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3 Overlooked Reasons Why the 20s Is Called the Defining Decade

“Age is just a number” is an incomplete thought

Photo by Simon Lund on Unsplash

You’ve heard the adage:

“Age is just a number.”

It’s a reasonable thought. But it is incomplete because it does not address the latent variables. For example:

  1. How far do you want to go?
  2. How much time can you manage?
  3. How much energy have you left?

I believed in the above saying until I was 22, just graduated college and spelunk into the corporate world.

Fast forward three years to the present, the level of progress I have made and where I want to be in future depends on not just my age or position in my self-improvement journey.

It also depends on the energy I have left to work with and how far I want to go.

It’s not because I’m jealous of the success story of Walt Disney or KFC.

Walt Disney became famous in his 40s after introducing Mickey Mouse and Snow White to the world.

Colonel Sanders found KFC’s “special recipe” after frying his chicken with 11 herbs and spices in his 60s.

Regret vs gratitude.

I don’t entirely agree with the incomplete statement because of what I hear in my social circles. The elders I meet generally pair it with another phrase which bleeds regret:

“I wish I started at your age.”

Although I have many uncle friends, these people are not uncles in their 40s or 50s. They are Gen Z folks who are barely two years older than me. Some are even my friends around the same age as me.

I have learned the 20s are the golden years because of the surprising and practical lessons I learned in the book The Defining Decade by Meg Jay.

I am sharing three such lessons that continue to direct my life. I hope they will do the same for you too.

#1. Zero expectations.

The early-20s is when people treat you like a child and an adult simultaneously. They want your life to be somewhat sorted but not perfectly sorted.

Feel the paradox? Join the party.

No one expects you to be the youngest billionaire or flood your bank account in the first month of your first job.

With fewer societal expectations, we are free to explore whatever we want.

You can decide which career path is right for you. You can even experiment with some directions to build trust in the process for clarity.

#2. Options.

The power of choice is the aspect I explain to my dad whenever he doesn’t understand my career path.

When you are in your mid-30s or 40s, you’ll have an army of responsibilities, more than what you have right now.

The more responsibilities you have, the less time and energy you’ll be able to spare for yourself. It’s a harsh reality I learned after finishing college.

In your 20s, you have the chance to tackle your responsibilities ahead of time, become financially independent before someone depends on you, and explore different lifestyle types before settling on a particular one that aligns with your values and life goals.

#3. Adventure.

My dad likes to travel, but he can’t because he wants us to settle first. And the definition of his “settle” changes every five years. Sometimes even every five months!

Ten years ago, it was getting into the right college. Then, a secure job. And you’ve already guessed the next phase by now: marriage. After that? Kids.

When someone is dependent on you, it is an instinct to meet all their needs because you have to support them.

But when you are just starting to live your life on your terms you’ll be able to take a lot of calculated risks because no one is dependent on you. Your recovery phase will be much smoother than if you started as a nuclear family head.

Final words

We can either be jealous of the success story of famous personalities or get inspired by them.

I didn’t have to look far to understand how precious my time is now. I look at my father and see how many sacrifices he has made for me.

If you look around — even in your immediate social circles — you’ll see people wasting their time as if a wiseacre will lead them into the light. Maybe in a perfect world, but not here.

Reading The Defining Decade was an eye-opener for me. It was so hard to digest the facts that I wanted to reread them to stick in my long-term memory.

Three of the many lessons I learned from the book are what I have shared with you today. If you apply these lessons in your life, you’ll be way ahead in five years than you have previously planned:

  1. Zero expectations: Live and write your definition of “success”.
  2. Options: Find your purpose with experimentation.
  3. Adventure: You have a significant risk appetite when dependents are zero.

You are more resilient than you think. It’s high time to apply that strength!

If you want to receive more stories like this, my lifelong learning newsletter is for you.

Sanjeev is a mentor, writer, and fitness enthusiast from India. He writes about lifelong learning, personal growth, and positive psychology. When he’s not engaging with students in solving their doubts or busy with writing, he’s sweating either in a workout, PC gaming or playing 8-ball pool. You can also find him on Twitter.



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