Dont Waste Your 20

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  • 7/28/2019 Dont Waste Your 20


    Dont Waste Your Twenties

    Part 1: Taking Advantage ofthe Unique Powers of the

    Twentysomething Brainby Brett & Kate McKay|February 4, 2013At age 20: Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and cofounded Microsoft, and Sir Isaac

    Newton began developing a new branch of mathematics.

    At age 21: Thomas Alva Edison created his first invention, an electric vote recorder, Steve

    Jobs co-founded Apple Inc., and Alfred Tennyson published his first poetry.

    At age 22: Inventor Samuel Colt patented the Colt six-shooter revolver, and Cyrus Hall

    McCormick invented the McCormick reaper, which allowed one man to do the work of five

    At age 23:T. S. Eliot wrote The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, John Keats penned Ode on

    a Grecian Urn, and Truman Capote published his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms.

    At age 24: Johannes Kepler defended the Copernican theory and described the structure of

    the solar system.

    At age 25: Orson Welles conscripted, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane, Charles

    Lindbergh became the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic, New York farmhand

    Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, John Wesley began

    planting the seeds for Methodism at Oxford, and Alexander the Great became the King of


    At age 26: Albert Einstein published five major research papers in a German physics journal,

    fundamentally changing mans view of the universe and leading to such inventions as

    television and the atomic bomb, Benjamin Franklin published the first edition ofPoor

    Richards Almanac, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, and Napoleon Bonaparte conquered

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    An impressive list of accomplishments to be sure. And despite how many might interpret this

    kind of precociousness, I would argue that these men accomplished what they did

    not despitetheir age, but because of it.

    A Disposable Decade?

    Maybe youve heard it said, or even said it yourself: Thirty is the new twenty.

    Things that were once markers of maturity in the past finishing school, landing your first

    real job, getting hitched, having kids, buying a house are getting pushed back later in life.

    Instead of hitting these milestones in ones early or mid-twenties, as our parents and

    grandparents did, economic, sociological, and cultural factors have postponed these steps

    for many until the latter part of the decade, and into ones thirties.

    This has opened up an unprecedented period of time and development for young adults.

    The twenties have been relabeled emerging adulthood or extended adolescence, and

    because of its nascent nature, there arent a lot of guideposts on how a man should spend

    this new stage of life.

    In the absence of such guidance, the twenties have come to be seen as a time to dabble,

    drift, and adventure, with the idea that you can get serious about stuff later once you hit

    thirty. Thus, the twenties have been branded as disposable an inconsequential holding

    period between two decades of schooling and becoming a real adult.

    But the idea that ones twenties are unimportant couldnt be farther from the truth. In fact,

    thirty is the new twenty is one of the biggest lies of our age.

    In this two-part series, well explain why.

    This Is Your Brain in Your Twenties

    The prevailing view these days is that people used to get started in life earlier simply because

    the economy allowed it, or that the Man shamed people into quickly becoming a grown-up

    instead of spending time being free, having fun, and exploring, and, since these factors are

    no longer in effect, there arent any good reasons for making important and consequential

    decisions and commitments in your twenties anymore.

    While that explanation of why milestones have been delayed has truth to it, there does in

    fact remain very compelling reasons for beginning to shape lifes most important elements

    while still in your twenties and they dont have anything to do with culture or economics.

    Rather, theyrebiological, and thus timeless they apply just as much to the 1950s as to

    today. Now we could delve into one aspect of biology as it concerns delayed adulthood

    that of reproduction as it isnt just affected by age for the ladies; aging male sperm is

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    thought to beresponsible for mutations that lead to things like autism and

    schizophrenia.But well cover that important topic another time.

    Today I want to center our discussion on something that transcends fatherhood, and

    affects all the big life decisions youll make particularly as it concerns things like career andrelationships, even faith. And thats the twentysomething brain.

    The human brain develops from bottom to top and from back to front. At the bottom-center

    sits the limbic system, in which resides some of the more primitive parts of our brain, areas

    that are responsible for things like sleep, hunger, emotions, sex, and pleasure.

    Located at the front of the brain is the prefrontal cortex. Last to develop, it is often referred

    to as the CEO of the brain the executive of the mind. It helps you do things like process

    probability, regulate emotions and impulses, delay gratification, handle uncertainty and

    abstract goals, plan for the future, and make good decisions and judgments.

    During adolescence, both parts of the brain swing into action and interact as they move you

    towards adulthood. The limbic system revs up your feelings of emotion, motivation, and the

    craving for reward, causing your teenage self to feel restless and increasing your desire to do

    big things, take risks, experience everything, forge friendships, and become independent

    from your parents. At the same time, your prefrontal cortex begins its final maturation and

    starts to act as a check to these new surging impulses, attempting to keep you from doing

    anything too stupid. (The New York Times has a neat interactive webpage showing your

    brain maturation from childhood to young adulthood.)

    This is why young adults often seem capable of great maturity at some times, and then do

    bone-headed things at other times the impulsive and CEO parts of their brains are having a

    tug-of-war, and sometimes one wins, and sometimes the other does. For this reason, your

    personality is kind of uneven during this period.

    In your early twenties, your prefrontal cortex is almost finished maturing, but not quite.

    It used to be thought that the prefrontal cortex finished developing during the teen years,

    but we now know that its maturation isnt complete until aroundage 25. What this means isthat from approximately ages 15-25, youre walking around and experiencing the world with

    an adolescent brain. This is why almost all of us can look back at episodes not only from

    high school, but also from college, that make us shake our heads and ask: What was I


    Now, you might gather from all this that its best to wait until your thirties to make big

    decisions after all until your prefrontal cortex is fully formed and mature. But this isnt the

    case, for as one neurobiologist put it, your twenties are not simply a time of enormous risk,

    but also one of enormous opportunity.
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    What are those enormous opportunities that your twentysomething brain offers you? There

    are two big ones and they only come around once in a lifetime. First is the opportunity to

    passionately and uninhibitedly go after big goals, figure out lifes big questions, and make

    important commitments. Second, is the opportunity to take an active role in the

    development of the executive part of your brain in order to create a foundation for lastingsuccess. (These brain advantages apply to teenagers too, obviously, but twentysomethings

    have a lot more leeway to make their own decisions and thus exercise their brains special

    powers. Theyre at the crossroads of opportunity and independence.)

    In todays post well be focusing on the first advantage of the twentysomething brain;

    tomorrow, well delve into advantage numero dos.

    Twentysomething Brain Advantage #1: The passionate, uninhibited

    motivation to fearlessly go after your passions, figure out lifes bigquestions, and make important commitments.

    It may seem like a cruel twist of nature that at the same time you are feeling motivated to

    take risks and seek rewards, are experiencing a surge in emotion, and are beginning to

    grapple with the complexities of adulthood and make decisions that will influence your

    whole future, the executive part of your brain isnt up to speed yet as if youre driving a

    car with faulty brakes. And indeed, thats how researchers long saw it that the adolescent

    brain was broken recklessly and pointlessly impulsive.

    But more recent research has shown that the same qualities of the adolescent brain that can

    be liabilities, can also be distinct advantages not accidents of nature at all, but purposeful

    evolutionary adaptions. That purpose is to get a young adult to venture from home, strike

    out on his own, explore new turf, and take chances in the search for success. Those able to

    successfully harness the unique energies of youth have, from time immemorial, gained an

    edge over their peers. As neuroscientist B.J. Casey put it, the unbalanced nature of the

    adolescent brain is exactly what youd need to do the things you have to do then.

    What kind of powers does the adolescent brain give you that you need as you venture into

    adulthood? There are three:

    Fervent passion Fearlessness in the face of risk A keen and thoughtful curiosity about people and the world

    Deep Passion

    As weve discussed, during adolescence the limbic system of the brain starts amping up your

    feelings of emotion and motivation, while at the same time the prefontal cortex begins to

    develop its capacity to check the impulses the former generates. And again, the frontal lobes

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    complete their maturation around the mid-twenties. Before that time, the limbic

    system, particularly the amygdala, reacts more strongly to stimuli than it does in adults.

    While the frontal cortex generates a thinking response, the amygdala produces a more

    emotional, gut-oriented reaction.

    Neurobiologists arent sure of the exact relationship between the amygdala and the

    prefrontal cortex in the adolescent brain (and remember, this is the brain from ages approx.

    15-25), beyond the fact that the latter becomes more strongly activated as it matures and

    begins to act as a greater and greater check to the former.

    But I like to imagine the set-up in this (totally unscientific) analogy: The prefrontal cortex is

    like a sieve. In the adolescent brain the holes in the sieve are large, so that stimuli from the

    outside world mostly goes right through, and lights up the amygdala, creating an emotional,

    gut reaction. As the frontal cortex matures and strengthens, the holes become increasingly

    small the net catches and analyzes more and more of the stimuli before it hits the

    amygdala, giving the brain the chance to come up with a rational, measured response.

    Indeed, the prefrontal cortex is also known as the area of sober second thought, as it is the

    part of the brain that weighs the consequences of a choice.

    This is why in your teen years, up through your early twenti...


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