What’s the Point of Your 20s? Ask the Patron Saint of Striving Youth.

As Dr. Jay was updating the book in 2020, she was getting dozens more reader emails. Some people told her they felt as if the pandemic had stolen their defining decade, sapping them of the motivation and opportunities to chase what they wanted. Others said that because they were locked down at home, they finally had the time to read her book.

Twenty-somethings were experiencing the unease that Dr. Jay had spent the last decade describing, but it was intensified by Covid isolation. Jahleane Dolne, 25, one TikTok fan of “The Defining Decade,” found herself applying for jobs from her parents’ home, scrolling LinkedIn while seated next to her high school cheerleader uniform and prom dress. Jasmine Yook, 30, who has also posted on TikTok about the book, reread Dr. Jay’s book at 29 and reflected on the gaps between where she wanted to be in her fashion career and where she had landed.

Dr. Jay responded to these readers with football coach pep. “This is your Great Depression,” she said. “This is your recession. This is your generational adversity, and what did you do? How did you respond? To say, ‘Well, I got scrappy and started a podcast’, or, ‘I read 50 books I said I was going to read,’ that’s a metaphor or an example of how you respond when life gets difficult.”

And while much of her advice can sound intimidating, she isn’t against offering hacks. “You’re asking about formulas,” Dr. Jay said, over lunch, after a discussion about the balance between seeking joy now and working hard to lay the groundwork for joy in the years to come. “There actually is a very loose formula.”

Everyone at the table leaned forward.

“Happy successful people say that they spend about half their time thinking about the present, ‘What’s going to make me feel happy and successful now,’ and about half thinking about the future,” Dr. Jay continued. “If somebody asked me about a formula, how do I balance between being happy in my 20s and being happy beyond, I would say probably about half and half.”

On the other side of a French fry platter, Ms. Liddy and Ms. Flowers nodded sagely. The advice wasn’t so much a panacea as a flash of hope. There was wisdom they could grasp onto. Somewhere, in the distance, there was land — or at the very least, their 30s.

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