real life

"Gen Y women: This is the one piece of wisdom that matters."





I gave a speech to the wrong audience last week.

I was standing, at a lectern, in front of 500 high schoolers and their  parents.

And over 20 minutes I told a roomful of bright young things  – Gen Z –  every  lesson etched onto my skin.  I laid bare every bit of wisdom I’d come  to know by 42.

I told them that perfection is over-rated and that the true juice of life is often found in your screw-ups and where those dead ends or crazy  tangents take you. I told them no matter how bad things seem, if you have  people around you who love you then nothing has to ruin your life forever.

I told them they had a responsibility to give back to the community.  I told them that life was about playing to your strengths.  That they could define for themselves what leading a “successful life” looks and feels and tastes like.

I told them that life is full of hairpin turns and curve balls and waves that will threaten to drag you under so resilience – more than Year 12 scores  –  is everything.

And to wrap things up I told them the wise words of poet and author Diane Ackerman: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just  lived the length of it. I want to live the width of it as well.”

Which, if I do say so myself, is all awesome and true.


It turns out I was talking to the wrong audience.

You see, it turns out the people who really need to hear those messages are the 20-something women in my life.

Because at some point when I was busy (probably picking one million pieces of Lego off the f@cking floor or trying to learn the lyrics to an unsettling number of T-Swift songs) apparently it was decided that your 20s are your new 30s.

Once upon a time your 20s were about doing working holidays in London where you put your career on hold and worked in a pub for a year or two so you could backpack through Greece with your best girlfriend. They were about finding your place in the world, changing university courses, switching jobs and trying to figure out what the hell you wanted to do with your life.

They were inadvertently about having a string of relationships (and accidentally dating at least one arse-hat) and living on your own for the first time and eating Coco Pops for dinner and climbing the corporate ladder and feeling like a fraud but wanting to be taken seriously.

And – depending on your age – it was about *cough* perms and trying to dress like Shannon Doherty.

But not any more.

Apparently, 20-something women are now feeling the pressure to meet Mr/Mrs Right, get married, have a baby (or, you know, 3 if you’re super organised) and be kicking major career goals before they turn the big 3-0.

Because these smart, fierce, warm and wise Gen Y women in my life are keen to DO ALL THE THINGS REALLY REALLY FAST. Which leaves them plenty of time, I guess, to have a nervous breakdown in their 30s.

I’m joking. Sort of. Okay not really.

Maybe this pressure they’re feeling stems from the fact Gen Y women have watched so many Gen X women struggle with infertility later in life.

Maybe Gen Y are just turbo-charged with ambition and self-confidence and see no reason why they can’t find love, start a family and rule the world before the sun sets on their 30th birthday.

Maybe it’s Beyonce’s fault.  Or Carrie Bradshaw’s.

I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know.

You can knock yourself out planning and strategising and workshopping and vision-boarding life’s milestones. But the truth is, life unfolds the way it unfolds. Some of it you can control. And much of it you can’t.  But you sure as hell can’t curate your life like you’re living on Planet Facebook.

And you know what?  That’s the great part.  For the vast majority of us, life isn’t going to be (nor is it meant to be) a chopstick line of perfect decisions and shiny, neat, big-ticket milestones. It’s actually meant to be a zigzag of experiences, triumphs and rookie errors, life lessons, dead ends and backflips.

Because every screw up and crap job and shitty relationship leaves a layer of wisdom on our bones and marinates our soul with empathy. The bad bosses make us appreciate the good ones with a determination to emulate the latter when we get to the top.  The shitty lovers serve to teach us what we deserve, what we’re willing to put up and what we truly value.

Best of all, every time we get knocked over or make a bad judgement call or take a wrong turn it makes it so much easier to recognise the good in life when it comes our way.

Now why the hell would you want to bypass all of that?

So to the Gen Y woman who is feeling pressure to achieve ALL THE THINGS? I’m on stage, at the lectern and I’m saying this to you: There is no one right way to live your life – especially your 20s.

Run your own race and if you can – take the scenic route. Live the WIDTH of your life. You’ll be all the better – and wiser – for it.

Did you/do you feel the pressure to do EVERYTHING in your 30s?