schirin oeding

under a peregrine star


Are You Twenty-Something?

Is it the Yellow Brick Road?

Are you walking the Yellow Brick Road?

I came across psychologist Meg Jay’s TED Talk  (Why 30 is not the new 20) a while back and didn’t watch it. Instead, I started reading the comments viewers had posted after watching the talk. I was intrigued. Mostly because, being a twenty-something myself, I am always curious to see how other members of my generation view themselves, their roles in society, what they do or do not take responsibility for, what they dream about, who they want to be, how they see the world. Responses ranged from absolute enthusiasm for Jay’s message, to complete disappointment at her apparent oversimplification of life’s struggles and challenges and her status-quo attitude. I went ahead and watched the talk, and found myself agreeing with a lot of what Jay had to say—at least on some level. I suggest watching the video, but I’ll give you a short recap here: Jay urges twenty-somethings to “reclaim adulthood in the defining decade of their lives.” She goes through the list of post-secondary education, work, relationships/marriage/kids, geographic location, social life, and so forth. She suggests that my generation stop waiting around for some decisive push toward getting a life, and instead, start living it now. And anyway, it seems that, from her perspective, that decisive push (to commit to a career one doesn’t even want, or stay with someone one isn’t even sure about, or settle somewhere one doesn’t even want to be) is often a misconstrued fear of “hitting thirty” and having “nothing” to show for it.

Yes: she oversimplifies. But something about her oversimplifications is refreshing; she is frank and practical, and speaks from personal experiences and encounters. And still, she omits and ignores some big topics. Her twenty-something life plan leaves out the myriad alternative paths many of us are taking. Of course, I don’t expect her to give an overview of options that run the gamut from (insert fabulous dream job here) to (insert another one here). Right? But still, it’s important for us to remember that these paths exist, and that they are just as valid as a so-called traditional path. Because any of us, no matter what age, could end up doing one of those  bracketed things, or, most likely, even a few. And many of us will do so successfully. We shouldn’t have to measure ourselves purely against the success of that imaginary traditional life that many of us can’t or don’t want to live.

The debate about twenty-somethings has been a ongoing one. It hits home with many of us who, at the age in question, are equally elated and energized by the options we seek for ourselves, and frightened by all the possibilities we get to choose from. Are we lucky to have so many options? Or is much of the inherent twenty-something energy being burned off in an aimless search for meaning? Do we have so much time to find our purpose that we somehow actually get more lost along the way? Or does the unhurried development of our dreams and plans actually fuel them toward manifestation? I don’t know. What I do know is that it is a huge privilege to be able to stop and ask those questions at all. And, in a sense, knowing this is enough of an answer for me.

I get an immense sense of satisfaction from the successes of my twenty-something friends. Sometimes I feel like gloating a little bit, because they are so brilliant and talented. Sometimes I feel like waving the 2012 Time Magazine cover (which yes, refers specifically to the millenial generation) in someone’s face and telling them about all the great and selfless things twenty-somethings have done. (And why they’ll save us…!)


But of course, a lot of people my age are wasting their time and those resources they are lucky to have. I don’t want to make apologies for them. I know a few myself; most of them have never made any big decision in their lives. Most of them grew up with people who made decisions for them. I guess I could say, “Who’s to blame here?”, but I don’t want to go down that road. Part of growing up (yup, it’s unavoidable) is learning to take responsibility. And learning it is, I know that for sure. As for choosing what to do with ones life, I like what Aristotle apparently said on the subject:

Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.

PS— Quite a few people have written very eloquent, thoughtful responses to Meg Jay’s TED Talk. They explore all the angles I haven’t touched on above, and there are many, and they are all worth taking a look at. Here are a few that stood out: