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A Blunt Message for 20-somethings

Many 20-somethings believe (blame parents, the media, pop culture) that “emerging adulthood” means they have until meg-jay-at-ted2013the big 30 to really get serious about life, work and love.  Not so argues clinical psychologist Meg Jay, whose recent TED talk on “Why 30 is Not the New 20” has drawn nearly 1.5  millions views.

TED conference speakers are given just 18 minutes to proselytize their passion, and Dr. Jay certainly makes her points, and generated controversy. Her no-nonsense strategy might seem like a “snap-out-of-it” slap in the face for the “Me, Me, Me” generation, as Time recently dubbed millenials. Yet, taken in the larger context of Dr. Jay’s book and other writings, her approach suggests a game plan that can evolve over time, and not lock a twenty-something into a stifling strategy as many of the commenters seemed to fear.

Dr. Jay message to millenials centers on three key points:

  • Start accumulating “identity capital,” which she defines as “something that’s an investment in who you might want to be next.”   Find the job, internship or other opportunity that allows career exploration.  In other words, a job as a hotel reception desk clerk is a good move for someone interested in the hospitality industry, not because it’s near a surfing beach.  “I’m not discounting twentysomething exploration here, but I am discounting exploration that’s not supposed to count, which, by the way, is not exploration. That’s procrastination,” she said.
  • Get out of the comfort zone in terms of geography and friends.  Six degrees of separation works in life and love. “New things come from what are called our weak ties, our friends of friends of friends. So yes, half of twentysomethings are un- or under-employed. But half aren’t, and weak ties are how you get yourself into that group. Half of new jobs are never posted, so reaching out to your neighbor’s boss is how you get that un-posted job,” she said
  • The best time to work on marriage is before you have one.  Dr. Jay is not advocating walking down the aisle at 25 but she does believe in being “intentional” in dating.   “Picking your family is about consciously choosing who and what you want rather than just making it work or killing time with whoever happens to be choosing you,” she said.

Her message is worth sharing with the 20-somethings you know and love.  Of course, some might counter: What happened to spontaneity and serendipity in this plan?  What happened to taking chances on careers or love without knowing where they will lead? What about circumstances beyond their control like the economy?

Dr. Jay’s talk and book doesn’t provide all the answers. While her keys points might raise the stress level, they also do focus the conversation and hit home the idea that decisions made in our twenties do count.  A often touchy topic but oen worth a continuing conversation.

In interesting perspective on how a twentysomething can change a view over time was given in “From Appalled to Applauding: Reactions to Meg Jay’s controversial talk about 20-somethings.”

Tahlia Hein, TEDx post-event coordinator who wrote:

 “If you had asked me at 23 what I thought, I’d have probably said that she had no real appreciation for being young. I would have said that those freeing experiences are an invaluable part of what it means to be young,” she says. “Now [at 27], I think I was half right: They are invaluable, but there is no such thing as the mythical ‘young.’ There’s just life.”

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Kim Reynolds September 6, 2013, 9:55 am

    I think her advice is brilliant. I think you can be open to spontaneous opportunity while still thinking about how the opportunity fits your intentions for your life. If we think about and create our own inner compass, we are better able to sort through the plans and little twists life will make for us whether we want it to or not.

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