Dear Meg Jay,
I recently stumbled upon your Ted Talk on why my 30s are not the new 20s, and while I respect your views, and it may work for some people, I would like to touch on why this is not the case for me.
When I was 12 years old, I was thrown into the whirlwind adventure of growing up too soon. My mom had been institutionalized for a mental health treatment, and my father was working a full time job about an hour away from our house. My brother was 15 (almost 16) years old at the time, and we were faced with the task of taking care of ourselves, and each other, while my mom was in care. My dad did the best he could and my mom called when she was able to. My dad's parents at the time were supportive of providing us with any additional care we needed including a dinner here, or if my dad was going to be super late we went and spent a lot of the night with them.
I'm not here to tell you the peanut butter sandwiches I made for my brother and I made me an adult nor am I going to claim it ruined my life. It was a good thing. While most of the memories I have of this time aren't clear to me, I know that my brother and I knew what we had to do to make my mom's transition home easier. We faced challenges with our family members blaming us for what happened, despite the fact we were the kids in the situation. It's easy to forget the bright moments in these times, and super easy to recall being told because my room was a mess, my mom lost her mind.
When it was close to my mom coming home, my brother and dad attended a session at the care facility she was at that was like a support group, but I was too young for one group and too old for the other. I was in a sense, forced to face this on my own. I chose to not talk about it for many years. I mean, how many people had a mom who was crazy? We found ourselves in a similar situation 3 years later where a new diagnosis was tagged on, and we were faced with challenges again.
I get that many teenagers spent their years going to parties, getting drunk and high, and having a grand old time. I never got to experience a stereotypical high school party. I never made friends with large groups of people. I never got to have a sleepover at my house. However, I did learn what different psychiatric medications did. I learned how to sneak them into jam, and apple sauce, and even peanut butter sandwiches. There was never a "oh she's just a kid" mentality around the situation of me caring for my mother. There was only a "you need to help your mom" mentality. I earned the nickname of nurse, and helped my mom to the best of my ability. She was mom, it's what you do. From my experiences of this, I wanted to get into psychology and help people. So it's not completely a waste of my teen years, but it sure as hell was not a picnic way to spend it either.
I'm sure you can imagine how ecstatic I was to get into university and be able to move away from home. I no longer had to worry about my mom, I could be free to do whatever I wanted. My first and second year grades reflect that wonderfully. I still went home almost every weekend to check in on my family, to make sure things were okay and to keep my mom happy. The summers felt long, but I got through them and I always cried when I had to leave my best friends. After my first year I was one of the most over involved kids in my program. If there was a volunteer opportunity, I took it. I worked my ass off for four years to make a name for myself, and I networked my pants off. I went to a professional conference at the age of 19, and absorbed absolutely none of it because I was too young to know what it was all about. But I had to be an adult, and I had to take these opportunities, because if I didn't some earth shattering thing would happen.
And I appreciate you trying to push my generation to re-claim their adulthood at 20. But in all honesty, I haven't even had the opportunity to be anything but an adult for the past 10 years of my life. I'm constantly being told that I need to be a 20 year old, and not worry. Do you know how many times I went out to the bar last semester? One. On my birthday. Where one person showed up because my mom made me cancel my party the week before because of a fight. I get what you're saying about networking, and expanding our horizons and getting experiences. But when you tell me this, you leave me feeling like I've accomplished shit all. That the 5 page CV I have worked my ass off for four years is never going to be enough.
You made me question if I was enough, if I was doing enough, if I was good enough, when for the past five months there have been people who have built up my confidence to believe I was. The one talk, the one where you make it seem like every 20 year old is being a lazy shit and throwing ten years of their lives away, shattered me. You're suppose to get to go to a bar, and you're suppose to spend your money on a stupid shoe collection. Instead do you know what I do? I spend it on grad school applications. I spend it on moving back to residence because I can't be a student and live at home. I've never been to a club because it's not an "adult" thing to do and it's "irresponsible". I'm regretting having to grow up so quickly.
I sat in tears staring at my computer for hours after I watched your talk (mistakenly at 12:30 am) because I chose to take a year for myself. After four years of dedicating myself and my time to my program, and to others in my school community I chose to be selfish. Because I have ambitions and I have dreams. I came back to my school where none of my friends were anymore to take courses with people I don't know, and to feel like a social isolate moving back home with my parents. You don't understand that sometimes, not doing anything is exactly what you need to do. That the stress and the pressure to be successful and some big shot in my 20s is now what I need.
My type A personality drives me to continue to push myself to be the best that I can be. I constantly need that reminder to take a step back, not a step forward like your talk suggested. I support what your saying. I support what you do. But in all honesty, this is not what every 20 year old needs to hear. I need to hear someone telling me it's okay to let go. It's okay to be upset at the world today. It's totally cool if I decide I don't want to work six days a week - it's not going to ruin my life. I don't need to get a job in my field right away, I can work my way up to it. Sometimes I need to grow down. Sometimes I need to remind myself it's okay if my 30s are going to be my new 20s, especially if I'm going to have a Ph. D in my hand when I get there.