Meg Jay, the New York Times best-selling author of The Defining Decade, lectured on March 14 on how to take advantage of and plan through the difficult transition after college and into one’s 20s. Her book draws on her experience as a clinical psychologist and associate professor of education at the University of Virginia.
Jay described the third decade of one’s life as a time of uncertainty and transition, explaining that the process of building an identity and capital and structuring life after graduation is notoriously difficult and stress-inducing. The key, according to Jay, is tackling that uncertainty head-on and setting goals.
“Everything is different in the 20s compared to college and all the years before,” Jay said. “After college there is no more syllabus. There is no paper that says ‘this is what you should do when and this is how you succeed,’ and that’s very stressful for people because it creates an overwhelming sense of uncertainty.”
Jay also said that it is often one of the most lonely times in a person’s life. She recognized that it takes people additional effort and intentional energy to engage with those around them after the loss of social structure college provides, especially when a fear of rejection can exacerbate problems.
“In your 20s, family isn’t around, college is not around—you have to make that for yourself,” Jay said. “So get involved with your town, your life, your interests and see where that leads you.”
Jay recommended that recent college graduates make lists and set goals for the future. She emphasized that these goals don’t have to be binding contracts. Coming up short is not a failure, as goals simply provide a way to envision and feel comfortable with the future ahead, she said.
“The point of planning is to say it’s actually up to me,” said Jay. “If I don’t then I’m not really taking responsibility for what happens in my own life—I’m leaving it up to chance. So start thinking about what do you want to do with [your] life, how you want to live it, because that’s how people start to be intentional and take responsibility.”
Featured Image by Jonathon Ye / Heights Editor