Your Defining Decade: Goals + Growth as a Twenty-Something

Inaction breeds fear and doubt. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. // Dale Carnegie

Maybe it’s sitting inside on a rainy New Year’s Day, catching up on all of my friend’s reflections and goals for the new year. Maybe it’s reading The Defining Decade while on the other side of the world by myself. Regardless, I’m reflecting on how far I’ve come, where I would like to go, and how it’s even possible for me to change.

2014 and 2015 were big years for me. I switched majors, started a new job, and was single for the first time since being an adult. I changed a lot, but I made a lot of mistakes on the way. I wasn’t happy and I knew it, but I tried to accept my mistakes as lessons learned to help me become my better self.

Reflecting on 2016, I really changed. Sure, I accomplished some major milestones, but I would argue that my personality has changed the most this year. Although I am introverted, my communication skills have improved immensely, and I think that overall I’m much more sociable. From the little things, like being more friendly with members at ENRGi or engaging in conversation with affluential professionals at my internship, I am much more of a people person than I ever used to be and I like it. I no longer dread (okay, I don’t dread as much — I’m not perfect) social encounters and confrontations.

I can see reasonable change in confidence in all aspects of my life, and I think I’m much happier as a result. I’m more level-headed, and I’m not as easily riled up or upset. I am less cynical and much more positive, thanks to CHAARG. My problem-solving skills are better, and my self-awareness has improved remarkably. I still have a lot of room for growth, but that doesn’t lessen my accomplishments, even if they may seem minor to someone else.

I see a lot of my friends posting about the goals they have accomplished and/or the goals they would like to accomplish. I LOVE THIS. But, I also see some other peers making fun of these people or even just bitching about the *New Year, New Me* posts. This has me wondering, why do some people not want to change?

The imposter syndrome is so real, but I think I with many other twenty-somethings feel this because we’re not always encouraged to change. Once you’re an adult, you’re you and your mistakes will be remembered forever.

Dramatic much? As I’m reading The Defining Decade, I’m learning about how the twenties really are your prime time for growth. This isn’t some abstract motivation from *grown-ups* that are reminiscing their younger years with regret. Scientifically, our brains are still developing during our twenties.

The frontal lobe does not fully mature until between the ages of 20 and 30. In our twenties, the pleasure-seeking, emotional brain is ready to go while the forward thinking frontal lobe is still a work in progress. This doesn’t necessarily affect education, since many young twenty-somethings graduated college. Being smart in school is different than knowing how you want to apply those skills to a career or future life plans. It’s a different skillset.

Visualizing the future can be difficult, and forward-thinking doesn’t come with age, but practice and experience. As Meg Jay says, “That’s why some twenty-two year olds are incredibly self-possessed, future-oriented people who already know how to face the unknown while some thirty-four year olds still have brains that run the other way.”

People have always told me I’m *mature for my age.* I never really knew what that meant, and I still don’t know what that means from my younger years because looking back, I definitely wasn’t. Regardless, now, I think my naturally tendencies as a planner combined with my event planning internship has strengthened my forward-thinking skills. I may be at Point A, but I can visualize Point B, C, and D. I know how to get to B and C, and although I don’t yet know how to get to D, I know I will get there in due time if I keep planning properly.

The book continues to talk about how the twenties are a time of great risk and opportunity, and never again will we be so quick to learn new things. Jobs and school in our twenties help us acquire the skills that we’ll need for careers throughout the rest of our lives. Relationships in our twenties prepare us for marriage and partnerships. Plans in our twenties help us think across the years in the decades ahead. Our coping mechanisms develop and large social networks change our brains as we learn to communicate with a variety of people.

Essentially, the twenties are a survival of the busiest. If you engage in good jobs and real relationships, you’re learning the language of adulthood at the prime time for your brain to understand it. The busier you are, the more you’re going to learn (as long as you learn proper balance and coping mechanisms, not simply for the sake of being busy).

It can be overwhelming, and it might seem better to take a few years off, either traveling or laying low to “find yourself,” but that’s not how the brain works. Alternatively, you create yourself.

Again, this is hard. Twenty-somethings who don’t feel anxious and incompetent at work are usually overconfident or underemployed. I can’t tell you the number of times in 2016 that I felt like I was worthless and not going to succeed. There were many failures, but failures are crucial to learning lessons. Microtraumas help us learn from our mistakes.

There are fixed mindsets and growth mindsets — either you see in black and white, or you believe in change and achievement. Of course, the growth mindset is more ideal, but it’s not as common as one would hope. Fixed mindsets are simpler to comprehend as one comfortably compartmentalizes. However, fixed mindsets are static and not as resilient to change. When things don’t go as planned or a bump in the road comes along, it may be difficult to process unforeseen changes. This is why we should expect the unexpected by facing challenges head-on.

Sure, it takes confidence to face challenges. But, where do you expect confidence to come from other than challenges? Real confidence comes from mastery experience. Work, whether academic, professional, or personal, must be challenging and require effort that is done without much help. It can’t go well every single day. Easy successes may instead lead to fragile confidence that can be easily shattered upon failure. Mastery experience is resilient and takes time.

I highly encourage you to read The Defining Decade, no matter where you are at in your twenties — age or experience. It has helped me be proud of my accomplishments, but also foresee potential future challenges and provide helpful ways to overcome them. It can help you think about bigger picture goals and why you should tackle them now.

Some people may mock others for goal-setting and reflection, but it fills my heart with admiration and inspiration. No matter what your goals are for this upcoming year, I hope you tackle them with bravery, courage, and the belief that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

Rooting for you always,

++ Mary K

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