This is the thing: when you start to hit twenty-eight or thirty, everything starts to divide, and you can see very clearly two kinds of people: on one side, people who have used their twenties to learn and grow, to find God and themselves and their deep dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults. And then there’s the other kind, who are hanging on to college, or high school even, with all their might … so they live in kind of an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than they were when they graduated college. – Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet (89-90)
Talk about twenty-somethings is in the air these days. Terms such as extended adolescence, emerging adulthood, and boomerang children are popping up in articles, books, movies, and Ted Talks. As a counselor, I read, watch, and listen to these comments on Millennial living, and I reflect on what they mean for the conversations I have with twenty-somethings in my office each week. What makes counseling a twenty-something so different from counseling a teen or a thirty-something?
Life as a Millennial
There are many reasons why life in your twenties is different than any other time in life. Here are a few of the most significant ones that are based on Dr. Meg Jay’s book, The Defining Decade.
- Changing Culture
According to Dr. Jay, Millennials (21st century twenty-somethings) are entering adulthood following the cultural pendulum swing that occurred between the baby boomer generation and Generation X. This pendulum swing went from the “I-settled down-too-early” baby boomers to the “I-got-started-too-late” Generation Xers. Trying to learn from the mistakes of the past, Millennials are attempting to find the happy middle ground on when and how to settle down, all the while contending with the economic effects of the Great Recession. Between ever-increasing college loans, the high cost of living, underemployment, and a later and later average age of marriage, the twenty-something years look quite different for Millennials than they did for any previous generation.
- Decision Making
In the midst of these economic and cultural shifts, there is the added pressure that the decisions made by twenty-somethings are among the most important decisions a person will make. Dr. Jay shares about a lifespan development study conducted at Boston University and the University of Michigan. The results of this study revealed that life-determining decisions are more heavily concentrated in the twenty-something decade than in any other decade in life. (Preface) Decisions about who to marry, what career to pursue, what to do with money, and what extended education to pursue (and how to pay for it), are all decisions that carry heavy consequences for the rest of life.
- The Twenty-Something Brain
Thanks to modern science, research is beginning to reveal just how significant the twenties are for brain development. Beginning in adolescence, the brain goes through a second phase of rapidly producing new neural connections (the first phase happens when you’re a baby), so many connections in fact that the brain actually becomes somewhat inefficient. This process is followed by a critical period of “pruning” during which the brain gets rid of neural connections that aren’t being used, while maintaining and strengthening the ones that are – a kind of neural streamlining. This pruning process extends into the twenties along with other continuing brain development and so twenty-something life has a significant impacting on the hardwiring of the brain. This means that what you do with your brain in your twenties has an impact what your brain will do for you for the rest of your life.
Counseling for Twenty-Somethings
In many ways, counseling for twenty-somethings feels like a world of opportunity. What better time to work through issues from the childhood that you are leaving behind, while gaining a steadier footing in healthy relating, a sense of self, and life direction? Twenty-somethings are old enough to be gaining distance and differentiation from Mom and Dad, and young enough to have significant influence and flexibility in the path they set for their lives. Struggles with depression and anxiety in your twenties are common and normal, but also need to be addressed – both for the sake of life today as well as for the decisions that will affect life tomorrow. Counseling for twenty-somethings also needs to involve a balance between self-reflection in therapy and action outside of therapy. Being active in one’s community and social group, taking on challenges at work, and stepping out into new and uncomfortable situations can help develop confidence and provide invaluable life experience. This is not to mention some helpful streamlining that it provides for your brain.
Why Christian Counseling for Twenty-Somethings?
Christian counseling is uniquely helpful for twenty-somethings for a couple of reasons. One reason is that your twenties are a prime time for asking questions such as: “What is life all about?”, “What’s my purpose?” and “What does it mean to be a Christian in this world?” I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a quarter-life existential crisis, but based on the conversations I’ve been having with twenty-somethings lately, I think there should be. Another reason why Christian counseling is helpful for twenty-somethings is that faith has a certain ability to ground us in the things we most need to remember. In the swirl of twenty-something life, with all of its stressors, excitements, and big decisions, “grounding” yourself if your core beliefs can help you to relieve some anxiety and clarify your path forward.
Speak to a Christian Counselor While You’re Still in Your Twenties
The thing about your twenties is that they go quickly – sometimes really quickly. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by twenty-something life, or are simply wanting support in approaching this time in life with purpose and intentionality, consider contacting a Christian counselor to start the conversation.
Jay, Meg. (2013). Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them now. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.
Niequist, Shauna. (2010). Bittersweet: Thoughts on change, grace and learning the hard way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The steps, “DSC_0390_Iván_Melenchón_Serrano_MorgueFile.jpg” by by imelenchon, morguefile.com;
“Lady Taking a Path for her Future,” by graur razvan ionut, Image ID 10016416, FreeDigitalPhotos.Net