Annu Subramanian: Your most important decade


It is an acronym that, if you have been living under a rock, means “you only live once.” That sentiment has the power to ignite and motivate, but our generation does not use it as fuel to propel toward a dream job or to carve out an identity.

Instead, it is a justification for skipping class or engaging in a night of bad decisions.

Our 20s have been seen as years of delayed responsibility and decreased pressure. Our generation has taken shirking commitments so seriously that we have changed the timetable of transition to adulthood, according to the New York Times article by Robin Marantz Henig, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” . Fewer 20-somethings are fitting the conventional definition of an adult than ever before and we have created for ourselves a decade-long transition period that Clark University psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett calls “emerging adulthood.”

I am certainly guilty of this. I let college serve as my excuse to explore career options rather than nail down a life goal, and immediate gratification is always more enticing than long-term gain.

But here is the thing: in doing so, we are not just wasting our youth or college years or GWorld money. This decade might be the most important one of our lives. And it is not worth squandering.

It is in peoples’ 20s that they begin to lose about 1 percent of the volume of the hippocampus – which is critical for memory and learning – annually, according to New York Times magazine. And our 20s are not just physically significant. 80 percent of the most important milestones in our lives will happen before we turn 35, according to psychologist and clinical professor at the University of Virginia, Meg Jay.

So as the graduates embark on what will surely be an adventure of proportions they have not yet imagined and the rest of us move up a year, our attitude needs to change.

Our twenties are still the best decade of our lives. But it is also the best decade to establish ourselves. We can find ourselves but we can also define ourselves.

Professor Jay calls the 20s a “Las Vegas in the life cycle.”

“You don’t empower twentysomethings by telling them they’re not grown-ups. You don’t demote them just when they need to start taking themselves seriously. They interpret it as ‘I shouldn’t worry about a real relationship. I don’t have to engage with having a real job. Everybody tells me I’m not a grown-up,’” she told USA Today last month.

This isn’t the time for us to succumb to our present bias or forego our potential for a more immediate route.

And why should we?

We might be nowhere near our play’s final curtain drop, but you better believe that this is when the show gets interesting. Treat this decade like the scene when you light up the stage and dazzle the audience with your performance.

Because as fun as it is to dismiss our own growth or defer to our thirties as the time when our actions have consequences, that approach makes for a seriously lackluster plot line.

And here is what is both terrifying and thrilling: this decade will at least lay the groundwork for our lives. We might begin our careers and we might meet our future spouses. We might land in the city of our dreams or finally start writing that book.

It does not matter how we begin or what path that points us to. Because life will not end when we graduate – it accelerates. This is the scene that matters most. It’s better to be the star of it.

Annu Subramanian, a junior majoring in journalism, is a senior columnist and former Hatchet opinions editor.

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