Your arms are slack and you can't see land. You feel like this is it: you and the currents.
It's a bit dramatic. It's a little dramatic. But this is one of many metaphors Meg Jay uses to describe the 20s, in her cult book 'The Defining Decade.' This metaphor is what consistently triggers the most explosive response from readers. Dozens 20-somethings emailed Meg Jay, referring to the ocean metaphor and saying: "Yes!" They are resonant because they too feel lost.
Career advice is not scarce for twenty-somethings. Twenty-somethings get a lot of career advice.
In that muck, Dr. Jay published her book in 2012. It has sold over 500,000 copies, and it has spawned a book club, TikTok endorsements, and a zealous fan base. She advises somewhere between "there, there" and "tough love". Start planning for the next decade, but don't panic. In 2021 Dr. Jay published a second edition of 'The Defining Decade,' and found that its reach was expanding. It is designed to help 20-somethings navigate the confusion of today's world, which is exacerbated by the social media pressures, as well as the turbulence caused by the pandemic. Parents are also embracing it; Dr. Jay often hears mothers say that they only wanted their children to read this book on Mother's Day.
Dr. Jay is the new patron saint for young people who are striving to achieve their goals. He has become a prophetic figure in a world of mixed messages. On television, they're told they can be as rich as the Kardashians if they try, on Instagram, they should vacation in Sicily. They are told on TikTok how a #Girlboss dance looks, and in Beyonce songs, that everyone will quit their jobs.
This year's college graduates have extra reasons for uncertainty, given the churn in the labor market and the waves of layoffs across tech. In a survey of 1,432 job seekers from Handshake, a job search site for college students, the top words that members of the class of 2023 and other recent graduates used to describe their feelings about the economy were 'anxious,' 'worried' and 'nervous.' They're following on the heels of millennials, who were known for spending their 20s job-hopping and landing in various positions for under three years. Dr. Jay's book combines sympathy for young people's confusion with a nudge.
'It certainly aims to create urgency', said Dr. Jay. Her sobering message was tempered with a warm Southern drawl. When we think we have the whole world to ourselves, we do nothing. It's true for everything, from choosing a career to doing your laundry.
It is this sense of urgency that makes Dr. Jay's readers send her not only fan mail, but also angry mail. Dr. Jay explained that her readers would email and tell her, "I read it when I was 22 and threw the book across the room." It depends.
The average American will not get married until they are around 30, and may change jobs every 30 months. On the other hand, it is likely that they will be saddled with almost $40,000 of student debt. This can lead to a sense of panic and wanderlust.
Sarah Liddy and Audrey Flowers are two superfans of Dr. Jay, both mixed-up teens who decided to launch a podcast in order to discuss being a mixed-up teen. The podcast was called Completely Clueless with an added profanity for effect. Both Ms. Liddy, and Ms. Flowers dreamed of becoming an actor in high school (Ms. Liddy made her debut in "Beauty and the Beast" as the teapot). Flowers worked at a Lululemon shop in New York until recently. Ms.
Ms. Liddy used the slang for a 'loss' to describe the past two weeks in her life. Major L's have been had in my personal life.
Flowers replied, "Sometimes it's necessary to be in a flop period." Flowers responded. Flowers replied.
She encouraged her by saying: "Your slay-era is just around the corner, Baby Girl."
Ms. Liddy, along with Ms. Flowers and Dr. Jay had lunch in Dimes Square. This Manhattan microneighborhood is known for its dive bars, where young people try to figure out life over dive drinks. Both declared, with a giddy smile, how important Dr. Jay’s advice was to them.
Flowers and Ms. Liddy’s story, like many others described in 'The Defining Decade', is both specific in its mishaps, and widely resonant. Teachers told them that they would be successful in the theatre when they were young. Ms. Liddy said that she felt her hometown believed that she was going to make it on Broadway. They auditioned for many shows in college. Covid came along and turned their plans upside down. They both said that they related to Dr. Jay’s description of feeling unmoored.
"The ocean!" Dr. Jay exclaimed.
'We both have had periods where we felt stuck since graduation,' added Ms. Liddy. 'I wish I could go back to my old self -- the girl who defined herself by her hard work and was told, "She's going be a superstar."'
The defining decade was released in America when there were about 50 million twenty-somethings, or 15 percent of the total population. This group is going through a phase of life Dr. Jay calls a "modern phenomenon". In the past, it took people less than a decade to leave their parents' home and start their own family. They started their families early, moving into their homes, getting jobs and having children.
A confluence between economic and social factors has led to a longer time span between childhood and adulthood. Birth control is one of the reasons. Oral contraceptives were readily available to women in the 1960s & 1970s. This allowed them to delay having children and increase their participation in the labor force by over 50%. Student debt is another factor that has caused many graduates to return home. As religious affiliations have declined, over half of Americans derive their sense self from their work. This means that choosing a job isn't only about finding a way to earn money, but also a way to find identity.
A new phase in life has begun. It is a time of possibilities and risks, of exhilaration, but also of crippling doubt. It's a complex time. It's a complicated time.
The first edition of The Defining Decade was published just after the financial crisis in 2008, at a time when many young people were entering a job market that had never been so bad. The second edition was published during the pandemic as graduates were entering a world that had been turned upside down.
Dr. Jay had been in a period of transition when the pandemic struck. She had decided to abandon her comfortable routines and sign up to teach "The Definitive Decade" in a program known as Semester at Sea. Students spend months aboard a cruise ship, traveling the world. The book club meetings of Dr. Jay were among the most popular onboard. The room was packed every time, and the cookies were gone in a flash. Students watched as their peers swapped Colleen Hoover books for 'The Defining Decade'.
Athena Bo, a 23-year-old participant in Semester at Sea, said that when she spoke to young people she gave off the impression that she was rooting for them but would also call them out on what they weren't doing. Many people would pass by the room, and say things like, "Damn, this room is packed." "Damn, Meg Jay has super-fame."
Ms. Bo found that reading 'The Defining Decade' reaffirmed the lessons her father taught her as a child: 'When I went to McDonald's he said, 'If I want chicken nuggets I'm going to have to get it myself.' He would grab me and say, "You have to ask for chicken nuggets."
Evidently, the chicken nuggets was a low-risk request. After a decade, Dr. Jay is teaching Ms. Bo to ask for something more. A job, perhaps, or a relationship.
While Dr. Jay updated the book for 2020, she received dozens of additional reader emails. She received dozens of emails from readers as Dr. Jay updated the book in 2020. Some people said they had finally read her book because they were confined to their homes.
Covid isolation intensified the anxiety that twenty-somethings felt. Jahleane DOLNE, 25, a TikTok lover of 'The Defining Decade', found herself scrolling LinkedIn from her parents home while seated with her high school prom dress and cheerleader uniform. Jasmine Yook (30), who also posted about Dr. Jay's books on TikTok, reread the book at age 29 and reflected upon the gap between her career goals and where she ended up.
Dr. Jay replied to these readers in football coach pep. She said, 'This is the Great Depression of your lifetime. This is your recession. What did you do in the face of this generational adversity? What did you do? How did you respond?
While much of her advice may sound intimidating, she's not against sharing hacks. Dr. Jay told me over lunch that you were asking about formulas. We had been discussing the balance of seeking joy today and working hard in order to create joy for the future. There is actually a very loose formulation.
All the people at the table lean forward.
'Happily successful people spend half of their time thinking about what will make them feel successful and happy now and the other half is spent thinking about what they want to achieve in the future.' Dr. Jay added. If someone asked me how I manage to be happy in my 20s while also being happy afterward, I'd say that I do it about half-and-half.
On the other side, on a French fries platter, Ms. Flowers nodded wisely. It wasn't a panacea, but a flashing of hope. They could hold onto some wisdom. In the distance was the land, or at least their 30s.