Don’t Let Someone Else Write the Script of Your Life: Make Your Twenties Matter
There are just too many choices when you are in your twenties. When you are young your choices feel unlimited. When you are away from your parents, out of college, unmarried with no children; there is nothing stopping you from traveling the world, moving across the country, pursuing a career that you always dreamed of or dyeing your hair 15 different colors or starting a business from your living room.
Life is full of choices and you will be making decisions in your 30s, 40s and 50s. Nonetheless the choices you make in your 20s create the foundation for the life you are building.
I am not saying this to freak you out and run screaming from the computer screen. But you have to recognize that making thoughtful choices now will set you up for the future you want.
Here are some questions that are probably going through your mind right now:
“But why now!!! I’m young, I’m smart, I have no obligations, why ruin a good thing by getting some corporate job or a long-term girlfriend?”
Dr. Meg Jay who in her book “The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter-and how to make the most of them now” says, “being confused about choices is nothing more than hoping that maybe there is a way to get through life without taking charge.” The longer you wait to start that career, to engage in interesting, meaningful relationships, to work on some of your mental health issues, the less choices you will have and ultimately your options will get smaller.
“But these are supposed to be the best years of my life!”
Well, I hate to tell you this but there are no “best years of your life.” There will certainly be tough years, years full of life changes, years that feel fast and years that feel slow, but no one year or years are going to be “the best.” Trying to make your 20s the “best, most absolute amazing time of your life” is putting a lot of pressure on yourself. This just creates more confusion and may even make you feel even more stuck because you are waiting to have this amazing time before your life can begin.
“OK so I know I need to make some choices but I just can’t.”
Why are making decisions and choices so difficult? There is a well known study called “The Jam Experiment.” This experiment was conducted by a researched from Sanford University who wanted to learn more about how people make choices. The researcher sent out her assistants to a local grocery store and had them pose as jam suppliers. One table was set up with 6 different flavors of jam to taste and the other table there were 24 flavors of jam to taste. Customers at both tables were allowed to taste the jams and then could use a coupon to buy a jar of jam at a lower cost.
The researcher found that while more people were attracted to the table with 24 flavors, it resulted in fewer buyers. Shoppers flocked to the wide arrange of options but mostly became overwhelmed and dropped out of buying anything. Only 3% of those shoppers bought a jar of jam. On the other hand, the shoppers who visited the table with 6 flavors of jam, bought 30% of the time. That’s a big difference. While lots of choices gets lots of attention, it is not always a good thing. For example, if you are trying to make a decision about which career to pursue right now, you are better off trying to narrow the choices down.
“But what if I make a decision and then I find out I’m wrong?”
This is a common concern for young people. You are afraid that you will make a choice about your career and find that 5 years from now you are in a line of work that you hate. That could happen. It happens more than you think. The reality is that is there is no magic when it comes to make choices. A vision is not going to come to you in the middle of the night. The big “aha” moments you read and hear about are few and far between in life. Most likely you will get your clues on what choices to make in small and subtle ways.
You have made a million choices and decisions for yourself up until now. You have chosen the kinds of friends you have, your clothes, your hobbies, the food you eat, your college and major, and the list goes on. These are all clues to who you are. You know what you like and what you don’t like. If you hate math and have never done well in math – well you can cross off future CPA from your potential career list. If you love fresh air and hiking – my guess is that taking a job in New York City would not make you very happy. Get the idea?
If you are having a hard time making a particular decision or choice right now, think about your strengths, your likes, your dislikes, what makes you happy, what creates anxiety for you, etc. Stop thinking in terms of what you think your 20s are “supposed” to look like and start to think about what you need to do today to create meaning in your life today and guide you to a future that feels hopeful.