On average, a staggering two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of a career. This means it’s imperative for recent college graduates to start thinking seriously about their careers, sooner rather than later. But how, after years of planned-out high school and college education, do you achieve success when there’s no longer a prescribed path to it? Luckily, we’ve found something to help.
In the book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them, Dr. Meg Jay offers advice for young adults on how to capitalize on their twenties to achieve career success. A clinical psychologist with over 10 years of experience working with twentysomethings, Jay offers a unique perspective on this often overhyped and misunderstood age group, drawing on numerous conversations with her clients. Although The Defining Decade covers several topics, including cognitive science, relationships, and social networks, Jay’s advice on career development is particularly poignant.
Here, we’ve compiled three key career-related takeaways from Jay’s book that every twentysomething should know.
1. Take charge of your own career by making decisions
One of the first dilemmas that Jay presents in her book is the paralyzing indecision many twentysomethings face when choosing a first job. She details the story of her client Ian, who at 25 felt so lost in a sea of endless job possibilities that he decided to work indefinitely for a local bike shop rather than make a decision that would affect his long-term career.
Commenting on Ian’s predicament, Jay writes, “Being confused about choices is nothing more than hoping that maybe there is a way to get through life without taking charge.” In order for Ian to make any progress toward establishing a career, he needed to take action. And, Jay writes, “The longer he waited to get going, the fewer the options were going to be.”
Once Ian finally identified several industries of interest, he decided on digital design and got an entry-level job in that field. Through Ian's example, Jay underlines the importance of making concrete decisions and taking action in your career. After all, you can’t determine the kind of work you like without ever trying it. And you can always modify your career path or change your mind later, once you’ve acquired some work experience.
2. Ignore the “shoulds” and focus instead on your talents and interests
Another phenomenon plaguing twentysomethings that Jay presents is external pressure. She notes that young adults are often concerned with what they feel they “should” be doing—as dictated by their family, friends, or even society at large. She explains, however, that while “Shoulds can masquerade as high standards or lofty goals … They are not the same. Goals direct us from the inside, but shoulds are paralyzing judgments from the outside.”
Oftentimes, what you feel you “should” do, such as move to a big city or go to graduate school, may not align with your true interests or help you cultivate your skills. It’s important to invest in your talents and interests, which will probably serve you better than suggestions from external sources. Rather than worry about your image, you should focus on the tangible things that you can control and that matter to you.
3. Dedicate time to your “weak ties” and foster those connections
Finally, Jay highlights the importance of “weak ties” in developing your career. While you may think that your “strong ties,” your closest friends and family, would be the ones most likely to help you find a job, that is not always the case. Your “strong ties” can actually limit how you think and even restrict you to a certain sphere of contacts.
In reality, your “weak ties,” or the people you know but not very well, are much more likely to expose you to new opportunities. That’s why networking is so important; it pushes you outside your comfort zone and forces you to meet new people.
Jay articulates the importance of leveraging “weak ties” to help you grow in your career: “As we look for jobs or relationships or opportunities of any kind, it is the people we know the least well who will be the most transformative. New things almost always come from outside your inner circle. And twentysomethings who won’t use their weak ties fall behind.”
So take her advice to heart and reach out to some contacts outside your inner circle. You never know what opportunities they might present.
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