Why 30 Is Not the New 20

I just heard a great TED talk “Why 30 Is Not the New 20,” by Meg Jay, Ph.D. Dr. Jay, who is a clinical psychologist and author of the book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them Now, believes it’s a huge mistake for young adults in their twenties to think that they have all the time in the world to start their real lives. The decade that seems to be all about postponing careers, postponing marriage and postponing childbearing is evolving into an extension of childhood, yet according to Dr. Jay, the twenties are not only the pivotal decade of a person’s life, but claiming your 20s “is one of the simplest, yet most transformative, things you can do for work, for love, for your happiness, maybe even for the world.”

Why are the twenties the pivotal decade of a young woman’s life? Dr. Jay gives the following research statistics: eight out of ten “aha” moments that make your life what it is have happened by the time you’re 35. More than half of Americans are married or are dating their future partner by 30. The first ten years of a career has an exponential impact on how much money you’re going to earn. Female fertility peaks at age 28 and things get tricky after age 35. She concludes, “So your 20s are the time to educate yourself about your body and your options.”

As in all things, there were parts of the talk that I disagreed with. For instance, when she says, “We know that the brain caps off its second and last growth spurt in your 20s as it rewires itself for adulthood,” I beg to differ. Brain research on the Transcendental Meditation technique shows that IQ continues to grow even in adults who are practicing the TM technique. Learning is truly a lifelong endeavor, with the brain changing, adapting, and growing new neuronal connections, and women who meditate can actually pick up more creativity and smarts as you age.

And it also occurs to me that maybe it’s not such a bad thing that young women are spending more time living at home after graduating from college. Research shows that the prefrontal cortex—the CEO of the brain, the part that is involved with decision-making—does not fully come online until age 25. So maybe young people need to be more dependent on their parents until then. And then there are the statistics on divorce. Women who marry early, in their teens and early twenties, have much higher divorce rates than people who marry later, according to the 2008 American Community Survey. Getting an education and postponing marriage until the late twenties is statistically a safer way to choose a partner who will last for life.

Of course, I’m three decades past my own twenties, and things have changed dramatically since the 1970s, when I was young. I have friends with twenty-something children who are college graduates and are having trouble kick-starting their careers. With the economy making it difficult to find jobs, many twentysomethings are cycling back home to live. That was the last thing my friends and I wanted to do when we were in our twenties, and we didn’t have to. There were jobs for college graduates, and most people I knew didn’t have much trouble getting started in a career.

However, I was a person who postponed my “real” career of teaching children to learn how to teach meditation instead. My parents were terribly worried that I was throwing my life away. I remember my father asking, “How are you going to support yourself? And where are you going to meet a husband who is a vegetarian and likes to meditate?” He had a point—there weren’t that many people who were interested in those pursuits back in the 1970s.

But all along, I was developing skills that helped me to become a healthier and more balanced person. In my late 20s I earned a master’s degree and a position on the faculty of Maharishi University of Management, a fully accredited university where the staff, faculty and students improve their learning potential by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day. Thus my two teaching careers merged, and I met my husband while a graduate student as well (and he liked to meditate and eat healthy foods, just like me). So sometimes those detours take you where you actually want to end up in life. And I think ultimately that’s what Dr. Jay was talking about—figure out what you want in life and start taking steps toward it.

So I agree with Dr. Jay—it’s better not to think that any part of your life is a throwaway, a holding station, a place to mark time until real life begins. This human body is a precious thing. Having been given such a remarkable gift, we should do everything we can to develop our minds, our bodies and our spirits for our own happiness and to make the world a better place. That’s a practical plan for any age.

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

More Posts by Linda