Thirty is the new 20! It’s a sentiment that’s become a catchphrase and for good reason. My 30 is very different than my mom’s 30. On average, we are more educated, we are more career driven, we are getting married as well as having kids later, if at all, and we are more likely to be unapologetically us. In many ways, we are more free spirited. Is the newfound freeness why people say 30 is the new 20?
As someone who looked forward to 30, the thought of getting a second go-round of my 20s was not on the wish list. There are certainly some experiences I wish I wouldn’t have missed out on, but I don’t think that is the decade I will look back on and think “oh to be 20 again.”
So when I ran across Meg Jay’s TED talk “Why 30 is Not the New 20,” I was immediately intrigued. I don’t agree with everything Meg said. However, her talk gave me a new perspective and appreciation for my time as a 20-something.
Meg talks about the trap of being a 20-something. You know, feeling like you have all the time in the world. A sentiment that is often confirmed by the people around you proclaiming, “Don’t worry. You’re young.” A sentiment that can leave a 30-something looking back and contemplating, “What was I thinking and doing?”
At 30, I feel like I have lived a full life. My 20s were rocky; the true definition of a rollercoaster. I lived in a different city almost every year of that decade. I loved and lost a lot. My morals were tested. My character was tested. Everything I was and everything I thought I would be challenged. My identity, in many ways, shattered. But when I look back, I know what I was doing. I was building. I was chasing future me.
At some point, 20 became the ‘it-doesn’t-count’ decade. But that mindset can be detrimental. It implies that the present has no consequential correlation to the future. It leads to people making the same mistakes over and over. And we don’t realize we’re repeating non-beneficial behaviors because we think there aren’t any current day lessons to be learned. This mindset sends the message that our actions are a result of youth instead of a result of who we are.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re all dumb and young at some point. We do things because we simply don’t know any better. But HOW you respond during that phase is a direct correlation of who you are or who you’re fighting to be. We don’t just magically grow out of most things. More often than not, we LEARN our way out of things.
Furthermore, if the decade of 20 doesn’t count, how is anyone supposed to have it together, or close to together, in their 30s? Society praises unencumbered 20-year-olds but frowns upon unfettered, non-committed 30-year-olds.
This mindset has left so many 30-somethings looking back with frustration. Some still unsure of who they are or who they want to be. Others working jobs instead of pursuing careers. Many lost but desperately pretending to be put together. Can you imagine what 40 would look like if they relived their 20s as 30-somethings?
Just because adolescence ends at the age of 21 doesn’t mean that our development is complete. In fact Meg defines the 20s as a period of “adult development” and refers to it as a “developmental sweet spot.” She also informs us that the “brain goes through it’s second and last growth spurt in the 20s.” These sentiments sound very similar to those describing various parts of childhood development. Yet, we don’t leave it to kids to just figure it all out on their own. We teach kids how to read and tie their shoes. We tell them why they should eat a balanced diet and play. Can you imagine society adopting a “just let them be” mentality with children?
Meg also argues “80% of life’s most defining moments take place by age 25.” So with adolescence extended to 21, most of our life’s defining moments happening by 25, a mental growth spurt and significant personality changes, how does your 20s not count? And why would we want 30 to be the new 20? What is the price of that kind of freedom? And if you don’t know who you are and what you want out of life, are you really free?
I am grateful to have made it to 30. And while there are still many lessons to learn, mistakes to be made and fun to be had, I’m looking forward to doing so in a very different way.
My 20-something self did things just because.
My 30-something self does things because there is purpose.
My 20-something self loved with reckless abandon.
My 30-something self loves with intention.
My 20-something self lived on a macro level.
My 30-something self lives on a micro level.
When you treat 30 like it’s the new 20, you spend your time being complacent. You set yourself up to take steps backward instead of propelling you forward. You do things because they’re comfortable and recognizable.
Yes, that quarter-life crisis was real. So use it for its purpose! It’s time to have a new crisis and a new challenge, and more importantly, it’s time to handle it in a different way. Make your 20s count by being the better version of you for which your 20-something self sacrificed.