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10- 24-Year-Old Magic

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The first year out of college was the worst year of my life. I hated my job, only made the minimum wage, moved 5 times, broke up with my boyfriend of three-and-a-half years, and lived in constant fear of the D.C. sniper, who killed three people in my neighborhood.  It took a full year to recover.

The summer after I turned 24 ushered in a new period in my life. I got to start over. I had a degree with honors from an Ivy League university and had just enrolled in a graduate program studying literature and philosophy.  I was working 30 hours per week at the all-girls prep school I’d attended for 13 years. Although I was making $30,000 (about 75% of the average salary of 2004 graduates), I was able to save and purchase both my pick of car (with a $5,000 price tag) and my first home—a two-bedroom condo in a centrally-located Dallas neighborhood for $34,000. This new graduate life wasn’t prestigious, but it was rolling more smoothly than the previous two years. And I felt like success—as I knew it then—was still on the horizon.

In 2004, I didn’t know how my story fit into the larger scheme of things. Although we knew that jobs post 9/11 were harder to find and keep, we didn’t know how long that trend would last. The Great Recession hadn’t happened yet and the trend of employers shifting risk to employees, declining job tenure and security had not yet been recognized as the new normal.

Today’s 24-year-olds who've been out of college for a couple of years have a better grasp on their context. They are quite aware that the median salary for the class of 2016, about $45,000, is barely enough to save, pay down (college) debt, prepare for retirement and live in Boston, Madison, San Jose, San Fran, DC, Hartford, New York City, Raleigh, Minneapolis or Denver, where most college graduates live. And so, a pretty sizable chunk live with their parents. In fact, 22.5 percent of Americans ages 24 to 36 live with their parents. When I was 24, only two of about 25 friends that I spoke to regularly lived with their parents.

Unless you’re one of those lucky grads in Hartford or Dallas, today’s 24-year-old is probably not going to buy a condo anytime soon. (If you live either place, give it some serious thought.) With Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting average annual expenditures for 24-34-year-olds at $47,112, a median-income 24-year-old probably can’t save at all. And an average- incomer may not be able to save as much as I did living alone, if much at all. 

With all of this seemingly dark news, there’s a hope that I didn’t have back in 2004. According to Goldman Sachs, “The Millennial generation is the largest in US history and as they reach their prime working and spending years [for home buying that is 25-45]… their unique experiences will change the ways we buy and sell, forcing companies to examine how they do business for decades to come.”

We consumers—both young and old— have a huge amount of  power. But we have to use it intentionally. And if you’re 24 now, you have a huge opportunity not simply to start your post-graduate life over but also to enter your prime working and spending years with strong intention. When I was 24, I was still an avid devotee of the education gospel, unaware of the realities around me. You, on the other hand, can walk into adulthood, seeing reality and armed with a plan to change the way companies, communities and society work. And while some of the personal opportunities that I had may have diminished, lifestyle design and conversations that change in how we define our own work and our needs allows today's 24-year-old more personal and collective power.

Yes, indeed, there is something special about being 24. Make it magic!