80 percent of life’s defining moments happen by age 35; then what?
“Your 20s are supposed to be the time of your life!” they say.
But, depending on how true that statement is — or was — for you, it probably either made you cringe, shed tears or grin like the Cheshire Cat. (And if you haven’t hit your 20s yet, keep reading anyway.)
A recent report in Slate finds that “there really is something deeply, weirdly meaningful about this period; [that] we remember more events from late adolescence and early adulthood, with a particular concentration of memories in the early 20s, than from any other stage of our lives.”
Your 20s probably brought along with them any number of firsts: your first heartbreak (by someone you thought was “The One,” but wasn’t), your first hangover that you couldn’t recover from as quickly; your first rejection letter (from a dream internship, job, home, or all three), and your first terrible boss (that maniacal narcissist who somehow taught you everything you know, but only in terms of what not to do).
And it’s those exact ‘firsts’ that experts say make the 20s so important.
Slate’s Katy Waldman points to a 1988 study in which scientists found that 93 percent of vivid life memories concern “first-time events.” And Joshua Foer, author of “Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” told Waldman, “You’re going to remember your trip hiking acrossPeru more than the year you spent sitting in your office doing the same job you’d been doing for the past five years.”
But is the monotony of a job all that life amounts to once you hit the over-30s hump? A mundane routine?
Thirty-five? That’s grounds for sheer panic for people of all ages, whether you’re quickly inching toward that era or you’ve already passed it. You’re either plagued with pressure to suddenly make the most of your years, or you’re fearing that it’s too late to do the same.
So is it just a sad reality that our later years can’t be as illustrious as our first?
J. Kim Wright, a lawyer, author and self-described “nomad,” says don’t believe the hype.
“I thought this was a joke,” Wright says. “I can barely remember my 20s—so much has happened since.”
Wright became a mother at the age of 19. In her 20s, shemarried a man with five children, and then added another to the brood. But wife would hardly be her final role. At 29, she went to law school. Then, in her 30s, she began taking in “castaway”children off the streets to raise as her own; she ultimately ended up living with 16 kids. In her 40s, she left her law practice to start an international organization of peacemaking and healing lawyers; and at 50, she gave up her house, went on the road as an evangelist for the cause of transforming the practice of law, traveling to most of the U.S. states, Australia, South Africa and Canada. Then, she wrote a book.
[Also Read: The New Power of Memory]
“As far as I’m concerned, each decade gets better,” says Wright.
That’s not hard to believe considering that many reports regarding Generation Y detail, at length, their lackluster—as opposed to luxurious—lives.
The New York Times reported that 40 percent of people in their 20s move back home with their parents at least once; one third move to a new residence every year; and that people in their 20s go through an average of seven jobs over the decade, more job changes than in any other period of life.
In addition, Generation Y has been declared “nonexistent”; deemed most likely to be stuck in the lowest-paying jobsavailable; and perhaps, not surprisingly, has also been called the“cheapest” generation.
In 2001, when writer Brenda Della Casa was in her 20s and reeling from a bad breakup, she sent an e-mail to eight of her female friends. The next month, it was published in Play magazine. The email-turned-essay is now featured on over 25,000 blogs and websites.
The essay, titled “Twenty-something: Quarter Life Crisis,”declared, among other things, that the decade would be marked by the time in your life when “you stop going along with the crowd”; when you “start realizing that people are selfish“; when “your opinions get stronger”; and when “you worry about loans and money and the future and making a life for yourself.”
Now in her 30s, Della Casa “can absolutely tell you that my 20s were less memorable.”
“I now have the job of my dreams as a published author and writer,” Della Casa says. “I have a better understanding of who I am, of the relationships I want in my life, the relationship I want with myself and I have started to really mark things off of mybucket list.”
So how can we make the moments after age 20 matter just as much?
Patty Schein, a family and couples therapist, advises that we not necessarily ignore the era, but take inspiration from it instead.
“Think about what made your 20s so favorable and use that as your template to create your present and future,” Schein says. “Was it a less stressful time of life? Then learn techniques to ease your current stress level. Was it the idea that you could do anything? You still can. Society places too much restriction on who we should be or what we should do. Those who can create their own path and be proud of it are the happiest at any age.”