Investing in your twenties

There were two or three new people on my surprise birthday party recently. Upon introduction, they asked me as usual: “So what do you do in Yangon?” I turned 24 that day and had left my old job the day before without having anything lined up yet. So I wasn’t quite mentally prepared to admit that I was as they say “transitioning.”

During my two years out of college, I have held two jobs (which is quite normal) and now I have decided to totally jump into an unfamiliar industry, which is also normal but remains a mystery to my Burmese parents. My mom was even more appalled to learn that the beau I brought home just a few months earlier is no longer my romantic partner. You see, she and most of her friends are currently still married to their first ever boyfriend.

But I am comfortable with my decisions, whether or not my parents wholeheartedly support them. After all, I have consulted with several trusted mentors and friends, drawn up elaborate pros and cons lists, and entertained different options for months now. The day I was preparing my letter of resignation, a friend rushed to find me in a bar and patiently went through my pros and cons list with me. One great mentor told me rather bluntly, “May, you are being over-analytical. Leave your job. Go explore.” She also took my colleagues and me out for an Italian dinner to tell us that there are three things every young professional should bear in mind: (1) always set goals, (2) reflect them, and (3) remember you will sometimes have to do things you dislike along the way. Aren’t they great?

Then, some friends directed me to this great Ted talk by the clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay, who is an advocate of twenty-somethings. She is known for arguing that twenty is the defining decade in one’s life. Her Ted talk is called “Thirty is not the new twenty.” Go look it up. Make sure you listen to her talk.

Of course her target audience is an average American in his/her twenties. Young adults in developing countries do not have the luxury of prolonged adolescence or a post-graduation college-like life. But I have definitely seen that my American peers from upper middle class families have things easy. I am not in the position to judge anyone’s lifestyle or values but Dr. Meg Jay will have something to say.

These are her main takeaways:

1. Forget about identity crisis and get some identity capital. Do something that adds value to who you are. Invest in what you might want to be next. Identity capital begets identity capital. Procrastination is not exploration.

2. The urban tribe is overrated. Don’t huddle together with like-minded people. New things come from outside of the inner circle. Reach out.

3. Be intentional with love, as you are with work. Constantly choose who and what you want, rather than just making it work or killing time with whoever happens to be choosing you…basically, stop sleeping around mindlessly. Date smart.

Just some food for thought.

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