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Meg Jay: Why 30 is Not the New 20

Oh, this post is going to make some people mad!

It made me mad. Meg Jay, psychologist and author of “The Defining Decade” wants you to believe that success and happiness will pass you by if you don’t have your career and spouse nailed down before you turn 30.

Come on.

Her Ted Talk was hard for me to watch because I want to think that life provides countless opportunities to reinvent yourself. It has many chapters. Why do you need to have everything figured out in your 20s?

Here’s why:

Doors start to close the longer you wait. Your status as a prodigy begins to erode. Leadership qualities among 20-year olds are extraordinary. By 35, they’re expected. The things you do in your 20s, and the contacts you make, can set you up for an explosive career and better quality of life. Hold onto the early mover advantage.

If you don’t watch the whole 14-minute Ted Talk, watch 5:40-7:00 starting with the Leonard Bernstein quote: “To achieve great things you need a plan and not quite enough time.”

So what should you be doing in your 20s? Three things:

1. Decide what and who are worth your time. Jay is on to something with “exploration versus procrastination.” The days that you’re the boss of your own time are fleeting. Down the road, you’ll need to make choices between family, work, personal interests, etc.  Now is when you’re free to take risks, to travel, gamble on a start-up or learn a new hobby… all in the name of exploration and developing your “personal brand.”

2. Build your personal brand. This is who you want to be when you grow up. What you like and what you stand for. What you post about on Facebook. If you want to run your own social media consultancy, have a supportive family, and take a month off every summer to travel, start laying the groundwork now. What do you need to do to become that person? What things are consistent with your personal brand and what are distractions? Be ambitious and edit ruthlessly.

3. Recognize life-changing moments. Half the battle is being convicted about your goals and pursuing activities and friendships that will help you achieve them. If you’re doing stuff that’s meaningful to you rather than “kicking the can down the road,” as Jay says, you’ll inevitably put yourself in situations or stumble on opportunities that will be life-defining. Run towards the difficult decisions.

Advice for college grads and 30-somethings!

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