I originally wrote this post in May of last year but I was re-reading it last night & realized how relevant it still is, so I thought I’d share it here where it might garner a larger audience. Additionally I’ve added in a few new thoughts here & there.
This morning I logged onto Facebook & saw that one of my friends had posted a link to a Ted talk by a psychologist named Meg Jay. The topic of the talk was “Why 30 Is Not the New 20.” Intrigued, I clicked the link, saw that it was a 14 minute video, & almost said “Nah, not worth my time.” Thankfully I decided to give it a listen because it turned out to be one of the most motivational talks I have ever heard. In fact I loved her message so much that I found myself taking notes so that I could summarize it & share it with my friends, some of whom might be more inclined to read a synopsis rather than watch the video. Below I have listed Meg’s three main points & described them as best as I can, inserting my own thoughts here & there. Anything in quotes is directly from Meg’s talk.
1. “Forget about having an identity crisis & invest in identity capital.” Kind of like good deeds beget good deeds, “identity capital begets identity capital.” Identity capital is something that defines you & helps you accomplish the career, dream, or goal you want to achieve. Identity capital can be volunteering in your community, taking on a challenging internship, going back to school, or a million other things. The point is that if you want to achieve your goals in life (which by the way you SHOULD have actual goals), you HAVE to take specific steps to make them happen. Nobody becomes a doctor or a rock star or an NFL player just by talent or luck. Every dream takes hard work & intentional steps to make it a reality. Small steps, no matter how inconsequential they may seem, are better than doing nothing at all & ending up in your 40’s or 50’s & wondering “what if?”
(Since writing this original post, I’ve taken the step of starting this blog so I can chase my dream of becoming a writer someday.)
2. Don’t limit your circle of friends to people just like you. New jobs & opportunities & even significant others can be met through “weak ties.” Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to your friends’ parents or your neighbors or to hang out with people of a different generation. Quite often you can learn a lot from these people & you just never know where that crucial connection will be made. If you only hang around people of your own age & social “class,” for lack of a better term, you will never challenge yourself & may very well end up stuck in the same old rut forever.
I know I met some of my best friends in college through other lesser friends or just by saying hi to someone who sat near me in class. Additionally some of my best friends in Raleigh are 30 years older than me, but I feel as close to them as I do to many of my friends my own age.
3. Here’s the one that resonates the most with me. “The time to start picking your family is now.” It has often been said “You can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends.” As a child & teenager this is true. But when you become an adult you DO choose your family. In modern America anyway, we no longer have arranged marriages so, yes, we actually DO have the privilege & responsibility of choosing our own families. How awesome is that? Just remember, “grabbing whoever you’re living with or sleeping with at the time just because everyone on Facebook is walking down the aisle is NOT progress.” “The best time to start working on your marriage is before you have one. Be as intentional with love as you are with work.” Don’t just “make it work or kill time” with whoever happens to be there at the time. It has been said that “love in your 20’s is often like musical chairs, & when people hit 30 it seems like everyone is sitting down (read: settling down) so people just sit down with (read: marry) whatever ‘chair’ happens to be there at the moment. WRONG!!”
I know I may have little room to talk since I have no idea what it is like to be 30 & single but common sense dictates that this is a bad idea. So many girls (& guys) in their 20’s say “Well, no, I wouldn’t marry this person I’m dating right now but this relationship doesn’t count. I’m only in my 20’s. I’m nowhere near ready to settle down.” On the surface this sounds ok but you have to realize that the patterns you are setting ARE patterns. If you get in a habit of “just settling” for whoever happens to be around, how will you ever know when you really meet “the one?” Consider that by cheapening your own standards, you may also cheapen yourself. I hate to sound like an old fart, but it’s true. This goes for both sexes, so don’t think I’m just talking to the ladies here. Additionally, the behavior you put up with is the behavior you will get. As I mentioned in my blog post last week, one of my favorite books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, eloquently puts it like this: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” If you accept bad behavior from yourself or others for long enough, it will become your norm & you won’t even realize you’re being mistreated. If you truly want a serious relationship, have enough self-respect not to spend the most valuable thing you have, your time, on someone who doesn’t really care about you (or who you don’t even really care about). After all none of us is promised tomorrow. There is no guarantee any of us will make it to 30 or 40 or 80. Thus, there is truly no such thing as “throwaway” years.
To further expound on this point, may I interject a few personal stories & say that walking down the aisle in a fancy dress & saying “I do” does NOT change anything. If you have serious problems in your relationship before you’re married, surprise, surprise: they do NOT just disappear. Now I know from experience that in the weeks leading up to our wedding, my husband & I fought a lot more than usual because we were both stressed & worried about the wedding, not so much the marriage itself but just the wedding day. Neither of us likes being the center of attention & we just had no idea what to expect because neither of us had even been to a wedding for almost four years, much less been closely involved with planning a wedding. The whole experience was new to us so of course it was stressful, & naturally there were times when we took it out on each other. However, as soon as the wedding was over, those fights disappeared because that source of stress was gone. But the little every-day things that we do that annoy each other didn’t suddenly go away. Of course not. People don’t change just because there are rings on their fingers. Duh. But we were very happy together & very committed to each other long before we were actually married so very little really changed after we got married. And that is how we wanted it. (In my mind you should have a marriage-like relationship before getting married or else you probably shouldn’t be making that kind of serious commitment anyway. Just my opinion, I know, but I think there’s some wisdom behind it.)
The only major changes in our relationship after marriage were due to life events that really had nothing to do with being married. First we had to deal with my brand new nursing career which was certainly stressful; then when I finally felt like I was on top of my game with that, my husband finished his master’s degree & we decided to move to a new state & into an urban environment with a totally different culture than anything we’d ever experienced. A week after we moved, I started my new job which was pretty challenging at times, & then my husband was unemployed for four months while he searched for a job. He finally got his dream job & very shortly afterward we decided to buy a house. Now THAT was a stressful experience but one we’re very glad we endured. Throughout this past year we have also lost quite a few loved ones including my husband’s two remaining grandparents & a special uncle of mine.
Overall, most of the changes in our lives in the past two years since we got married, especially in the past year, have been good things, but change is still stressful, no matter what it is. I don’t know that being married has necessarily made these changes easier or more difficult but if we’d had serious relationship problems, whether married or not, we likely wouldn’t have made it through all these things. The point of all this is, just because all your friends are getting married or you start thinking about having a family, don’t just settle when it comes to choosing a partner & potential father/mother of your future kids. Whether you end up getting married or just deciding to be life partners without the formal marriage designation (which, by the way, I really don’t think is a bad thing), you are going to face a lot of challenges & changes in life, & you definitely need to be with the right person or it’s going to be hell. I can’t imagine marrying someone who wasn’t my best friend.
Listening to Meg’s talk made me realize how proud I am of myself for making such good use of my 20’s, what she calls quite accurately “the defining decade.” I know a lot of my success is rooted in having great parents who pushed me to do well in school, have a successful career, & always do my best at everything I attempt in life. I also know that to a certain extent I got “lucky” in meeting my husband at such a young age & by getting a full scholarship to college. But I didn’t get that scholarship without working really hard in high school to qualify for it, & I certainly didn’t graduate college with a 4.0 by just being smart. I worked my butt off for that. (Sometimes I wish I’d focused less on grades but that’s a post for another day.) My husband and I also haven’t maintained our relationship over all these years without a lot of effort from both of us. I love the fact that our relationship has always felt so natural, not at all forced, but at the same time life is hard & relationships are work at times. You get out of life what you put into it & the same is true for relationships of course. So, yes, I have a lot of people to thank for contributing to my success in life, but I also know that a lot of it is due to the decisions I have made. Life IS what you make it & I’m very proud of myself for being a mid 20’s RN, wife, & homeowner. I do NOT mean to imply that you aren’t successful if you don’t have a great career, aren’t married, or don’t own a house at this point in your life. OF COURSE NOT. Everyone’s timeline is different, as well it should be. But I do encourage everyone who is in their 20’s to make good use of this time in your life. Don’t wait till you’re 30 to be serious about chasing your dreams & start making good decisions.
I am also proud to say that when I think about my close friends, they are all making good use of their 20’s also. Some of them have accomplished amazing things that I can’t imagine ever doing. Wow, I really know some awesome people who inspire me daily. You guys know who you are & you rock!
If this came off as preachy or condescending, forgive me. That is not how I meant it at all. I’ve just talked about my own experiences because that is all I have to go on. I found this talk so inspiring & I wanted to share it with my friends so that you too may be inspired to make good use of your 20’s (or whatever decade you’re in). It’s never too late to chase your dreams, but it’s a whole lot easier if you start young.
Here’s the link to Meg’s talk if you want to listen to it: http://www.ted.com/talks/meg_jay_why_30_is_not_the_new_20.html?source=facebook#.UaLw1lonQoU.facebook