Why “figuring it out after thirty” is a terrible idea

jacketI just finished reading The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them by Meg Jay. My friend Jason Evanish has written about how much he enjoyed the book, but I didn’t get around to it until I had a conversation with Jonathan Gurerra about a few days ago.

The book is written from the perspective of a therapist who has seen many twenty-somethings make good and bad decisions and has been doing her practice long enough to see how those decisions pan out. I’m 26 today (turning 27 in two months) and this book is very relatable, with detailed conversations between the author and her clients that will definitely sound familiar.

Her basic points are this:

  • The idea that our 20’s are just a time to fool around, find ourselves and delay the real-world till 30 is a myth
  • Twenty-somethings need to be deliberate about their choices – what work they do, who they love, where they live
  • In regards to work: do something to build “social capital” vs being a barista, even if you’re not sure it’s your “true passion”
  • In regards to love: do the math. If you want to be married with two kids by 35, you can’t keep dating bad-for-you people into your late twenties

I feel that I’ve done pretty well in my career so far. Despite starting work a year later than my peers (I stayed for a 5th year masters at Stanford) and not working at any blue chip companies, I’ve developed a strong set of skills, experiences, connections and assets. The future is by no means assured, but I’m confident my efforts in the working world will serve me well.

Where the book really hit home was in the love/relationships section. I’m currently in a monogamous long-term relationship with a wonderful lady, but I’m not thinking about marriage anytime soon. While I do want to start a family some day, it’s always been something I thought I’d figure out “after thirty”.

But the book makes it clear: things don’t just magically fall into place when you turn thirty. For instance, doing the math: if I want to get married and have two kids in my mid-thirties, how much lead time do I need?

  • 1 year of engagement
  • 1-2 years of childless marriage
  • 3 months (if you’re lucky!) of trying to get pregnant
  • 9 months of pregnancy
  • 1-2 years between children
  • 1 year of trying + being pregnant
  • Total: 5-7 years

So if you want those two kids by age 35, you must be proposing no later than age 30. The math does not lie.

Certainly the timeline could be made shorter, you could cut the engagement shorter or post-marriage childrearing etc, but it could also go in the other direction: the girl you propose to (or marry) doesn’t work out, you have a miscarriage, etc.

Anyway, the author is not advocating that everyone just marry the next person they meet or commit to a corporate stooge job they hate, but she is saying that twenty-somethings need to face the hard truths of reality in order to prepare/choose a future that will make us happy in the long run.

The book is an easy read and pretty short. I finished it in a weekend and highly recommend it for anyone under 30. If you are over 30, I would recommend you DO NOT read it, unless you feel particularly good about how life has turned out, and you want to see what you did right.

You can buy The Defining Decade on Amazon here.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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    • @killerrobotarmy Nope, never said that. Book says to think abt timeline you *do* want. Waiting till post-30 to *start* planning is too late.

      • @JasonShen ok i misunderstood…hope your plan works out and that life throws you no curve balls!

        • @killerrobotarmy Look, I’m on your side. Set-in-stone plans are a sure disaster. I’m an entrepreneur. Please stop trying to twist my words.

        • @JasonShen dude this is one of the reasons the internet sucks–wasn’t trying to be snarky, but can’t always convey right tone in 140 char.

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