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The Defining Decade

One of the reasons I started this blog was due to frustration that this stage of life has no instruction manual. There is no prescribed path, and no set timeline for when you should do any of those major “adult milestones” like starting your career, getting married, starting a family, etc. This book isn’t an instruction manual. But it is the most well-informed and helpful piece of writing I’ve come across about emerging adulthood and the twentysomething years.*

The author, Dr. Meg Jay, is a renowned and experienced clinical psychologist who manages to ride the line between speaking with wisdom and a removed perspective about people’s twenties without ever being dismissive, pandering, condescending, or judgmental. That’s a huge deal.

The book breaks down into three sections: work, love, and the brain and the body. I found the work section most helpful and informative — likely because that’s the area which I feel the least equipped to handle and the least prepared for.

Of course, the content of the book will strike everyone differently, which is why I highly recommend reading it if you are college-age or in your twenties. It’s an informative read for other ages too, but covers aspects of high school kids don’t need to prioritize yet and would serve as more of an informative (rather than useful) nonfiction piece for folks much over 30. But these are the points that struck me most as I read it, paraphrased and with commentary:

  • “Later” doesn’t mean the distant future — and it might mean now. One of the biggest themes among examples mentioned in the book was twentysomethings feeling like, or at least saying, that all the important things are for later down the road. It can be easy to feel lost at this age, and I’m certainly guilty of procrastinating. But Jay reminds readers that putting off investing in goals — from careers to relationships — is guaranteed to make things harder down the road.
  • The things you care about and are good at have value beyond trivia. Jay calls this “identity capital.” You need to offer more than what’s on your resume, which means identifying and nurturing aspects of who you are that can benefit you and the people around you.
  • Choosing might actually open more doors. Sometimes we delay significant choices or transitions because we’re afraid it will limit our options down the road, especially if we don’t feel like we have “enough” of our future goals figured out. But just starting in the general direction you want to move will make the next steps easier and clearer.
  • Drop the “should.” It’s your life. Stop worrying about what you see all your peers doing on Facebook or what media or your family tells you that you “should” be doing. This stage of life is the first one where people are on such wildly different paths with such varied timelines. Listening to advice and planning well for goals are wise, but if your whole life is run by “should,” you’ll just make yourself miserable.
  • It’s not a time to be unintentional about relationships. Jay mostly talks about romantic relationships, but I think it also applies generally. I feel really glad that I’m in a thoughtful, worthwhile relationship where we actually treat the relationship as something to be tended to. But it can be easy to let that slide, or to not be intentional about investing in friendships and family relationships that are important to us.
  • Show your brain some respect. I had no idea how much brain development actually happens in the emerging adult/twentysomething years. (Hint: It’s a lot.) The cool thing is that means there’s a lot of opportunity to grow and improve. The catch is that you’ve got to capitalize on it — the patterns, habits, and skills you build now are generally the foundation for the rest of your adult life.

There were certain times as I was reading the book where it started to feel like a lot of pressure given all that evidently rides on the twentysomething years. But every time that started to concern me, Jay offered thoughtful commentary and helpful advice to mitigate the pressure. It’s the kind of book that I’d like to pick up and re-read every year or two for the rest of my twenties, and which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Is there a book or article that has helped you decipher the twentysomething years? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

 

*The usual disclaimer that, as always, I receive no compensation of any kind for discussing this book, and my opinions are entirely my own. Also a huge thanks to my friend Kami for recommending the book!

Yours for the reading

Anyone who knows me knows that I am, as my dad once put it, a voracious reader. After the initial kindergarten outrage that the words didn’t follow the rules, they started to come together into stories and facts and tapestries that have captivated me ever since. I mostly have my parents to thank for the fact that I grew up loving books so much, and for making sure I never, ever ran out of things to read.

A book I recently finished was looking at some of the differences between kids who grow up to be successful adults*. One of the most significant factors? Books. Not everybody loves reading, and I get that. But reading — well, frequently, and on a variety of topics — is genuinely one of the most indispensable methods of learning and preparing for success. Reading expands your vocabulary, sharpens your cognitive processing, and fosters empathy; which is something the world sorely needs more of.

When I was a kid, I was remiss to go anywhere without a book. I would pack a quarter of my suitcase full of them on vacations, and used to follow behind my mom in the grocery store, just using my peripherals to navigate so I didn’t have to put the story down. College made reading what I wanted more difficult because I was busy, exhausted, and all my homework was reading, but I’m slowly picking up books more frequently.

Of course, some books are just for fun. But some made a huge difference in how I saw the world, and how I wanted to live in it. So just for fun, below is a list of some of the books that have influenced me most. (Disclaimers that I get no compensation for any recommendations I put up on this blog, and though I’ve included links to them on Amazon because it’s convenient, please consider supporting local and independent bookstores!)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Don’t knock it — this was absolutely my favorite book as a kid, and the one I always wanted to read after a rough day. Fun fact: I can still recite the whole book from memory (though I sometimes muddle up Saturday).

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

When I was in 4th grade, my mom recommended I read this for a book report, and frankly I didn’t want to. I reluctantly started it, and didn’t put it down for the next four days. This book is one of the first that made me not just fall in love with stories, but with words, in addition to igniting my love of all things C. S. Lewis.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

To be honest, this book isn’t particularly high on my list of favorites. But it had a lasting impact on me, and one that I only realized the extent of later. Stargirl is flawed and thoughtful and leaves an impression, and showed me all the potential of quiet, everyday magic.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

History has rarely afforded us the preservation of firsthand accounts from any besides the most powerful, and this slim autobiography is honest, harsh, and hopeful — it implores the reader to open their eyes, and deepened my dedication to looking for stories and perspectives beyond my own. (Also y’all, this one is $1.62 on Amazon right now — pick it up if you haven’t read it.)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This remains my favorite book in the world, and no other book has caught me the same way. The narration is striking, the story is poignant, and it talks about things we can’t imagine in a way that is surprisingly, hauntingly familiar.

Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis

This books dances on the line between essays and fiction, but it helped teach me how to view life— in all its pain and pulchritude — as even more wondrous. The book talks about prayer while not shying away from any questions or challenges that might arise.

It’s also worth noting that books are by no means the only thing worth reading. Newspapers have taught me more than I could possibly put into words, magazines have been a consistent source of ideas and inspiration, and comic books tell far more true and relevant stories than we often give them credit for. There’s something to learn everywhere you can find words to read. What stories have impacted you most? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

*The book is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell if you’re interested — he’s one of my favorite nonfiction authors.

Debunking dream jobs

Although I doubt it comes as a surprise, your first job more than likely isn’t going to be your dream job (and if it is, it’s really likely that your dream is going to change). Most emerging adults these days are more than aware of that fact, and a job at all is great, while a job in one’s field is pretty sweet.

My very first “real job” (aka not babysitting) was working at the call center at my college. I worked part time in the evenings calling potential donors, and it sucked. My co-workers were great, but asking a bunch of people who usually didn’t want to be bothered to give money over the phone usually isn’t a recipe for a fun experience. Sometimes people would be kind or chat for a bit, some people would be irritable or angry, and sometimes the computer would accidentally dial a fax machine and an insanely loud tone would blare through the headset. Understandably, I didn’t stay there super long.

My first paid full-time job is the one I’m in now. It is, thankfully, infinitely better than the call center. Pay is good, I like my co-workers, and the work is something I’m both skilled at and decently enjoy. But like any job, it’s not perfect. My desk is in a weird spot and my work is super feast or famine — I’ll be slammed with a bunch of assignments, and then may have nothing come my way for multiple hours. I still do side jobs now and then for the extra income, and I honestly have no idea how long I want to stay in this role.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a job I’m both happy with and super grateful for — but dream job? Like any other little kid, growing up I went through a host of jobs I thought I wanted to do when I grew up, from waitress to teacher to writer to grocery store bagger (and yes, the last one is for real). But here’s the thing: Just like how what a little kid wants to be when they grow up often changes, your dream job can and probably will change as an adult too.

One of the most noticeable differences in terms of career with today’s emerging adults when compared to generations past is that we don’t start working with one company and then stay there for 40 or 10 or sometimes even 2 years. Today’s culture means each of us will likely change jobs and even career paths multiple times. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person will hold more than 11 jobs in their lifetime. That’s kind of a lot. But the moral of the story is simple. Don’t freak out if you don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Don’t freak out if your first job isn’t the dream. And don’t freak out if your dream changes over time. (Are you sensing a trend here?)

In his book Outliers, which is about what patterns contributes to success, Malcolm Gladwell explains that there are three necessary characteristics for meaningful work: complexity, autonomy, and a clear relationship between effort and reward.

Not every job out there is going to fulfill all those things for you. And a job that does for one person may not for another; you are perfectly allowed to have your cup of tea. But if you’re still trying to navigate jobs and career paths — which in truth, is most of us — it can be a really helpful tool to see if the work will feel meaningful while being less intimidating (and less potentially misleading) than “Is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?”

Try some stuff you’re good at. If you’re still in college, take classes or do internships in things that interest you. Do research online. If you know exactly what you want to do, awesome. But if you’re still figuring it out, or realize what you want to do has changed, that’s totally okay. I still love bagging my own groceries, but that’s no longer my career aspiration, ya know? I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear any feedback you have in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!