How To Survive And Thrive In Your Twenties And Early Thirties

Psychotherapist Jennifer Coren teaches us how to successfully transition into adulthood.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | January 10, 2022

In a new book titled I Love Me More, psychotherapist Jennifer Coren offers practical advice on how to flourish in what many psychologists believe is the hardest of life's transition phases: the transition into adulthood.

I recently spoke with the author to discuss her book in more detail. Here is a summary of our conversation.

What inspired you to write a book about the transition into adulthood and how to flourish in your twenties and thirties?

When there's a need for something, we aspire to fill it. The writer Brené Brown advises, "Write what you need to read." I write what I wish I could've read. As I embarked on my transitional twenties, I noticed my friends and I were facing similar problems, enacting similar patterns. There was no 'rulebook' of how to grow up, and how to do it 'right.' I felt like I was constantly treading water, and I wasn't sure if I should have been feeling a different way. I became incredibly indecisive which led to feelings of being stuck, and I felt like everyone else had it figured out. I questioned myself a lot and, for me, that was a huge first. My first inclination was to run to a local bookstore and engage in some bibliotherapy. But there was a problem: no one had written a book for us, describing the hurdles we faced, the challenges we had to overcome.

All the books I found were written by authors from a completely different generation. Sure, they could analyze and observe us, but they didn't know what it was like to live through our now. As I grew as a psychotherapist, I recognized that many of these life questions I had myself were the same questions clients were reflecting to me daily. I had to write about it, but I had to do more than just 'highlight experiences.' I had to give tangible tools for how to navigate these life transitions.

What are the practical takeaways from your book for someone struggling to find themselves in early adulthood?

We're not wasting time; we're not losing time: we're figuring out how to make peace with the time we have. When you validate the transitional experience itself and the process of life — of finding meaning right where you are as who you are — you will find yourself more secure, happy, and filled with abundance.

Reflecting on my own experiences in the turbulent twenties — and those of my clients and friends — I created a theory to describe the path that most people follow as they move through a transition. I call this the "Caterpillar to Butterfly Affect." (Not "effect" — this theory is all about the "affect" of transition, the way your feelings and language shape the narrative you create for yourself). I hope this will be the life raft to help those going through any kind of transition (romantic, career, age, identity, location) find meaning and safety along the way.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who are prone to self-sabotage in the ways that you outline in your book?

Throughout my book, you will read about various 'hurdles' that can prevent us from moving through a transition. There are multiple sections that will be labeled 'hurdles' to help you understand if that is why you are avoiding moving through the stages. You will read about one of my clients who struggles with self-sabotage and an anxious attachment style. Her story is powerful, charming, and in many ways relatable. She reflects all of us at some point in our journey. Reading her story can help you to reflect on your own self-sabotaging ways. If you are struggling with self-sabotage I would recommend going to therapy and understanding the why behind the what! That will help you in gaining awareness of your own tendencies and will hopefully lead to future change.

What are the upsides, if any, to feeling like we haven't quite hit our stride?

I don't think we ever 'fully' feel like we are hitting our stride, and I believe we can view that feeling (that little voice that says keep going you haven't hit it) as a superpower. It's a benefit! It holds us accountable to our goals; it drives us; it moves us forward; and it reminds us of our values. When that voice becomes too loud or too critical is when we start to encounter problematic or negative thoughts. My book addresses the importance of self-talk, and the benefits of the 'lows' that make us feel like we can't continue moving forward.

Are there any gender differences or demographic differences that you have observed in your clinical practice in terms of how people approach/engage with the transition into adulthood?

Race- gender- culture- religion- our background- all of it affects how we move through the world and show up every day (including in therapy with a white Jewish female therapist) and most definitely in a transition. This is a complex question that I could go on answering for hours. But the short answer here is: of course there are. And every therapist should be addressing that in the room with their clients because every client has individual multicultural experiences that impact who they are and how they will inevitably engage with a transition.

In my transitional theory, Stage 1 addresses the person as a whole; who are you? And how does that make up how you move through the world? What are your values? And why? Where did those come from? But more importantly, if you don't know who you are, who are you not? Let's start there. If we don't know who we are and how that impacts us, we will innately struggle with moving through a transition. I find that the problem often resides in you shedding the identity that has been put on you through society, parental messaging, cultural and systemic norms, and peer pressure.

How might your book inform clinical efforts to improve psychological well-being?

We know that serotonin is a 'feel good' chemical that is responsible for feelings of happiness. We read all these articles on how to boost our 'feel good' chemicals in the brain such as avoiding processed food, getting enough sleep, and exercising. As truthful as all those behaviors are, we also know that human connection and practicing self-care can significantly improve our mood (research backs up the mind-body connection).

My book walks its reader through the highs/lows of transitions, validating the interpersonal experience. The text validates feelings you may ponder that ask, 'am I alone in this?' My client case studies and memoir parts help readers connect to emotional and transitional experiences they have had or are going through. When we form a connection, we can find meaning. That meaning helps psychological well-being and boosts serotonin.

More so than that, I give tools on how to navigate transitional spaces and reframe challenging transitions as pivotal roadblocks that will aid in our development as people. My four staged model walks my client through a transition (with pieces of memoir and client cases sprinkled throughout) and it allows the reader the validation to feel less alone.

In the middle of my book, I speak about the 'intermission' of life: self-care. I make my reader pause and take a beat for self-reflection. At the end of each transitional 'stage,' I ask formative questions that guide my readers into the next stage. I address the importance of slowing down and self-reflecting and that inevitably improves well-being.

My four staged model is called the Caterpillar to Butterfly Affect. What does it do for you mentally, emotionally, physiologically? It creates space for you to know that you're in a transition. There's a comfort in just naming what you're going through. Shedding allows you to process who you are not. At the same time, it helps you feel like you're making progress. You're finally moving forward. There's reason for what you're doing. You are gaining clarity about who you are, so that you can then look outward: learning about the environment of your transition.

What is one bit of advice you tell all of your clients who are struggling with life-stage issues?

You are not alone in your time of the unknown.

What is something you would want your readers to know about you as a therapist?

I'm a human first and a therapist second. I hope this book can decrease the stigma of therapy. We don't always have to go to therapy because something is wrong. I also hope it sheds light on the imperfection of humanity. Your therapist is human, and I allow that imperfection to be my superpower in the room with my clients. I lead with that to make space for others to feel like they can as well. I'm sure I'll look back at this book ten years from now and cringe at some of the ways I conceptualized cases or phrases that I used, but that's part of growing and age, and I'm leaning into that. I'm constantly learning, growing, developing, and taking myself off the therapist pedestal many clients will put me on. As you read about in my book, I'm a creator at heart. I use creativity with my clients in a holistic way, and I incorporate it throughout the book. Art heals us.

What is something that motivates you every day to get up and be a therapist?

My clients. Their willingness to grow, their breathtaking vulnerability, and their resilience.