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Discuss: 30 Is Not the New 20

It’s shocking to say, but at 31, I’m considered middle-age by Capitol Hill standards.  Nearly every meeting I take is with a staffer significantly younger than myself.  And recently, I’ve started meeting with Congressmen and candidates who are also my age.  I didn’t expect to feel “old” in my early 30s, but I do.

The thing that triggers this aged anxiety more than anything is trying to interact with the younger people who I work with and supervise.  Sometimes, the generation gap feels more like a Mariana’s Trench-size chasm.  Perhaps that’s why this Forbes article, 20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Get, resonated with me. (There’s good advice in here for employees of any age.)

Granted there were plenty of things that I did not “get” in my twenties.  No one is immune from having to learn lessons the hard way, and with age comes perspective (hopefully).  But one of the things I’ve noticed about many of the mid-twenty somethings I know–even hard working ones–is that they are writing off their 20s.

“30 is the new 20” is a phrase that I have heard ad nauseum.  Many seem to be content not to challenge themselves or take risks or strive because they’ll have time later.  But “later” arrives a lot faster than you think, so I wanted to take a moment to share this TED talk from Meg Jay about what she calls The Defining Decade.

It’s definitely a must watch for anyone in their 20s, and beyond.

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    32 comments

  1. Lindsay says:

    I read “The Defining Decade” last weekend and I have now sent it to, or recommended it, to almost every 20 something I know. Even for this early 30 something, it was some valuable advice I really needed to hear.

    In realize the book of the moment is “Lean In” and the discussion seems to be lit around that but I think Meg Jay’s book should be required reading.

    July 26, 2013/Reply
  2. Kara says:

    Amazing TED talk. Thank you for sharing!

    July 26, 2013/Reply
  3. Jess says:

    I especially agree with this one: “Don’t Wait to Be Told What to Do – You can’t have a sense of entitlement without a sense of responsibility. You’ll never get ahead by waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Saying “nobody asked me to do this” is a guaranteed recipe for failure. Err on the side of doing too much, not too little.”

    July 26, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I liked that one, and the one about the employees thinking they have all the time in the world to complete a project.

      The last couple of years, every one of my interns has had to be trained to respect deadlines. I’d say COB and 15 minutes before the end of the day they’re in my office asking for more time. Finally, I just had to put the hammer down and say, “This is the deadline, if you don’t make it, you failed.” After that, I had a couple mention how much pressure I was putting them under. These were not unrealistic deadlines (a full day for a one page letter or memo) but some of them really felt like I was asking entirely too much…but then I’d walk by their desk and they’re watching videos on BuzzFeed. It’s maddening.

      I know not everyone is this way, but I think that a number of factors (changes to the educational system, technology) have given 20-somethings a skewed sense of time and a feeling that my refusal to be flexible on a professional deadline is my problem, instead of seeing it as their inability to manage time and complete tasks in a manner that is respectful of their supervisors.

      July 26, 2013/Reply
      • Jess says:

        I like this one because the 20-sometings at my office need way too much instruction. I am a financial analyst and my job requires lots of data mining. As I learned the job I taught myself tricks and shortcuts to make the work go faster and to be more productive. The 20-somethings in my office have no problem solving or creativity skills. They just come whining to me about how much data there is and how long it is going to take to sift through it. I don’t have time to teach them the hundreds of shortcuts I have figured out over the years. I want to say “Put on your thinking cap and go figure out a way to sift through it, I am not going to do it for you”. Plus, if I give them all the answers they will never hone the analytical skills needed for this job.

        July 26, 2013/Reply
        • Belle says:

          My Mom coaches high school debate and she could give you an earful on how the changes ot education in the past 10 years have removed critical thinking from the curriculum. Also, she talks a lot about how the kids expect her to do their work for them and complain when she won’t or give up. That doesn’t last long though, she cracks the whip pretty hard for such a nice lady.

          July 26, 2013/Reply
  4. Monica says:

    Aside from the generation gap, and how differently a 20 year-old (b. 1993) sees the world compared to a 30 year-old (b. 1983), it seems like we have an ever expanding extension of childhood problem. There are always exceptions, but I definitely see more of the 20-somethings in my own circle of family, friends and acquaintances putting off committing to a career path, or anything else for that matter, well through their mid-20s.

    I made some major missteps between 18 and 20, which meant I spent the beginning of my 20’s trying to CORRECT the damage I had done, and attempt to catch up to my peers. What resulted from this sense of urgency is that I am now years ahead of colleagues my own age in the same field, not because I’m better, but because I knew I had to apply myself that much more.

    Not everyone wants to “sacrifice” their youth to reach some esoteric goal, and that is understandable to a point, but I don’t get wishy-washing around, changing jobs, going on adventures at the expense of security and preparation for the changing expectations in your 30s.

    What I hope all young people understand is that it takes time to build up your 401k, to stash away money for a down payment on a house, to build credit and a reputation that permit you to have those things, that seem so far away at 21, but that you suddenly realize you aren’t prepared for and that opportunities are passing you by.

    July 26, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I agree with a lot of this. I think 20 year olds should do some of the frivolous things that they won’t have time for when they’re older, but not 10 years worth. And I hate when some of my friends who are 32-36 complain that they can’t buy a house or afford to do X because they don’t make enough, and a big part of the reason is that they spent their 20s vagabonding around (not sure that’s a verb, but it works) on their credit cards and thinking they had time to get it together.

      I would love to have years 23 and 24 back. Because, like you, I had to work harder and do more and take fewer breaks to make up for the time that was spent going to grad school and thinking it would all work itself out later. Lesson learned: It works itself out, when YOU work it out. There’s no miraculous moment when it falls together. Deus ex machina isn’t real.

      July 26, 2013/Reply
    • Lauren says:

      I think it is fairly easy to look at those in their 20s and think about how much better “our generation” did it, but it is important to remember than many of these 20-somethings came out of college and into a very difficult job market. It’s much easier to have a clear career path when jobs are more plenitful.

      July 26, 2013/Reply
      • Belle says:

        I don’t know that we did better, per se, but I think society is becoming a lot more tolerant of a 27-year-old who is hiking Europe than we would have been a few years back and I think it’s contributing to a sense among 20-somethings that this is just a decade that doesn’t matter.

        I came into my 20s at the start of the recession and in ’07 when it all crashed down was out looking for work. I have no illusions that it’s easy, but I think there are a lot of kids not trying as hard because the perception is that they’ll fail anyway.

        July 26, 2013/Reply
      • Megan says:

        I agree about the job market. I’m 25, and I would love to have had the ability to focus on a career path, but the jobs aren’t there. I worked at Starbucks for a year and half after graduation, the 2 jobs I’ve had since then haven’t really been choices, per se. I didn’t have multiple options to pick from, or the luxury to think about where they were leading. I had to worry about being able to pay rent, let alone buy groceries and make loan payments. “Adventures at the expense of security” is the total opposite of how I feel about the last several years. I’ve lost sleep over the lack of security, and have been on the verge of panic attacks over my lack of “career path” and whether or not I’ll ever be able to retire, or have substantial savings. Yes, there are 20 somethings who are just messing around, but there’s a lot of us who are working our asses off and just don’t have the same opportunities available.

        July 26, 2013/Reply
        • Belle says:

          The difference for me is your attitude. You are working and being patient. I worked at a tanning salon before I was able to get my career going, but I can honestly say that I wasn’t trying as hard as I could have. Partially because I didn’t know how hard it would be.

          July 27, 2013/Reply
      • Monica says:

        Things are very tough for young people now. I only have to think about the increased cost of a higher education and the debt burden the average graduate is carrying to get the willies. I’m definitely talking more about the set who think the jobs and the success and the money just magically appear at some later point when they haven’t been applying themselves. Or they tell themselves they don’t care about all that stuff until they are 35 and don’t have it.

        July 26, 2013/Reply
  5. GoGoGo says:

    Oy, man. I’m in my late 20s. Much of this was more depressing than motivating. That shot was probably good for me, but now I just feel like I need a chaser …

    July 26, 2013/Reply
  6. Honey says:

    Agreed, 30 is not the new 20. I don’t agree that the 20s are a decade to waste, but I also don’t think that you should be totally committed to one path in your 20s. Who knows what they really want in their 20s? Time to explore (and make mistakes) is crucial. I explain more in a recent blog post. Check it out if you’d like. https://alotofliving.tumblr.com/post/56153492430/30-is-the-new-20-or-is-it

    July 26, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I’m not saying have it all figured out, just don’t accept less under the illusion that it will all get figured out later. If you’ve got a plan, and working to save money at a job you don’t love or waiting out the recession in a good but not awesome job is fine, but be looking for and working on the next thing.

      July 26, 2013/Reply
  7. Cynthia W says:

    Sometimes I wonder if much of this is the result of the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. My husband manages people in their 20s and 30s and there seems to be a lot of the attitude “I’ve put my time in; where’s my perks and promotion”. When they don’t come, they’ll complain to him that they’ve been at the company X years and done a, b, and c, where a, b, and c are part of their jobs.

    His answer to that is – you get a paycheck for doing what’s expected of you – and nothing more. You want a promotion, you have to show why you deserve it and go above and beyond your job description.

    July 26, 2013/Reply
    • Jess says:

      Yes, I absolutely HATE that my kids get “participation” trophies. We always down play it and chuck those trophies into the giveaway bin. We also tell our kids that life isn’t fair, and we never let them beat us at games so they can feel good about it. I want my kids (all 5 of them) to work hard in their life and know that what they put into it will get them far. We are working hard to ensure that they don’t feel entitled to anything other than our love. That they know is always there for them, but the rest of it really is up to the effort they put into it.

      July 26, 2013/Reply
      • Cynthia W says:

        My dad NEVER let us win at games – my mom thought that it was mean, but my dad always told us that if we wanted to win, we needed to “get better at the game”. I have friends who refuse to pay for/accept those participation trophies for their kids. For one thing, they don’t like the lesson that it teaches – that showing up is enough. Secondly, they have four kids and don’t have space to store all of those things.

        July 28, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I think that’s part of it. Also, for me, when I was 23-24, every “grown up” was telling me how smart and capable I was and how I just had to be patient. I had the right degree, the right training, and their kind sentiment made me feel like “Of course, this is going to happen!”. As a result, I didn’t pound the pavement as much as I should have.

      We spend a lot of time telling kids and young adults how awesome they are, but we don’t spend enough time telling them that when it comes to finding work and making it, being awesome isn’t enough.

      July 27, 2013/Reply
      • Cynthia W says:

        I used to have a boss who claimed that the definition of potential was “hasn’t done shit yet”. Harsh, but really had an impact on me since everyone was always talking about what great potential I had, lol.

        July 28, 2013/Reply
        • Belle says:

          I like that.

          July 29, 2013/Reply
  8. Sarah says:

    I love the article you linked to. Thank you for that! I appreciated how specific it was. It’s easy to gripe about young people, but this one has some really fine-tuned insights that ring true for me, even though I’m 28 and skew a bit older. I especially like the advice about picking up the phone — dealing with things in person or on the phone should be your first instinct, not your last. It’s so true but so tempting to avoid. The advice to “pick an idol and act as if” is also awesome. As someone who tends to be more shy and passive, it’s good to imagine other people I admire in my shoes and being assertive rather than hanging back. I love the career advice you share, Belle. Keep it coming.

    July 27, 2013/Reply
  9. Kay says:

    Thank you for sharing the TED talk. I’m in my early 20s, and I think sometimes my friends and I feel like we’re just on auto pilot and waiting for the next thing to happen to us. I think the video was very encouraging and had some good advice on how to make things happen for ourselves, rather than waiting around and killing time.

    July 27, 2013/Reply
  10. Hillary says:

    I shared this TED Talk with my friends this week because I liked it so much. Even if someone doesn’t agree with all of her words, it’s worth thinking about.

    July 27, 2013/Reply
  11. Rachel says:

    I’m 25 and it took me 5 months to get a job after I graduated college this past December. I had turned down a position with a non-profit in Arlington because they wanted me to drop out of school for my last semester and move across the country. I said I wasn’t going to quit school 4 months from graduation.

    Later a different D.C. economic non-profit contacted me to apply for a position with them – so I did. The D.C. girl who was probably my age, scheduled a phone interview with me sent me an email two weeks after I applied, on a Sunday night (8pm est) if I could have a phone interview with her the next day at 4pm est (I’m in Vegas, 3 hours behind.) I accepted. 2 minutes after she was supposed to call me, I received an email from her asking if she could reschedule because something came up. She rescheduled for 9am her time the next day… which was 6am my time. I ended up not getting the job after 2 more similarly sloppy interviews with this very well respected economic nonprofit. I currently work for a national nonprofit on extreme deadlines. If I don’t meet my deadline, hospitals won’t have our product to put into trauma patients.

    So my question is this. If you see your employee not meeting deadlines yet is watching BuzzFeed or is simply inept, why do you not fire them? Why do you enable this behavior?

    July 29, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Oh young one…firing people is not as easy as they make it look in the movies. There are usually guidelines and processes. And part of the responsibility of hiring an intern is to teach them what is and what is not acceptable. You don’t see them on Buzzfeed one time and then can them. If it becomes a repeated problem, then it needs to be addressed. But no first time employee is perfect, if I fired interns for making bonehead mistakes, I wouldn’t have any.

      July 29, 2013/Reply
      • Rachel says:

        Yes but you can’t instill drive into people. If the whiny “it’s too hard to write a memo a day” type behavior persists, why hold onto them when there are many people who would love to have a chance in that position? Yes it’s more paperwork for you, but surely not that difficult to do for the habitually lazy intern.

        Maybe it’s because I’ve never had a job that allowed employees access to sites like Youtube or maybe it’s because I’ve only worked for businesses on tight deadlines, but it seems that if bosses were setting more stringent standards, young people would modify their behavior if they wanted to keep a job. When I’m at work, I pray that the FDA doesn’t show up for a surprise audit while I’m working alone in the lab or that I can get a stat order to a patient fast enough so that they don’t bleed out in the OR. My employer demands this of me. I have my job because the person I replaced was fired. Maybe the problem is that we don’t expect enough results or certain behavior out of young adults.

        (Sorry for any typos, I’m typing on a phone.)

        July 29, 2013/Reply
        • Belle says:

          It isn’t about paperwork. It’s about the law. And my employees actually need access to site like YouTube and Facebook for work, which makes it tough to police.

          July 29, 2013/Reply
  12. Liz says:

    Great list. It’s funny, precisely because I took my 20s seriously (and followed nearly all of those rules), I’ve been able to really live up my 30s. I worked my as* off in my 20s and made it to the very top of my industry by 30. Then I left at 32 and spent the next three years taking on some insanely fun and wide-ranging short-term projects – including some work abroad – and traveling in-between. I was only able to afford to do this (income was lower and less frequent) because I really applied myself in my 20s. Now at 35, I’m about to start in a new field that wouldn’t have been possible without dabbling in those projects and traveling. So an encouragement to all of those hard-working 20-somethings that it really does pay off – and that crazy job-hopping and travel is way more fun with 30-something resources and a decade of work experience behind you.

    July 31, 2013/Reply