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Stop Listening: You Define Your Twenties

Lifestyle |

“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

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!

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Topics

education news2 worklife balance lifestyle 2 lean in career 2 marriage sheryl sandberg

26 Comments

The pressure can be paralyzing - happy to know I am not alone. Thanks for the article!

1y

Thank you for this article! I love the quote your coworker shared: “Who thinks that 23 is the most awkward age over? Your 20s are the puberty of adult life.”

2y

Thank you so much for this article. On top of my school work and finding a job + everything the media is telling us about Gen Y I've been stressed out. Thanks for reminding me that what I do is my choice and that I don't need to be making decisions that the world expects me to.

2y

I am so glad some one took the time to encourage us! I feel like the older generations forget who raised Generation Y.

2y

This is by far the best TED talk I've watched and I love this article! I'm 23 and I feel just like Emma did and this article just motivated me to do something about my social life and career but on my own terms!

3y

This article is awesome. "Just don’t put any more pressure on yourself. The world is already doing it for you." Carve your own path and don't let the haters get you down! Love it.

3y

Wow. As I was reading, my posture started to get better... talk about a confidence booster!

Thanks for another great article, keep them coming!

3y
Nicoletta Antonucci

Awesome, thank you for this Article !!

3y

Never heard this song before, but I love it! Doesn't hurt my name's actually Brittany :)

3y

As a recent grad from college (read: 2 weeks ago)this is so nice to hear. For the last year I've been obsessing over where I'm going to live after college, what I'm going to do and who I want to be. And on graduation day the most important thing wasn't on that list, it was to be happy and satisfied with my experiences and the people around me.

Thank you Meredith for reminding me that my 20s are just that, mine!

3y

This is great. And calming.

3y

I totally agree with everything you wrote here. I'm not 20 yet, but I feel like a lot of what you're saying relates to me as a college student and as a future professional. I feel like I'm constantly trying to balance schoolwork, career plans (i.e. internships, interviews, etc.), and a social life--it's a lot of work!

3y

Great article! A generational shift is happening and it still amazes me when previous ones push against this natural evolution.

Many boomers consistently tell me that I should focus on getting married, snagging a 9-to-5 with benefits, purchasing a car and owning a house before 30 as if it's the formula for a great life. Most don't understand that obtaining all of these things mean much less to my generation than it did to theirs and don't consider me a well adjusted adult because of it.

I totally co-sign on living a life you love from your 20s and beyond! When I look back at the end of my life, that's what I want to be able to say.

3y

"Life becomes an endless stream of catch-22′s." is so unbelievable true! With graduation 2 days away, I'm definitely loving this article!

Thanks Meredith!

3y

LOVED this TED talk. It is so inspiring and reminds me that be a twentysomething is a very important part of life, not just a buffer period!
Thanks for sharing, Meredith!

3y

I love it!

3y

This article is awesome, loved it!

3y

THANK YOU! Because I watched that TED Talk, read the TIME article and "Lean In" and have really been feeling the pressure to figure out my life 'right this second'!

3y
Alexandra Lemley

Excellent job. Brava!

3y

I love the TED talk but this article makes me think that maybe you missed the point a little. Rather than encouraging people to date "Mr Right Now" or work in meaningless jobs because it gives them money to travel and they'll figure out a career later, we should be trying to get rid of the attitude that you're 20s don't mean anything and you can do things without them really counting. That doesn't foster a positive lifestyle, and leads people to a trap where suddenly they're 30 and they don't have the life they wanted at that age because they never tried, they just kept proscrastinating.

Awesome article - very thought provoking - but for me your last paragraph ruined it.

3y

I see your point Sarah, but also think we put too much pressure on ourselves that every action must be calculated with some sort of measurable meaning. (Like, why date this guy if I know he's not The One, or why travel if it doesn't help me climb the ladder?) Sometimes it's very worth it to do sometime for the goal of experiencing it (safely, of course). I don't think we giver ourselves permission to do that often enough.

3y
Laura Grieser

Hi Sarah,

I think that what's important to highlight is that she says "claim your 20s, but do it in your own way." For some people, traveling the world is the best education they'll ever receive -- far better and more beneficial than working an office job and climbing the corporate ladder. And dating "Mr. Right Now" will only help women (and men) figure out who is Mr. or Mrs. "Right" in the long-term. And as she says, "why the heck not?" Because if not now, when? So, yes, our 20s do be something; but they mean something different for everyone. It's important to remember that, and to capitalize on what makes us, in our 20s, unique. What story will we tell? What niche will we fill? Figuring out those answers is what our 20s should be about.

3y
Elle Eff

One of my favorite articles on Levo ever! I'm 25 and this article represents my life. I'm in the middle of trying to climb the ladder, whilst deciding whether he is "the one," all while studying for grad school exams in the process. Glad to know I'm not alone.

3y
Elana Gross

I love this article so much! I especially love this line, "life becomes an endless stream of catch-22′s."

3y

Meredith, I LOVE this!!!!

3y

I absolutely love this article! I'm in the middle of reading The Defining Decade (and "Hold On" just came on Spotify), and I can feel the push to move forward in my life though my career and social life.

Everyone grows up at different rates, so why should our decade of being twentysomethings be any different? I have come to realize that it is okay to be where I am right now and I am living my life on my own terms, not anyone else's premeditated beliefs on what I should be doing.

Thank you once again, Meredith, for such an amazing article!

3y
Meredith Lepore

Meredith is the Editor at Large for Levo League. Before that she was the Editor in Chief of The Grindstone and was on staff at Business Insider. She has written for magazines including Marie Claire, SELF, Women's Health and Cosmopolitan. She earned her Masters in Magazine, Newspaper and Online journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Meredith resides in New York full time and enjoys SoulCycle, jogging and playing with her Yorkshire Terrier Otis, who also loves SoulCycle.