30 is NOT the new 20.

After I turned 21, I thought to myself “well, I guess now birthdays won’t really matter until I’m 30.”

As my friends and I started approaching 25—my birthday is this weekend— I think we all realized the significance of this birthday in particular.

I mean technically, it is a milestone. It’s a quarter of a century (gross). It’s half way through our formative twenties.

After all, 30 is NOT the new 20. I’m reading Dr. Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade and it’s real good. If you haven’t read it yet, you can get it here (or borrow from me anytime). She’s a clinical psychologist and talks all about the importance of your 20s, citing real examples of some real struggles her clients have faced.  

A lot of people talk about being a 20-something as a time to be a complete idiot. The general public views 20-somethings that way, for the most part, after all. Us 20-somethings make jokes about “adulting” and not knowing what the hell is going on 24/7.

To put it simply, I think we’ve all got the wrong idea. Our 20s are important. They’re not just our “throw away” decade, Dr. Meg says. I for one have vowed to make the most of my 20s, in all of the ways that means to me. Every time I make a mistake, a questionable decision (lol every weekend) or a leap of faith, I think to myself “this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

We’re all going to make mistakes, at any age. We’re all going to feel a little lost. We’re all going to ask ourselves if we’re on the right path—probably constantly, if you’re like me. This is how it’s supposed to feel. But just because it feels like some big jumbled mess a lot of  the time, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be making moves to figure your sh*t out in the midst of all the mistakes and hungover mornings.

If you’re like me, thriving and surviving (juuuust barely) in your mid-twenties, you probably are JUST starting to get your footing. Maybe that’s me being generous, even. This is prime time for figuring out what you’re good at, what you value, what you want your life to look like and who you want to share it with.

A lot of people say that 25 is the time when you start to get the itch that you either need to make a change or evaluate where you’re at. Am I on the right track? Is it all going according to plan?

There are three things that Dr. Meg Jay, clinical psychologist, believes that every 20-something deserves to hear.

Get some identity capital.

Sure, you want to save that money. That you should TOTALLY do. If I don’t stop going to Starbucks every morning I’ll end up in Manayunk in a cardboard box. Dr. Meg says that building on who you are as a person is almost more important in your 20s. Do something that adds value to who you are (that’s what she calls identity capital). Do something that’s an investment in who you want to be next. Add something cool or different to your repertoire. Learn Spanish if you’ve always wanted to. Finally play that guitar you got for Christmas in 2012. Build on something that you already have going for you and sharpen those skills. For me, that’s why I write. It’s part of my purpose, what I value and what I want my future career and future Sam to look like.

Expand outside outside of your inner circle.

It’s easy to stay in our comfort zone. In my 20s, I’ve learned that it’s less important to have a ton of friends and more important to have a tight circle of GOOD friends. While it’s important to foster those relationships, of course, Dr. Meg says those friends aren’t going to be the ones that help move you forward towards your best, most authentic life or even your future career. They’ll support you in whatever you want to do and be there for the ride, but if you’re looking for someone to help you make a change, you need to get out of your comfort zone. If you want to learn Spanish but have never had the time, maybe you should reach out to your friend’s college roommate who lived in Spain for three years. If you love to write, maybe you should reach out to the old writing teacher you’re friends with on Facebook. Maybe there are old friends who are doing cool things you want to get in on, or whose careers you hope to emulate. Expanding outside of our inner circle, which not surprisingly is full of people just like us, helps us engage with other people. The definition of insanity, as we all know, is doing the same thing all the time and expecting the same results. You’re not going to see any change in your life by just engaging with the same types of people. Engage with what Dr. Meg calls those “weak ties,” or those people you’ve met only a handful of times who do cool things you’re interested in. That’s how things HAPPEN.

You actually can (and should) pick your family.

They (whoever they are) say that you “can’t pick your family.” Dr. Meg says those people are full of sh*t. You actually do pick your family. Your future family. And you should. Our twenties are a time to start being as intentional with love as you are with work. A lot of people (including me, I’m so guilty of this) lose sight of what we really want at the end of the day and go after what’s right in front of us, relationship wise. If you see your future as one filled with a husband/wife, babies, white-picket-fence, the whole nine yards… Dr. Meg would say that you need to set your sights on that goal and act intentionally to reach it. Stop answering f boys from college and start getting real about what it is you want. Get off of dating apps if you’re only matching with people who don’t want to take a relationship seriously. Dr. Meg talks a lot about how in our twenties, we talk about “being young” and “having time” especially because a lot of 20-somethings are getting married later than our parents. And that’s fine. But she also says that if you spend all of your twenties essentially effing around, you could miss out on some great opportunities that will lead you to what you want at the end of the day. You pick your partner and the person you want to create your own family with. Your twenties is the time to start doing that. I for one know I don’t want to look back and wish I didn’t waste so much time.

As 25 approaches (in less than four days but who’s counting), I’m excited. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few months, it’s that life is short. So I’m going to make every second count and you should too.

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