Living Intentionally in Your Defining Decade

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay says that those in our twenty-somethings are living in the “Defining decade.” Why? Because….

Meg Jay says that "30 is not the new 20" We need to live intentionally and stop wasting this as a throwaway decade, but rather a defining decade

Meg Jay says that “30 is not the new 20” We need to live intentionally and stop wasting this as a throwaway decade, but rather a defining decade

  • 80% of life’s most defining moments happen by age 35.
  • 70% of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of a career.
  • More than half of Americans are married or living with or dating their future partner by 30.
  • Our personalities changes more in our 20s than any other time.
  • Our fertility peaks.
  • Our brain makes the last growth spurt.

Meg Jay emphatically states in her latest TED talk that “30 is not the new 20.” Contrary to common belief, she exhorts to those in this defining decade not to squander this time as prolonged adolescence or throwaway years, but a time of being intentional with your life, setting a solid foundation for the rest of your life.

Cultivate Strong Foundations

To finish well means to start well. Twenties is a time where you either cultivate good soil or bad soil (footpath, rocky path, or thorny bush). We must start to live intentionally by creating a strong foundation that will guide us through our 70’s. Don’t be disappointed by the lack of immediate gratification. A seed takes time to bear fruit. (Matt 13:3-9)

As a twenty-something myself, I confess that this is easier said than done. Most of the 50 million twenty-somethings today are “living with a staggering, unprecedented amount of uncertainty.” No other generation has been faced with the sheer variety of choices and options one can make than today’s generation. Choices for college, choices for careers, choices for dating relationships, choices for lifestyle etc….the list goes on. 

Start with Why

The incessant chants from the world (i.e., society, media, and culture) shared with twenty-somethings don’t alleviate this uncertainty either. “Dream big!” “Follow your dreams!” “Reach for the stars!” “Life is limitless.” Surely, these aren’t necessarily incorrect statements. The intention behind such statements are benign, that we ought to live life to the fullest, but many of us have abused such statements, rendering them devoid of real meaning. 

Perhaps the most important question we forgot to ask is “Why?” instead of “How?” and “What?”

Why is it so important that I dream big and follow my dreams?” Why is life limitless? Why am I so eager to achieve success? Why am I doing this or that…? 

The truth is that many twenty-somethings haven’t put serious thought into these questions because it’s both uncomfortable and difficult. The “Why” questions speak to the core of who we are, revealing our worldview and philosophy in life.  It’s not easy to easily surface these thoughts and engage in a thoughtful internal discussion. 

Also, the busyness and hectic lifestyle this generation  lives today stifles an environment of asking such important, life-changing questions. Meg Jay says 20-somethings engage in “present bias,” leading us to think that if nothing happens in our twenties then everything is still possible in our thirties.” We should take heed to Soren Kierkegaard’s wisdom: “life must be lived forward, but understood backwards.”  

Intentional Living

As a follower of Jesus Christ, my number one goal in life is to glorify God or as C.S. Lewis said, “to make God smile.” To achieve this, I wholeheartedly believe that I must be intentional in how I live. I define intentional living as…

Living every moment with kingdom impact, stewarding our gifts, talents, resources, and opportunities to turn the world upside down. 

I believe there are four fundamental questions in life that one must answer with conviction in order to live with intentionality. 

  • Whose am I? This question deals with the primary authority and audience for your life. Your metaphysical worldview defines whether you are a product of time, product, and chance or you were created by a Creator who has breathed you His image in you. You are a living imprint of God who has fashioned you. If the latter is true you have established a place in life that gives meaning and relevance.
  • Who am I? This question deals with self-awareness. The Scripture says you are God’s workmanship created with God-given gifts, talents, and temperaments. Sadly, many grow up without knowing who they are. Our role is to discover, cultivate, and steward these resources and opportunities. At the end of our lives, God will measure what and how we have spent our lives. We will come either empty handed or multiplied resources. Learn more on how to be more self-aware here
  • Why am I here? This question revolves around your life’s purpose. Answering the previous questions help you discover your calling in life. The first call comes from the Creator who says “Follow Me”. This marks a new beginning. A life-changing inflection born where you are born again. You are no longer enslaved by your older self replete with sin and corruption, but now you have a new identity in Christ who offers you unending love, joy, peace, and grace. The next call is more specific – that is, to learn your vocation in life. Why did God make me in such a unique way? What did he call you to be? Frederick Buechner gives a helpful suggestion: “The place God calls you is where your deep gladness and world’s deep hunger meet.” 
  • Where am I going? Living intentionally is a lot like a GPS. Today marks your current location and you have a final destination you’re heading towards to. Living intentionally is about charting a course that will help you go from here to there. Answering the previous three questions will help you create an overarching vision and plan in life. The specific path is something you can’t orchestrate every time since we cannot predict the future. By relying on God with a sensitive Spirit, you do your best to live with wisdom and discernment.  

Question: If you are in your twenties, what are you doing to live intentionally? If you have graduated from your 20’s, what would you do differently if you had a chance to go back to this defining decade? 


  • Joshua

    Paul I found your Blog through the Ted commentary and resonated with you on the importance of asking “why”.

    Much like the overarching theme of the talk asking “why” poignantly directs us to the heart of our existence and current state of be-ing.

    Living with intentionality renders an exceptional life or one that is, “not part of ordinary standards”.

    I know and you know as a Christ follower that Jesus gave us a living example of through his extraordinary life path.

    The beauty is we too are endowed with the ability to create and change our world through conscious awareness and cultivation no matter the age, time, or place. We are reminded though that what is being planted NOW will be reaped in due time…

    Thank you for your words and for bringing the Kingdom to the HERE and NOW.

    A Brother.

  • Steve Johng

    Bro, saw this on Linked In and was curious based off of “Salt and Light” plus, I am a sucker for articles that deal with purpose in life. I have graduated from my 20’s and would say you are right on the money. I operate the best when I have a reason or purpose for doing something. When I got of school I lacked that purpose and reason, and thus wandered from job to job. So for those in your 20’s find a reason to work, find a reason for the work you chose. Dont just do it cause of a fat pay check. BUT I would also say, find a mentor who can help you in difficult times during your career.

    Then the LORD gave me a vision for bringing change using the world’s most popular sport. It has been great to watch what He has done, and is doing! Keep bringing that change and making an impact! Looking forward to visiting further!

  • This is the last year of my 20’s and what a great post to read! The decade has been great but I’ve only begun in the last few years to start asking “why”. Answering the “why” question has really changed the direction of my life. What I am doing to live intentionally is to ask why on a daily basis…there would have been a lot of things I would have done differently!

    • It’s rare to find people in our twenties who are actively asking the WHY questions. Its great that you’re already ahead of the game Luke. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  • Awesome post, Paul! Sharing on the interwebs.

    • Hey Paul-thanks for reading and sharing this post. I believe this is a message God has placed me in my heart to share with my fellow 20-somethings. I’m writing a book based on this theme for twenty somethings right now.

  • Great post Paul! Living intentionally and on purpose is so important especially at a young age. I’m 29 and strive to help others become better people and leaders through my writing and coaching. It’s all about making the right choice now so we can reap a good return.

    • “Making the right choices now so we can reap a good return.” Spot on. I think it was Rick Warren who said that life on earth is a parenthesis of eternity. If life is short and one chance to live only, I want to live with intentionality guided by godly wisdom and discernment. To finish well, I must start well. I’ve felt a growing burden to share this message to my twenty-somethings that it inspired me to write a book on it. The more research I do, the more God reveals new things to me. It’s a great learning experience so far.

      • Great point about walking through life with Godly wisdom, that’s so essential. Great statement, “to finish well, I must start well.” I might just us that in the future! Actually I just shared it on social media:) That’s going to be a great book bro!

  • Matthew Schwarzentraub

    Thanks for sharing, Paul. Blessings!

  • Pingback: Claiming Your 20′s as a Christian | Tim and Olive()

  • This is an interesting article, Paul. Thank you for sharing it!

    I had heard of Dr. Meg Jay but was not aware of the details of her alleged “facts” noted in the bulleted points above.

    Other than for the last 2, regarding our highest fertility level, and last brain growth spurt, which are proven by medical research, I’m wondering how broad is her research of the other issues she discusses.

    I find it interesting that none of the other things she mentions holds true for my life during my 20s.

    I’m 72 years of age and still growing in each!

    • Daniel J. Kline

      I’m with you on this, Gary! At 67 the transition from organized work to focus on the meaning of life yields a crystallizing of understanding and wisdom, hopefully that will be useful to my children and grandchildren. This wisdom arises out of patient and thorough prayerful contemplation. What I thought meaning and purpose were when I was a 20 or 30 something pastor and church planter was very different than what I see and value and do in Christ now. My generation was given the notion that facts and knowledge and skill were power. I now know that they can lead to disastrous results in the absence of character and vision and wisdom, and the humility to let Christ rule. I cannot now escape the wisdom of Solomon in preaching the pursuit of wisdom. I have come to define wisdom using the terms of St. James, the “half brother” of Jesus. His understanding of wisdom is that it comes from above. This notion is largely lost among Christians who are proud of their educational achievements.

  • cken

    Actually, and I say this from personal experience, your defining moments come when you are face to face with your imminent mortality. Only then, for most of us, does the why become more important than the how and the what. If you are lucky enough to survive, not only do you become more introspective, but you seriously re-evaluate God and your relationship with Him. Sadly you come to realize far too many “religious” people have a superficial understanding of, and a lip service relationship with God. Succinctly put western civilization puts nearly all their effort and belief in the material world and almost totally ignores the spiritual world. This can be construed to characterize not only individuals but also organized religions.

  • Bernard McCain, Sr.

    Great Post! Thanks for giving me another powerful revelation to ‘re-steal’.

  • Allison Bentley Creagh

    Spend time with people as much as I can and get to know new people.