Author Interviews
4:34 am
Sun April 22, 2012

Our Roaring 20s: 'The Defining Decade'

Originally published on Sun April 22, 2012 9:43 am

It's almost that time of year again, when a new crop of 20-something college graduates prepares to take those first steps into the working world.

In her new book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now, University of Virginia clinical psychologist Meg Jay argues that those first years of adulthood are the most important time in a young person's life.

Jay recently joined NPR's Rachel Martin to discuss why the 20s are such a crucial age for both college grads and non-college grads.

On why our 20s are the most defining decade ...

We know that 80 percent of life's most defining moments happen by age 35. We know that 70 percent of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of a career. We know that more than half of Americans are married or living with or dating their future partner by 30. Our personalities change more in our 20s than any other time. Our fertility peaks. Our brain caps off its last growth spurts ... The things that we do and the things that we don't do are going to have an enormous effect across years and even generations.

On why a person's childhood doesn't necessarily shape his or her 20s ...

If there's ever a 10-year period when you're going to transcend your childhood, it's going to be the 20-something years ... I've worked with clients with the saddest family histories, who grew up chanting, "You can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends." And then in their 20s, they transform their lives by picking and creating good families for themselves. On the flip side, I've seen 20-somethings who've had every advantage, but who blow it and fall very far from where they grew up.

On the 20-somethings Jay helps in her private practice ...

Twenty-somethings are worried. They're anxious. They're worried about whether life is going to work out for them. Whether it's going to work out as well as they thought it would ... But the thing to do about that is to realize that my 20s are really the time to make my own certainty, and to make sure that yes, my life is going to work out because I'm starting to put the pieces together in an intentional way.

On giving advice to 20-somethings ...

Twenty-somethings are very prone to what's called present bias. So are all humans, which is what procrastination is about, and oil consumption and overspending ... I think thinking about later is very scary for 20-somethings, because they don't have a lot of experience doing that. So, a lot of what I do with clients is not give them advice as much as ask very pointed questions: "What is it that you want?" "Where would you like to be in five or 10 years?" "Do you want to get married?" "Do you want to have kids?" "What do you want your job to be?" ... These are questions that no one asks 20-somethings because they know it scares them. But deep down, 20-somethings want people to ask them these questions because they know they need to figure it out.

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