Something weird happens in your twenties.
In a flash of thrown graduation hats, moving trucks, and mismatched pots and pans, you realize something profound: you have no idea what you’re doing.
If you’re among the group who has secured a well-paying, full-time gig in a field you adore, have a loving, faithful, eternally attractive partner you plan to spend your life with, and feel fulfilled, happy, and motivated all at once…
You’re probably fictional.
Or maybe you resemble some version of Linus from Charlie Brown, only with the cacophony of dust and dirt replaced by a fog of student loan bills and rejection letters fluttering through the cheap wine-soaked hyperventilating breaths you’re taking. Alone.
More than likely, you’re somewhere in the middle, which means that you’re in the process of figuring out what you want to do and how you’re going to make it happen… and that can be confusing as hell. Times like these make us want a magical road map with answers, but as of this writing, no such guide has been uncovered.
Luckily, there are some tools out there to help make this process a little easier.
The Reality Backdrop
Regardless of what situation you’re in, whether it’s a grad school cocoon, entry-level job nightmare, unemployment purgatory, long-distance relationship straddle, this-is-moving-too-fast breakup, post-collegiate functional alcoholism, or an existential crisis, you’re not on an island (that is, unless you have escaped to a remote destination and are now subsisting on coconuts and wild pigs).
And if you’re reading this, chances are, you’re a millennial. Which means, you’re probably fully aware of how society is looking at you.
Because, after the end-of-alphabet generations named the millennials, lots of other fun adjectives started popping up, including “entitled”, “lazy”, “narcissistic”, and in no uncertain hyperbolic terms, “the worst”.
Generational feuds aside, it is clear that millennials are experiencing a novel time of their lives that psychologists have deemed emerging adulthood.
What does this mean?
While many of our parents and grandparents got hitched in their late teens and early twenties, started their career in a company, and worked their way up (for years, and years, and years), bought a house and car, and started popping out kids (or so the story goes), the millennial generation is pumping the breaks.
They’re opting to stave off, or straight up not do a lot of things that their parents did. This choice leaves a golden decade of opportunity for millennials to use or squander: the twenties.
While many from older generations used this time to settle into married and familial life, a ladder-climbing career, and suburbian wonderlands, millennials are wrapped up in a different brand of adulthood: self-definition angst.
Millennials care about figuring out who they are. And they do it by trying different jobs, dating people found in online catalogs of faces, and scraping together cash for bootstrap travel.
They project their lives onto tiny screens that they share with friends over various social media, and more than ever, give a shit about whether the companies they work for give a shit. They buck status quos and create new technologies that disrupt industries. But they’re often mocked for these things.
Given this societal backdrop, finding your way as a twentysomething these days is an exercise in getting a thick skin, because it seems that no matter what you do, someone will tell you it’s wrong.
There never was a perfect age to do anything, from getting married to having kids to changing jobs. But now, even less so. Depending on how you look at it, this absence of defined life mile markers is a curse or an opportunity.
The Defining Decade
A surefire way to do things “wrong”, or a chance to define your life’s choices on your own terms. Should you choose the latter, not only might you find a more exciting path, but a more enriching one as well.
Meg Jay, a psychologist and twentysomething expert of sorts, has written a book to help twentysomethings use this time of their life to make intentional decisions: The Defining Decade.
She ops out of the popular millennial-shaming narrative, and instead focuses on how young adults can take advantage of these years to create the life and future that one desires.
Not the one that a disapproving society tells you to have –– the one that you decide.
In the course of the book, she covers work, love, and self. Within each section, she gives real examples of people struggling with similar issues, and asks readers to really evaluate themselves along the way.
Through this ongoing self-reflection, readers don't get drug down a self-help black hole of “shoulds” and “hows”. Instead, they find solid information and thoughtful questions that spark an internal dialogue leading toward defined answers.
From there, one can author a life map, which becomes the missing guiding beacon, the lack of which causes the frustration and self-serving wallowing that can give millennials the bad rep. By taking the time for introspection and self-evaluation, young adults can find clarity in choosing their steps towards a successful future –– whatever that means to them.
In her Ted Talk about the book, Meg calls on young adults of many stripes to take on this responsibility for themselves, not because they are self-entitled narcissists with no work ethic, but because they have been given an opportunity that other generations haven’t really had, and they deserve the tools to make the most of it.
It can be easy to believe what people say about millennials, and even to decry one’s own generation so as to disassociate with the negative stereotypes.
It’s much harder to lean into the ambiguity amidst critical shrapnel being tossed your way.
But you know, it’s even harder for people to call you lazy when you’re building your own future.
You just have to decide to do it, then make it happen.
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.