We’ve always been told that our 20’s are our golden years — a decade of infinite time, exploration, and freedom. Despite society’s optimism however, I couldn’t help but feel a bit deceived when I first heard this. I’m almost 25, and I’m living with a staggering amount of anxiety and uncertainty. After applying to countless full-time positions only to be rejected, working part-time jobs for little to no pay, and dating guys only interested in hooking up, I (sort-of) gave up. I don’t know if my life will work out, and I don’t know what to do, but I’m sure as hell hoping that everything will magically figure itself out by the time I’m 30.
And I know I’m not alone. Many of my fellow 20-somethings feel stuck as well.
We wait for that “lightning bolt of intuition” and pray that the right retreat or the right conversation will reveal who we truly are. We overanalyze all the choices in front of us, fearing that if we decide too soon we’ll close the door on all the other wonderful opportunities in front of us and possibly make a life-altering mistake.
After reading Dr. Meg Jay’s book, The Defining Decade, I realized that our 20’s may be our golden years, but they are also the most transformative period of our adult lives. Dr. Jay gave my generation a good kick in the ass to get our s**t together when it comes to our work and love lives. By not making decisions and acting on them, she claims we’re making the biggest mistake of all because we’re thinking our way through life rather than doing.
And indeed, our 20’s are flying right by us.
Regardless of the hand we’ve been dealt – the Great Recession, Artificial Intelligence, Underemployment, and Hook-Up Culture — we must stay the course to reclaim our lives. Here is an in-depth look at the two main factors 20-somethings are struggling with in these golden years of our 20’s…
During our 20’s, many of us encounter an identity crisis relating to our careers. In today’s era, it’s totally normal for 20-somethings to be underemployed at one time or another. Many work part-time or get stuck in positions they’re overqualified for, not only to hold themselves over financially, but also to provide valuable identity capital.
“Identity capital is our repertoire of individual resources that we assemble over time. These are the investments we make in ourselves, the things we do well enough — or long enough — that become a part of who we are. It is the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs and relationships and the other things we want,” explains Dr. Jay.
Crisis and capital go hand-in-hand. Whether you’re currently working part-time as a social media manager, full-time research assistant, or applying to grad school, this type of underemployment simultaneously provides us with the financial support we need as well as the identity capital to bring us one step closer towards our dream careers.
However, it’s important to note that not all underemployment is a means to an end. According to Dr. Jay, “A degree from a university followed by too many unexplained retail and coffee-shop gigs looks backward. Those sorts of jobs can hurt our resumés and even our lives.” She goes on to explain that this can often be a defense mechanism, such as denial or a fear of failure, entrapping us permanently in our comfort zone.
Dr. Jay suggests networking outside of your close group of friends. Ground-breaking research by Mark Granovetter entitled, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” found that most people find jobs through contacts who they see occasionally or rarely. Why is that? According to sociologist, Rose Coser, our strong ties (like close friends and family members) feel comfortable and familiar, but other than that, they may have little to offer. Weak ties (like distant friends or acquaintances) give us access to something fresh. They know things and people we don’t know, spreading information and opportunity faster. So sign into your LinkedIn and reach out to an old friend. Who knows, you might just land the job of your dreams!
20-somethings spend more time single than any other generation in history, living it up with many different friends and lovers before finally settling down, thinking we have all the time in the world for partnership and marriage. Although 20-somethings make marriage and partnership seem passé thanks to the now mainstream lens of hook-up culture, we all crave real companionship deep down.
Perhaps we put off commitment because we realize marriage is a defining moment. With just one decision, our spouse becomes our forever partner in money, work, lifestyle, family, health, retirement, and even death.
By postponing commitment, we believe we can outrun a bad marriage and divorce… but it’s not that easy. Instead, we lose out on precious relationships that teach us about our non-negotiable needs with our eventual partner.
Although some of us put off commitment to enjoy our freedom, others stay in relationships that they know are no longer suiting to their needs because of the cohabitation effect. “Cohabitation is loaded with setup and switching costs, the basic ingredients of lock-in. Moving in together can be fun and economical. Couples happily split the rent on a nice one-bedroom apartment, share Wi-Fi and pets, and later, these setup costs have an effect on how likely we are to leave,” claims Dr. Jay. Many of us end up staying in these unfulfilling relationships even if our partners don’t share our common interests simply because we perceive the costs of leaving and starting over as greater (and scarier) than staying! “We sometimes hear that opposites attract, and maybe they do for a hookup,” says Dr. Jay, “but more often, similarity is the essence of compatibility.”
As 20-somethings it’s up to us to take and learn as much as we can. We can’t let fear stop us. If we don’t act now, the same problems may catch up to us in our 30’s and 40’s… and we’re pretty sure we’re supposed to have it all figured out by then.
Madeline Plucinska is a 200-Hour Registered Yoga Teacher, Soundbath Meditation Practitioner, and aspiring Holistic Psychologist in the New York Metropolitan area. She strongly believes movement is not only medicine for the body, but therapeutic for the mind. Cultivating her passion for yoga, psychology, and wellness, her purpose is to bridge the gap between Western and Eastern Psychology, inspiring individuals to tap into their intuition and create the life they desire. Madeline has a B.A. in Psychology and Environmental Science from Franklin University, Switzerland. In her free time, she loves to travel, cook delicious plant-based meals, and write. Check out her blog for wellness inspo at madelineplucinska.com or connect with her on Instagram at @madeline.plucinska.