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Why your twenties are not a throwaway decade

Dr. Meg Jay, psychologist that works primarily with clients in their 20s, spoke at TED 2013 about 30 not being the new 20 and how to make the most out of being 20-something.
Dr. Meg Jay, psychologist that works primarily with clients in their 20s, spoke at TED 2013 about 30 not being the new 20 and how to make the most out of being 20-something.
Jen Fariello

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During TED 2013, clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay determined to inspire young adults to realize one thing—make your twenties count. In her talk she speaks about this "defining" decade being the basis for marriage, family and a career. Instead of "sliding" into situations and relationships, Jay says 20-somethings should live their lives in a deliberate and meaningful way. She likens these years to an airplane and how even a slight change can have an enormous effect on the destination.

Even though people are living longer and tend to be settling down later, it doesn’t discount what takes place during this decade. For example, the female fertility age does not change, 80 percent of "life’s defining moments" happen by the mid-30s, and relationship and career decisions can affect marriage and future salaries. In addition, she says the brain is still developing and 20-somethings are undergoing personality changes. 

"What that means is that whatever it is you want to change about yourself, your 20s are an incredibly sweet spot for making those sorts of changes,” said Jay on AirTalk. “People do live longer, but that hasn’t changed the fact that your 20s are still an incredibly critical and transformative period of time.”

With relationships, Jay believes in not wasting time in the dating game and not taking cohabitation lightly. Although it’s fine to get married later, she doesn’t want 20-somethings to think there is an infinite amount of time and who they date casually is not significant. 

"My question to people is, if you’re doing something later in order to do it better, that’s great," said Jay. "If you can make a better decision at 30 than you can at 25, then wait till 30. But be sure you’re using those extra five years or those extra 10 years to date intentionally and mindfully and really be learning.”

As for career-searching in a difficult economy, she hopes 20-somethings will network and begin to establish their careers because the 20s affect their future wages. Jay believes sayings like, "30 is the new 20" discourages 20-somethings from realizing what they are capable of even in a difficult economy.

Some 20-something callers responded that they are not deliberately wasting their time but are stuck because of the economy. They said they're not able to establish careers earlier because they’re competing with 30-somethings who have higher degrees and more experience. Others are not frustrated by this situation and are enjoying the benefits of continued parental support to travel and pursue personal goals. 

If you’re 20-something, how does this compare with your own experience? Do 20-somethings feel like this decade is just a waiting game for what happens next? If so, is that a trend or is it because of the economy? Also, what positive and negative experiences in your 20s have influenced your life today?

Meg Jay, Ph.D, psychologist that works primarily with clients in their 20s; TED 2013 speaker; author of “The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter—and how to make the most of them now”