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Do we underestimate the importance of the 20-something years? Live Q&A with TED speaker Meg Jay, Wednesday at 3pm Eastern

In her talk, clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay urges twentysomethings and those who know and love them to claim this period as their "defining decade" -- to focus not on identity crises, but on building for themselves what she calls identity capital.

So, have we been sending the wrong message with language like "kidults" and "30 is the new 20"? Bring your questions and comments to the live chat on Wednesday, May 15 from 3:00-4:00pm Eastern time.


Closing Statement from TED

From Meg Jay:

YOLO! You only live one, but hopefully that one life is going to go on for a long time. So be mindful about what you're doing, who you're doing it with, and where you're going. Be kind to your future self!

  • May 15 2013: Hello Meg,

    Love your "Do we underestimate the importance of the 20-something years?" TED Talk. My question is this: I just turned 30. I'm nowhere near where I want to be. Like the 20 year olds you described, most of my 20s were spent procrastinating. Now I'm 30, and it's this weird blend of exhaustion and dissatisfaction. I feel like I've been working on building my capital for so long, I don't even know when to stop, mostly because I still haven't found what it is I want, neither in my career nor in my romantic relationships. At what point do we either a) quit working on building capital—as in, not grapple after the "grass is always greener" approach, and/or b) how do we figure out when to walk down another path? All this chasing capital makes me feel exhausted and bankrupt without much to show for except wear and tear? Am I just having a bad day and failing to see the light? Thanks in advance! :)
  • May 15 2013: I watched your talk and I have to say that it really hit home with me. While I did not intend to waste my 20's, I find I really didn't understand what my 20's were about outside of go to college and get good grades. I am now 30 and find myself lost as my friends move ahead with their careers and families. I don't think I made the connections I needed to during that critical period. Any advice you can give a 30 something to regain some footing, build some identity and start moving forward?
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      May 15 2013: My advice would be the same--identity capital, weak ties, pick your family, etc--but just be very mindful that you're going to more crunched for time so plan wisely.
  • May 15 2013: I have another question: several of my (male) friends watched this talk, and we all thought it was great. Have you seen any difference in reactions from men vs. women?
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      Meg Jay

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      May 15 2013: Great question. But I'm going to answer it slightly differently. I'll say that many people expected my message to resonate ONLY with women since they are the ones who are tighter on time (w/ work/family/fertility) but many, many, many men have written to me about my talk and book and thanking me for giving them some urgency too. I think women have many forums to discuss their concerns but often 20something men feel alone with what they're thinking.
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    Aja B. 20+

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    May 15 2013: Hi Meg, thank you so much for joining us here!

    I'm wondering... what do you think parents can do to help their twentysomethings with these big decisions? What can professors/employers do?

    Thanks again!

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      Meg Jay

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      May 15 2013: My pleasure! Probably the biggest thing is to be weak ties for 20somethings. Many 20somethings really just need one good break or one good conversation to shift things a bit. Let's face it, people don't want this from their parents directly, but their parents friends or relatives or bosses or employers should serve as change agents for the 20somethings in their lives. Someone surely helped them when they were in their 20s also.
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    May 15 2013: I actually tried to live by the what you spoke about in my 20's. But the people I encountered were not in the same mindset. They definitely wanted to be in the YOLO mindset. They didn't want to invest or commit to anything long term or sustaining. I was alone and single and ended up getting rejected, dejected in all my 20's. I'm 29 now. How do you deal with being 30 now. Where do I turn to for like minded people? What am I suppose to do now? Where are my resources?
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      May 15 2013: Aww, it's sad but true that most 20somethings feel rejected/dejected a lot of the time. The beauty of partnering later is the potential to make better / more mature choices. The tough part is weathering your 20s alone. I think it can be very hard to find people who aren't drinking the 30-is-the-new-20 kool-aid. Use your weak ties / build your weak ties by joining clubs where people might share your interests or try online dating where you can assess whether someone is looking for a similar level of commitment. The YOLO message is culturally dominant but often it seems like the most vocal / media-friendly minority voice. Likeminded 30y/o are out there, I promise!
  • May 15 2013: Hi Dr. Jay, if it's not too personal... are you happy with how you spent your 20s?
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      May 15 2013: Great question, Sarah. I am mostly happy with the way I spent my 20s and I think that's the most you can ask for in life. Nothing is perfect. I earned some great identity capital--being an Outward Bound instructor and then going to Berkeley--which has set me up for a wonderful career. in my 30s and 40s. And I'm happy married and have 2 great kids (I met my husband at 29btw!). But I wish I had taken my personal life a bit more seriously sooner. I have a great outcome but timing was tight and having the career and family I wanted was very, very tight in my 30s. I squeaked through but so many clients/colleagues/friends have not. It's amazing how 2 or 3 years in your 20s don't seem all that important but then you could REALLY use that time, especially if you're a woman, in your 30s.
  • May 15 2013: Hey Meg,
    Im 23 about to turn 24 and I found your talk to be incredible.. like you said we are at an age in which one ted talk can change our view of the world and how we live in it.. I find what you said to be happening SO OFTEN it really sucks that we didn't get a reminder of these things before. The importance that these years have in our lives mark our development in every way possible. I would love to hear how you recommend we deal with our new relationships as 20 somethings if we travel a lot for work, I started my own business right out of college and have really taken advantage of these loose ties you talk about, but I find it so hard to maintain and reinforce these relationships (which I SO NEED, for business, friendship and even romantic relationships) when I am traveling every so often.. (every 3 or 4 weeks for around 3 to 4 weeks each time.. or less)
    Would love to hear your thoughts

    Thank you
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    May 15 2013: Dr. Jay, I loved seing your Talk at the conference, but found myself wondering how your advice translates to career as opposed to getting married and having a family. As a 25 year old with a great job, it's overwhelming to make decisions about my work and career when I feel like I'm still so much in the learning phase of my industry. What are your thoughts?
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      Meg Jay

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      May 15 2013: Stephanie, think about identity capital. It's tough to connect the dots in terms of knowing exactly where you're career is going in your 20s, so perhaps think more about collecting the dots. Collecting identity capital, that is. The big difference between career and marriage/partnership is that, ideally, you'll only get married once. Career, fortunately, is more forgiving as it involves many, many choices in your 20s and beyond. So don't worry so much that any one choice will sink you. Keep your eye on building identity capital and that will just create more and better choices for you later. Smart career choices always lead to more choices.
    • May 15 2013: I would love to hear your thoughts about this too, as important as getting married and having a family is to me. I feel like this is such a crucial time in my career as well.
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    May 15 2013: 20 - 30 is just as important as 30 - 40 or 40 - 50. A human is not defined by his or her past. A human is defined by who he or she is right now.

    Your past is not relevant. It is about the mind-set you currently have. From 20-30 many new things are presented to people. Ideas and feelings they have never confronted before now begin to shape their perceptions of life.

    If anything we should call this period your "era of errors" because that's what it is. You live...you fail...you learn...and you grow. This is happening throughout your entire life...not just 20-30.
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      May 15 2013: I agree with you! I talk about the 20s because I work with 20somethings, so the 20s are NOW to them. I could not agree more that 30s and 40s and 50s and 60s are just as important as the 20s. And you're going to want to be happy then too. That can be difficult for 20somethings to see sometimes, especially when they hear YOLO at every turn. You do only live once--but ideally that life is going to go on for a long time--I try to empower 20somethings to be kind to their future selves. Because every decade is important but the 20s are uniquely foundational and that's just the way it is.
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        May 15 2013: "I try to empower 20somethings to be kind to their future selves."

        "Future selves" love it. Where can I get your book? I always say things like that. If you could go back in time and talk to you at 18...what would you say. I would smack myself a few times most likely.

        I wish you luck with everything you do. It's great to see people trying to empower people regardless of the age range they choose.
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    May 15 2013: Hi, everyone. Welcome to our Q&A with Dr. Meg Jay!

    Today we'll be discussing, "Do we underestimate the importance of the 20-something years?" We welcome any questions, comments and reactions, so please don't be shy about jumping right in.

    You can enter your questions for Meg in the box above or below and hit Submit -- can't wait to read them all.
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    May 15 2013: Unfortunately, we're just about out of time! I wish we had time to get to everyone's questions, but thank you so much to everyone for all of your thoughtful contributions.
  • May 15 2013: Great talk Dr. Jay. It hits home as I have a 22-year old son who struggled through 2 years of college and has since worked at a warehouse job for minimal pay. His attitude is that things will take care of themselves eventually but he does little to make that happen. He also has clinically diagnosed ADD which he refuses to acknowledge as a challenge in his life.

    My question is how different is your approach toward 20-something boys/men and is there anything you could relate as far as his need to work on solving his ADD in order to progress?

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    May 15 2013: Hi Meg,

    I enjoyed your book! However, I felt the book was targeted to a very specific demographic -- upper/middle class economic status, well-educated, looking for a heterosexual relationship. What are your thoughts on this?

    Thanks for your advice.
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      Meg Jay

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      May 15 2013: Thanks for your comment, Becky. I actually disagree. Research shows that people in all income brackets get new jobs through weak ties; that's good advice for everyone. Both gay and straight adults do want marriages/partners/families; in fact, that's what marriage equality is all about. And the concept of identity capital can be liberating for those who can't afford college or who don't do well in school; one good piece of identity capital or one lead from a weak tie can trump someone with a 4.0 from an Ivy who doesn't know how to get in the game.
  • May 15 2013: I have the good fortune of having 3 wonderful sins who are all in their 20's. All have done things far better than I did in the same period and will surely succeed where I couldn't. This generation shows more promise than any other I can think of.
  • May 15 2013: Hi Meg, could you please define "identity capital" again? As a non-native English speaker, I am not 100% sure that I understand what you mean with this expression (even after having seen your talk, of course). Thanks!
  • May 15 2013: Dr. Jay,

    This week is the end of my undergraduate career, and I'll be heading to grad school in the fall. I'm 22 and the world is a bit scary. However after viewing your Ted talk I've realized it's only scary if I'm scared of it. I really appreciate your work and how you've turned the YOLO perspective on its head. This is something my generation, those following and the ones who've passed it all need to recognize.

    I look forward to reading your book, reevaluating my habits, life perspectives, and social arena all for the better. Thank you for your empowering words when the current atmosphere for a college grad is rather bleak.

    Also, GO BEARS! Berkeley Class of 2013
  • May 15 2013: Hello Dr. Jay. A fellow colleague of mine also in her "20 somethings" sent me the link today to your presentation and I want to first thank you for your insigh.t This video could not have been introduced to me during a better time. I will be turning 25 in less than three months and everything I currently find myself doing is exactly what you cover in your presentation. At times it is inevitable that I doubt my decisions, but I proceed with them anyways. The reason I thank you is because I believe you will take away some doubt from my future decisions.
  • May 15 2013: Im a 24 year old that has always been very conscious (maybe too conscious) about making good decisions with my life, career and relationships.

    Just out of college and with little responsibilities, I traveled for a bit before taking a good job at a small startup company... but I'm really not thrilled with the direction of the career long term.

    How long do you recommend sticking out a good job, but not a satisfying job before you consider switching and finding something new? When does your current career close a door on a future career in your twenties?
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    May 15 2013: Dr. Jay, thanks so much for a thought provoking talk!

    I am 22 years old and very proud of the intention I have had in every decision I've made so far in my 20's. With that said, I still do feel this overwhelming pressure from multiple avenues to be able to have it all: a great job, kids and a stable social life by the time I'm 30... Is there a way to balance my absorption of my generations career oriented goals (especially for women) and a more traditional family life? Would love to hear your thoughts here.
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    May 15 2013: I personally am not underestimating the importance of the 20-somethings! They are our future, and based on what I am observing here on TED with comments from young people, I have a lot of hope for our future:>)
  • May 15 2013: I am 29 and already feel the pressure that I'm wasting my life. Talks like this are a little scary to see at this age and wonder if I've done enough! Still I find it motivating to focus on making impotrant and big changes in my life without the fear of failure.

    I think for many of us we have so many options that we become paralyzed into not making any choices. Fear of failure is a huge issue in this. How do you recommend getting past that fear?
  • May 15 2013: I am turning 20 in a month, and am currently in College, I think that this book will help me figure some stuff out. It is the time to find ourselves. I feel like I need to develop better habits in everyday life in order to make sure i carry them on throughout life.
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    May 15 2013: Meg, since your talk seems to have made all of my friends in their late 20s/early 30s totally depressed and questioning their past, how would you encourage them to move forward?

    Also, congratulations on creating a viral TED talk. You have over 1500 active views as I write this.
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      Meg Jay

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      May 15 2013: Emily, I must answer your question since it sounds like my talk has thoroughly depressed everyone you know. It's the defining decade, not the defining-first-few-years-out-of-college for a reason. As I said in my talk, even a small course correction at 29 can have an enormous impact on your life. 29--or 33 for that matter--is no time to collapse into a puddle of regret. In our 20s and 30s all of life's biggest decisions have not all been made but many are on the verge of being made. So be intentional about how you make them.
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        May 15 2013: :-) Thanks Meg! I agree. I intend to live my entire life with a healthy balance of purpose and reflection.
  • May 15 2013: Dr. Jay: Are 20-somethings today really any different from 20-somethings 100 years ago? I feel like, the older I get, the more I realize that the things that seemed to be getting so much worse about society are really just staying the same, and that it's only my perspective that's changing.
  • May 15 2013: No... people can change dramatically in this ten year period... the neocortex... seat of judgment is still forming.
  • May 15 2013: Meg -You mention in your book to get off facebook and stop comparing you life to the sensationalized life of others.

    How would you think today's technology has effected the career expectations of recent graduates? What are the main pitfalls and traps that 20 somethings can fall into when searching for a real career that are caused by our relationship with technology (social media, blogs, networking etc)?
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      Meg Jay

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      May 15 2013: Great question, Brockton. While my generation (Xers) came of age with the same social/cultural trends as Millenials, the biggest difference is technology. In fact, a recent Pew poll showed that Millennials feel that teachnology is what makes their generation unique. So it's a big deal! It certainly has had an impact on how people feel about how their 20s are going.

      As you read in my book, I hear A LOT in my practice about Facebook. When we spend a lot of time on sites where we see people's "highlight reels" which, let's face it, that's what FB pages are, it makes our own lives feel pretty shabby. So I encourage my clients to be mindful of what they're really seeing and what they're not really seeing. It's not a fair comparison to compare you're real life to someone's FB page, any more than it's a fair comparison to compare your body to the airbrushed cover of Cosmo. Compare and despair......