Living life in your twenties

The inspiration (& information) for this post comes from a book I have recently finished reading, called ‘The Defining Decade’ by clinical psychologist Dr Meg Jay. I gave a brief overview of this amazing book in a previous post, but I thought it also deserved to stand on its own.

How many of you have heard or read about the top 5 regrets of the dying? Or heard someone say that they wasted their twenties? Living as a twenty-something can often feel like you’re on an open road with no map and a frighteningly poor sense of direction. Sure, when you get to 80, maybe you can look back and say that you wish you had taken bigger risks or loved your parents more or found a job that gave you a greater sense of fulfilment. But we’ve gone from having a very structured life to having to plan out the rest of it with no instruction manual and little guidance, and we’re the only ones that have to live with the consequences. This transition is understandably overwhelming, confusing, and terrifying for most of us.

I turned 25 this year, and let’s just say that my life isn’t exactly what you’d call ‘figured out’. But let me break it to you – no one actually knows what they’re doing at any age (I mean, for real). Don’t give up hope, though – there’s some second-hand advice I can relay that may guide you in 3 areas of life: work, love, and the brain & body. Welcome to life in your twenties.


When it comes to the world of work, you need to create one thing – it’s called identity capital. According to Meg Jay, identity capital is our own “collection of personal assets”. Our skills, knowledge, experiences, personality – essentially things that make up who we are. Your identity capital is created by you, over time. “Twenty-somethings who take the time to explore and also have the nerve to make commitments along the way construct stronger identities”. Put yourself in new situations, travel, have a go at building a business. Anything that is challenging, that broadens your horizon and allows you to overcome adversity helps to create this identity capital.

The second concept from this chapter that peered through to my soul is called the unthought known. When describing this concept, Meg uses the findings of a classic study in psychology – the jam experiment. In this study, half of the customers were given a choice of 6 flavours of jam to purchase, while the other half had to choose from 24. The key finding was that the table with more flavours attracted more attention, but had less buyers. More choice resulted in overwhelm. This also applies to life – people feel as though there are too many potential directions to go, so they don’t choose any. “Being confused about choices is nothing more than hoping that maybe there is a way to get through life without taking charge”. There is no right direction, you just have to choose something.


In my last relationship, my partner and I decided that we didn’t want to move in together until we were married. I liked this idea (and still do), because it meant that something changed once we were married and we had something to look forward to. Turns out, I may have the right idea (though it is very hard to find someone my age who agrees). Let me introduce you to the cohabitation effect – “couples who live together before being clearly and mutually committed to each other are more likely to experience poorer communication, lower levels of commitment to the relationship, and greater marital instability down the road”. The reason that living together ‘as a test’ becomes problematic is because “founding a relationship on convenience and ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love”.

Being ‘in like’ with your partner is important, according to Meg. Meaning two things: “being alike in ways that matter and genuinely liking who the other person is”. Being similar allows two people to understand each other better, and this facilitates both compatibility and the managing of incompatibility when it arises. While you may think that liking the same TV shows qualifies as a beneficial similarity in your relationship, it is actually your fundamental personality traits that determine compatibility. The big 5 is a model that measures 5 aspects of your personality – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. If you want to read more about these, this article is great. If you are feeling even more adventurous, take the test. Basically, the more similar you are in these 5 categories, the smoother your relationship can be.

The Brain

Meg makes a point of stating that thirty is not the new twenty – it is the main concept of the book. One of the reasons for this is because of what’s called neuroplasticity. There are 2 critical periods of growth within the human brain – the first at 18 months old, and the second starting in adolescence and ending in our twenty-something years. We need this second period of growth to prepare for the uncertainty of adulthood. This increased plasticity allows us to learn and grow faster and develop into the people we want to be for our professional careers, relationships, and many other aspects of our lives. “Back and forth it goes, as work and love and the brain knit together in the twenties to make us into the adults we want to be in our thirties and beyond”.

Being an adult is really difficult and failure is a given. Because of this, having a growth mindset is essential to surviving – it allows you to perceive your failures as an opportunity for improvement. Meg talks about the idea that confidence doesn’t come from the inside out, but the opposite – “people feel less anxious – and more confident – on the inside when they can point to things they have done well on the outside”. This applies to any aspect of your life – work, relationships, hobbies. But, it needs to be challenging. The reason for this is that more resilient confidence comes through failing and trying again in order to succeed.

I don’t know a single soul who hasn’t struggled or isn’t currently struggling through their twenty-something years. Regardless of where you are, I hope this gives you some reassurance and guidance toward a better future. Give the book a read – you won’t regret it.


Kait x

Cover photo by cottonbro studio