“Bless my heart, bless my soul.
Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old.
There must be someone up above sayin’,
Come on, Brittany, you got to come on up.
You got to hold on…
Hey, you got to hold on…”

—Hold On, Alabama Shakes

You Define Your 20s

It has been a rough month for 20-somethings. But according to every talking head out there, it’s a rough decade, so why should it matter?

This week your co-workers, friends, and Aunt Sarah probably sent you the TED Talk by Dr. Meg Jay. In her talk “20 Is Not the New 30,” (watch it below), her basic message to the 50 million 20-somethings in the U.S. was that this is not a throwaway decade where it’s okay if you don’t figure out what you’re doing in career, love, and just the overall pursuit of happiness.

“Claiming your 20s is one of simplest things you can do for work, happiness, love, maybe even for the world,” says Jay. “We know your brain caps off its second and last growth spurt in your 20s as it rewires itself for adulthood. Which means whatever you want to change, now is the time to change it.”

Now, I like the message of saying you should be using this time wisely and every moment counts. Great. And frankly, I feel like I used my 20s pretty well when it came to figuring out and building my career. But I may have not been quite as on top of the other stuff as Jay would have liked.

And Jay isn’t alone in being disappointed by 20-something life progression. At the end of March, Susan Patton  told women who graduated from Princeton and matriculating seniors that their lives were worthless if they hadn’t found husbands on the New Jersey college campus. She didn’t even mention people who didn’t go to Ivy League schools, but her message was that at age 18 you should be looking for your life partner.

Plus, we have Sheryl Sandberg telling us to lean in, but then Anne-Marie Slaughter says it doesn’t really matter if we lean in because we are women.

And then what about the cover of last week’s TIME magazine where Gen Y was called, once again, the most selfish, narcissistic “me, me, me” generation? There were some positives in there too, but the article sure started off quite negatively.

Basically, starting in March, 20-somethings (specifically women) have been told to ask for more in their careers, find husbands on day one of college, and remember that they are super self-absorbed. This is such an abusive relationship; you don’t see 50-year-olds dealing with this. They are just told they are the new 40 constantly!

All of this advice isn’t necessarily wrong or bad (and the selfish Gen Y label had moments of truth, but selfish isn’t always a negative attribute), and I am sure for some people it absolutely worked and will work. I think what I have realized about my 20s (I am on the latter end of it) is that though it is really exciting, it is friggin’ hard. You are trying to go for the dream job and climb the ladder, but you are told you don’t have enough experience.  Life becomes an endless stream of catch-22′s.

Your friends completely change. You move around. You have to pay rent! You have to pay bills! You have to find doctors. All those health things your mother warned about start to come true. People start to have babies. You get laid off. You get promoted. You go to school FOREVER. You date. You don’t date. Half the time, you are just trying to stay afloat. As a co-worker of mine once said, “Who thinks that 23 is the most awkward age over? Your 20s are the puberty of adult life.”

So maybe there is a reason that movie is called 13 Going on 30 instead of “13 Going on 25.” Supposedly all of the struggling and confusion is supposed to be over when you get to a stable 30, but the journey is really important, and it is what you make of it. Do claim your 20s, but do it in your own way. Travel, write a blog, date Mr. or Ms. Right now, because why the heck not? And just don’t put any more pressure on yourself. The world is already doing it for you.

What was your reaction to this TED Talk? Tell us in the comments!

Ask Toddi Gutner, Journalist and Communication Consultant at TLGutnerLLC-Capturing the Story, whether she thinks 20 is the new 30!