The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now

As we age, we feel less like leaves and more like trees. We have roots that ground us and sturdy trunks that may sway, but don't break, in the wind.

Being confused about choices is nothing more than hoping that maybe there is a way to get through life without taking charge.

But twentysomethings who hide out in underemployment, especially those who are hiding out because of a lack of confidence, are not serving themselves.

But while the urban tribe helps us survive, it does not help us thrive. The urban tribe may bring us soup when we are sick, but it is the people we hardly know - those who never make it into our tribe - who will swiftly and dramatically change our lives for the better.

Confidence doesn't come from the inside out. It moves from the outside in. People feel less anxious--and more confident--on the inside when they can point to things they have done well on the outside. Fake confidence comes from stuffing our self-doubt. Empty confidence comes from parental platitudes on our lunch hour. Real confidence comes from mastery experiences, which are actual, lived moments of success, especially when things seem difficult. Whether we are talking about love or work, the confidence that overrides insecurity comes from experience. There is no other way.

Doing something later is not automatically the same as doing something better

Feeling better doesn’t come from avoiding adulthood, it comes from investing in adulthood.

Forget about having an identity crisis and get some identity capital. … Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that's an investment in who you might want to be next.

For the most part, "naturals" are myths. People who are especially good at something may have some innate inclination, or some particular talent, but they have also spent about ten thousand hours practicing or doing that thing.

Forward thinking doesn't just come with age. It comes with practice and experience. That's why some twenty-two-year-olds are incredibly self-possessed, future-oriented people who already know how to face the unknown, while some thirty-four-year-olds still have brains that run the other way.

Goals have been called the building blocks of adult personality, and it is worth considering that who you will be in your thirties and beyond is being built out of goals you are setting for yourself today.

How do you get the happy ending? John Irving ought to know. One of my favorite authors, Irving writes these multigenerational epics of fiction that somehow work out in the end. How does he do it? He says, 'I always begin with the last sentence ; then I work my way backwards, through the plot, to where the story should begin.' Thst sounds like a lot of work, especially compared to the fantasy that great writers sit down and just go where the story takes them. Irving lets us know that good stories and happy endings are more intentional than that.

Most 20 something's can't write the last sentence of their lives. But when pressed, they usually can identify things they want in their 30s or 40s or 60s -or things they don't want- and work backward from there. This is how you have your own multigenerational epic with a happy ending. This is how you live your life in real time.

Ian pretended that not knowing what to do was the hard part when, somewhere inside, I think he knew that making a choice about something is when the real uncertainty begins. The more terrifying uncertainty is wanting something and not knowing how to get it. It is working toward something even though there is no sure thing. When we make choices, we open ourselves up to hard work and failure and heartbreak, so sometimes it feels easier not to know, not to choose, and not to do.

If the first step in establishing a professional identity is claiming our interests and talents, then the next step is claiming a story about our interests and talents, a narrative we can take with us to interviews and coffee dates (...) a story that balances complexity and cohesion is frankly, diagnostic.

In one way or another, almost every twentysomething client I have wonders, 'Will things work out for me?' The uncertainty behind that question is what makes twentysomething life so difficult, but it is also what makes twentysomething action so possible and so necessary. It's unsettling to not know the future and, in a way, even more daunting to consider that what we are doing with our twentysomething lives might be determining it.

It’s the people we hardly know, and not our closest friends, who will improve our lives most dramatically

I wasn't scared of losing my past. i was scared of losing my future.

Knowing what to overlook is one way older adults are typically wiser than young adults. With age comes what is known as "positivity effect". We become more interested in positive information, and our brains react less strongly to what negative information we do encounter.

Many twentysomethings assume life will come together quickly after thirty, and maybe it will. But it is still going to be a different life. We imagine that if nothing happens in our twenties then everything is still possible in our thirties. We think that by avoiding decisions now, we keep all of our options open for later—but not making choices is a choice all the same.

Our 20s are the defining decade of adulthood. 80% of life's most defining moments take place by about age 35. 2/3 of lifetime wage growth happens during the first ten years of a career. More than half of Americans are married or are dating or living with their future partner by age 30. Personality can change more during our 20s than at any other decade in life. Female fertility peaks at 28. The brain caps off its last major growth spurt. When it comes to adult development, 30 is not the new 20. Even if you do nothing, not making choices is a choice all the same. Don't be defined by what you didn't know or didn't do.

Our twenties can be like living beyond time. When we graduate from school, we leave behind the only lives we have ever known, ones that have been neatly packaged in semester-sized chunks with goals nestled within. Suddenly, life opens up and the syllabi are gone. There are days and weeks and months and years, but no clear way to know when or why any one thing should happen. It can be a disorienting, cave-like existence. As one twentysomething astutely put it, "The twentysomething years are a whole new way of thinking about time. There's this big chunk of time and a whole bunch of stuff that needs to happen somehow.

[Society] is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on the decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness.

The Ben Franklin Effect: If weak ties do favors for us, they start to like us. Then they become even more likely to grant us additional favors in the future. Franklin decided that if he wanted to get someone in his side, he ought to ask for a favor. And he did.

The Great Recession and its continuing aftermath have left many twenty-somethings feeling naïve, even devastated.Twenty-somethings are more educated than ever before, but a smaller percentage find work after college. Many entry-level jobs have gone overseas, making it more difficult for twenty-somethings to gain a foothold at home. With a contracting economy and a growing population, unemployment is at its highest in decades. An unpaid internship is the new starter job. About a quarter of twenty-somethings are out of work and another quarter work only part-time. Twenty-somethings who do have paying jobs earn less than their 1970s counterparts when adjusted for inflation.

The lottery question might get you thinking about what you would do if talent and money didn't matter. But they do. The question twentysomethings need to ask themselves is what they would do with their lives if they didn't win the lottery.

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time. —Leonard Bernstein, composer

Traveling in a third-world country is the closest thing there is to being married and raising kids. You have glorious hikes and perfect days on the beach. You go on adventures you would never try, or enjoy, alone. But you also can't get away from each other. Everything is unfamiliar. Money is tight or you get robbed. Someone gets sick or sunburned. You get bored. It is harder than you expected, but you are glad you didn't just sit home.

Twentysomethings who don't feel anxious and incompetent at work are usually overconfident or underemployed.

What no one tells twentysomethings like Emma is that finally, and suddenly, they can pick their own families - they can create their own families - and these are the families that life will be about. These are the families that will define the decades ahead.

While most would agree with Socrates that, "the unexamined life is not worth living," a lesser-known quote by Sheldon Kopp might be more important here: "The unlived life is not worth examining.