Opinion — The defining decade: Why do we put so much pressure on our 20s?

Olivia Dunn, Contributing writer

I’m turning 22 in a couple of weeks and I find that has most definitely cued my yearly existential crisis. Who am I? What is my purpose? What am I doing after I graduate? So on and so forth. 

So what do I do when this happens? I turn to my comfort YouTuber, UnJaded Jade. Last year on my birthday she made a video based on Dr. Meg Jay’s book “The Defining Decade,” which is all about how you should spend your 20s and how it is the most vital time in your life. 

Jay was a clinical psychologist who interviewed hundreds of people in their 30s and 40s on why they were not satisfied with their lives. More often than not it was based on the decisions that they made in their 20s, and Jay created a list of universal advice she wishes all 20-year-olds knew to make the most of everything. 

One of the quotes Jade highlights is “feeling better doesn’t come from avoiding adulthood, it comes from investing in adulthood.” All this makes me feel, however, is pressure. What if I am not spending my 20s the right way, and how do I live it to the fullest? 

Older adults in my life always tell me that they wish they could go back to their twenties, without a care in the world. But, I turned 20 during the pandemic and I feel like I just want to turn 30 already. This does not feel like the best time of my life, and when is it supposed to be? Everything that I do is carving out my future career and my future relationships, but I am still figuring out who I truly am as a person. If I do not know who I am, how can I make these life-altering decisions? 

So after watching Jade’s video – with her comments, criticisms and insights – I had to read the book myself. And I have a few insights of my own. The book is split up into four sections: work, love, body and mind. Jay enlisted a plan of how to get the most out of your twenties and everything you need to do to achieve it. 

While I appreciate the novel concept of it all, you cannot always have the perfect plan. If anything, COVID-19 has taught us that everything can change in a matter of days. So, the best I think you truly can do is set intentions and live your life to the best of your ability each day – and that ability might look different every day. 

There are so many variables that are out of your control, so why let those determine the outlook of your everyday life? 

In the love section, Jay takes an approach that I also do not think is very realistic anymore. She assumes we are all going to get married, have kids, etc. But, more and more in today’s society, I am seeing domestic partnerships, non-traditional marriages and DINKS (dual income no kids). More importantly, what is the rush on finding love? The best relationships have a strong foundation, and trying to find your forever soulmate in 10 years is a lot of pressure. At the same time, I understand that this book is from a scientific perspective and the commentary comes from the regrets of 30 and 40-somethings. 

If you are older than 29, this book might as well be the most depressing thing you have ever read. So how applicable is all of this?

That being said, I think that there should not be so much pressure on this period of life. Upon reflection on both the video and the book, I realize that I have no desire to achieve the perfect work life, the perfect love life or the perfect body and mental health. 

Rather, I would take Jay and Jade’s advice day by day, but not kick myself for going at my own pace. There is no way that progress can be linear, especially at the ripe age of 21. Life is finite, mine may last very long, or very short. 

The important thing is to know there is no race, nor is it a competition. It’s a stroll in the park or a jog on the beach. We can achieve so many important things and make so much impact, but we can also appreciate the way the snow falls on a Thursday morning or the warmth of the sun in winter. 

This time in our lives is set up to determine many of our careers, relationships and love paths, but it does not and never should define our worth.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This piece is a guest column, written by a Northern Michigan University student, faculty member, or community member. It expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the North Wind. The North Wind reserves the right to avoid publishing columns that do not meet the North Wind’s publication standards. To submit a guest column contact the opinion editor at [email protected] with the subject North Wind Guest Column.