figure out your career and what you want in life.



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