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9 Ways Twentysomethings Screw Up Their Lives

30 is not the new 20. 80% of life's most defining decisions are made by age 35. 70% of lifetime wage growth happens in the first ten years of a career. The brain caps off its last growth spurt in our 20s. Personality changes more in our 20s than any time before or after. As a clinical psychologist who specializes in twentysomethings, I've spent more than 10 years listening to the behind-closed-doors stories of hundreds of twentysomething women and men. Your 20s are a time when the things you do--and the things you don't do--will have an enormous effect across years and even generations to come. Here are 9 things that so many twentysomethings do that mess up their lives...
Spending all your time with your urban tribe--you're not at Burning Man!

Twentysomethings are in almost constant communication with the same few people, but those who huddle together with like-minded peers limit themselves. New information and opportunities--and dates--come from e-mailing your aunt's neighbor or having coffee with that friend of a friend from college. The urban tribe is overrated. Twentysomethings who won't ask outsiders for advice and favors and invitations fall behind those who will.

Hoping that Lottery ticket will make your dreams come true

"What would I do with my life if I won the lottery?" is about what you would do with your life if money and talent didn't matter. They do. The question twentysomethings really need to ask themselves is "What would I do with my life if I didn't win the lottery?" What do you do well enough to support the life you want and what do you enjoy enough that you won't mind working at it, in some form or another, for decades to come?

Stalking on Facebook (and then sulking at home)

Facebook's most frequent visitors often use it for social surveillance, as a way of checking up on people rather than as a way of catching up. Social spying bombards us with upward social comparisons, ones where our nights sitting on the couch with a Lean Cuisine watching TV--and surfing Facebook--feel low compared to the high life it seems everyone else is leading (at least in the photos). See Facebook pages for what they are, as one of my clients calls them: "self-advertisements." You have to be aware of what you're seeing--and what you're not seeing--or else you'll never get off the couch and face the real world.

Dating losers

Too many twentysomethings have low-criteria or no-criteria relationships because they don't think who they date in their 20s matters. But dating down is dangerous when a series of bad relationships leaves us damaged and depressed--or when suddenly that person we never had any intention of staying with starts to look better than starting over. Find someone you deserve and who is worth it.

Being "too cool" for a desk job

That part-time bartending job and/or pet grooming gig isn't a longterm economic plan. Twentysomething unemployment and underemployment isn't cool. Maybe you imagine you'll get it together one day but salaries peak--and plateau--in our 40s, so people who start careers in their 30s never catch up with those who started earlier.

Spending too much time with your Playstation

The brain caps off its last growth spurt during our 20s, but that doesn't mean twentysomethings ought to wait around for their brains to grow up. Our 20s are wiring us to be the adults we will be. So step away from the videogames and pick up a book. These are use-it-or-lose years when neurons that fire together wire together. Whatever you want to change about yourself, now is the time to change it.

Shacking up too early

I know, I know. You don't want to hear this one. It's just so convenient and fun--and cheap--to live together. But the numbers don't lie. Couples who cohabitate before becoming engaged are less satisfied and committed in their marriages--and are more likely to divorce--than couples who don't. Standards for a live-in partner are lower than for a spouse but, once couples split the rent and the dog, staying together seems easier than hitting the bars (or the internet) again, especially when friends start walking down the aisle.

Acting like you're on a reality TV show

Cool it on the dramatics. The twentysomething brain finds negative information--such as reprimands from bosses and rejections from lovers--more memorable and exciting than positive information. Don't stoke the drama via Gchat and text messages. Teach your still-forming brain to calm itself down with what is going right. Twentysomethings who can control their emotions keep their jobs and relationships. Take up yoga. Or get a therapist. Or read a book on mindfulness. You're getting too old to freak out all the time. Tantrums are for teenagers.

Ignoring your ovaries

Everyone in Hollywood may be doing it but you don't live in Hollywood or have three nannies or earn enough money to pay for fertility treatments in Beverly Hills. Did you know female fertility peaks at 28? That ≤ of your fertility is gone by age 35? That the average cost of fertility treatments at age 40 is $100,000? That half of childless couples wish they weren't childless? Planning to deal with kids at 40 is no plan. Empower yourself. Learn about your fertility in your 20s. Do the math.

Author: Meg Jay
Tuesday, May 1, 2012