I’m terrible about reading books. I love reading, but for some reason, when I find myself with some free time, I just can’t convince myself to pick up a book. I’ll sit there on my couch and stare at it for awhile, longingly, but something holds me back. It’s like I’ve romanticized the idea of reading, but when it comes to executing on it, something is stopping me. I do this for awhile, then finally give up and watch TV or check Facebook.
My mom is the same way, and so after a few hours of psychoanalyzing ourselves last time I visited, we realized it’s because we don’t feel like we can give ourselves free time until we get every possible task on our plates done, and by then we just want to do something mindless like watching Friends.
What does this have to do with your twenties? I was recommended the book Defining a Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay, PhD, and for a long time I’ve been wanting to read it. I can barely get myself to read the one book I’ve committed to reading for a book club, and that’s a book I love. Even then I can’t convince myself to pick up the darn thing. This last weekend, I had slated a four-hour drive (each way) to a board meeting for a nonprofit board I serve on, and I thought, what better time than when I’m a captive audience in my own car to read (listen) to this book?
If you’re in your twenties or ever plan on raising a child, you should 100% read this book. Meg’s main contention is that the twenties are not these party-it-up, throwaway years that the media and society tell us they are. Instead, your twenties are deeply transformative years that set the stage for the rest of your life. She illustrates her points with examples from her years as a clinical psychologist working with twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings as well as studies and research, which make this psychology nerd totally happy.
While a chunk of the book focused on finding love in your twenties, which, needless to say, is not super applicable to me, I learned a ton about work and life. Here are a few of my favorite gems on how to make the most of your twenties:
Use your weak ties
There are the people in our lives like our BFFs or our family that social psychologists think of as “strong ties.” While these people are the ones who get us through hard times, give us a sense of belonging, and make our lives a lot of fun, they’re often not the same people who get us ahead in our careers. The people that actually help us do that are our “weak ties,” or people we don’t know all that well. I got my first college internship through a person I’d only exchanged two emails with, who referred me to someone else. I got my first job post-college and strengthened my marketing chops working for my little sister’s best friend’s dad. Brandon got a summer job a few summers ago at a law firm through my seventh grade English teacher’s mother. While my family and friends have certainly helped me make connections as well, the most crucial professional pivot points in my life have been orchestrated by people I hardly know. Weak ties matter.
Be like Ben Franklin
In his autobiography, Ben Franklin talks about how he got to know a state official and later one of his closest professional and personal connections. He knew that he wanted to connect with this person, but knew that sending a simple introduction letter wasn’t going to get him anywhere. The man he wanted to connect with was busy and wouldn’t want to bother with a vague request to “connect.” Instead, good ol’ Ben was smart: he knew that this official had a copy of a very rare book in his personal library. Ben wrote the man and asked him if he could borrow the book, as he was interested in the topic, and the man obliged. Ben got his foot in the door and ended up making a lifelong friend and connection. Meg tells this story to illustrate the point that networking doesn’t have to be about meaningless business card swaps; reaching out with a specific and simple request to someone can take you far.
Don’t mistake “shoulds” for goals
Meg makes the claim that one of the biggest mistakes twenty-somethings make is that they mistake “shoulds” for goals. Especially with Facebook as a window into what everyone you know is doing, it’s easy to create this framework for what you should be doing with your life. “I should be married by now. I should have a house. I should be working on Wall Street. I should be richer. I should be enjoying life, etc., etc., etc.” While it may be impossible for us to avoid having these thoughts, we shouldn’t make them the priority of our lives. We need to reserve that for goals. The difference? Goals motivate us, shoulds beat us down. Goals come from within, shoulds are imposed on us from the outside. Setting goals that aren’t based on what your friend from high school posted on Facebook is one of the most important things we can do in our twenties to live a satisfying life.
I remember when I first graduated from college. All of the people I know (an exaggeration, but that’s how it felt) were taking fancy consulting jobs in NYC or working at flashy start-ups in San Francisco. I felt a little like I was doing the wrong thing. Here I was in Wyoming, prepping for my wedding and freelancing while I strategized my next career move, and people I knew were traveling on the weekends to Miami and making bank in the big city. I began to feel the pressure of the should: you should be using your fancy degree somewhere fancy instead of moving back home. Thankfully I never let the should get to me too much, but I totally get what Meg means.
Don’t live with someone before you’re engaged (or at least take it seriously)
Obviously not applicable to me, but Meg’s point here is fascinating and totally counter-intuitive. Morals aside, Meg makes the claim, backed up by a lot of research, that living together before you’re engaged doesn’t help you “test things out”; it actually increases your chances of divorce. Crazy, right? Here’s the thinking: when most couples move in together, they don’t really make a big deal of it. Dating leads to sleeping over, which leads to moving in together. It’s what she calls “sliding, not deciding.” It’s a gradual thing. After awhile, moving out feels hard because you share furniture and maybe dogs and everything, so you kind of feel stuck. Couples who slide into living together then end up sliding into marrying each other, often ignoring red flags in the process. Living together doesn’t actually test out what it would be like to be married; it just makes breaking up harder and thus makes it more likely you’ll marry the wrong person. If you’re gonna live together before you’re engaged, make sure it’s a measured decision.
Convinced yet that you need to read this book? I find a lot of self-help-ey books to be full of fluff and cliché, but this is one worth reading. If you do read it or already have, let me know what you think!