THE star of American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence, is poised to make Oscar history this weekend. The 23 year old is the bookies favourite to win best supporting actress in LA on Sunday night.
If she does, she’ll become the youngest ever double Oscar winner for acting.
“I always knew that I was going to be famous,” Lawrence told Vogue magazine last year.
“I used to lie in bed and wonder: ‘Am I going to be a local TV person? Am I going to be a motivational speaker?’ It wasn’t a vision. But as it’s kind of happening, you have this buried understanding: of course.”
Rich, talented and not even 30, ‘J.Law’ is one of a new generation of ambitious 20-something women. Members of Ireland’s ‘generation stuck’ kill time binge-watching Girls, but creator and star, Lena Dunham (27), has won a Golden Globe for the hit show.
While bored young women here are getting stuck into The Luminaries, its author, Man Booker Prize winner, Eleanor Catton (28), is probably working on her next novel.
Hanging out and hooking up are just some of the ways today’s ‘kiddults’ are wasting their 20s, says clinical psychologist, Dr Meg Jay.
In her provocative TED talk, ‘Why 30 is not the new 20’, last year, she said: “Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade.
“Journalists coin silly nicknames for 20-somethings, like ‘twixters’.
“When you pat a 20-something on the head and you say, ‘You have ten extra years to start your life’ … you have robbed that person of his urgency and ambition.
“As a culture, we have trivialised what is actually the defining decade of adulthood.”
When it comes to her career, Irish country singer Lisa McHugh (25) says she’s always had 20/20 vision.
“Growing up, it was always my dream to be on stage, performing,” says McHugh, who got her big break on TG4 talent show, Glór Tíre, in 2009. “But I didn’t necessarily think it would happen — it was more like a fantasy.
“Getting to the final of Glór Tíre gave me the drive to do it more seriously.”
“At the minute, I’m busy touring up and down the country,” she says. “When I do have time off, I’m in studio writing songs or doing interviews.
“It’s a tough lifestyle — you have to get used to living out of a suitcase and getting minimal sleep. But I love every minute of it.”
For the 440,000 Irish people, aged 18 or over, who still live with their parents, living out of a suitcase probably doesn’t sound that bad.
Meanwhile, with unemployment hovering at 13%, every day 243 people pack their bags in search of greener pastures, according to the latest CSO statistics.
“Society, as a whole, has changed an awful lot in the past few decades,” says psychotherapist and career coach, Fionnuala Darcy, of Sandyford Wellness Centre in Dublin.
“Growing up during the Celtic Tiger years, today’s 20-somethings have had a much greater opportunity than their grandparents, or even parents, to get a third-level education and travel the world.
“With the recession, I suspect those kind of opportunities are harder to come by now.
“For college graduates, the reality rarely matches their expectations. Getting some experience on their CV is probably the best way to go.”
At just 24, Taylor Swift has an estimated €160m in the bank, after her songs were downloaded 75m times.
The movie and music industries have long attracted young talent, but ambition can find an outlet in most jobs.
Marketing and event management graduate, Susan Vickers, from Sligo, who’s the same age as Swift, may be reaching for the stars, but she doesn’t always relate to them. “Jennifer Lawrence lives in a very different world to mine — our bank balance, for a start.
“Personally, I think it’s far more important to focus on your own goals and achievements [than those of young celebrities].”
And she’s happy to work for free, if it means getting her foot in the door.
“There’s a stereotype about interning, that it’s all coffee runs and photocopying,” says Vickers, who’s interning at Burrell Marketing and Publicity in Dublin.
“Since starting a PR internship, though, I’ve worked on everything from press launches to coverage reports for clients, such as Pandora jewellery and the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
“In terms of experience, it’s been invaluable.”
“Since graduating from Dublin Business School last November, lots of my classmates have emigrated to Australia or Canada,” she says. “But my goal is to accomplish as much as I can in Ireland, first.
“From a personal point of view, becoming a mum is definitely part of my long-term plan. For now, though, I’m just focused on my career.”
She’s not the only one: statistics show that just one-in-seven under-30s here are married, and one-in-nine have children, compared to four-out-of-five over-60s who were wed by 25, more than half having children at that age.
When she became unexpectedly pregnant at 18 — the average age for first-time motherhood is 31 — business woman Karen Brown (26) changed her career path.
“Having my daughter, Jessica, who’s seven, at 18, wasn’t planned, and I don’t doubt that it may have been a little easier if I had been older or more financially secure,” says Dun Laoghaire native Brown, co-founder of Karora Cosmetics.
“But timing isn’t always everything.
“When I became pregnant, I was working as a hotel sales executive.
“During my maternity leave, I went back and studied business two nights a week, while Jessica’s dad, or my mum, looked after her.
“By the time I was 20, I had set up my own tan brand, which launches Stateside next month.”
“Working smarter is the key to juggling motherhood and your career,” she says.
“For instance, I always liaise with clients in different time zones, after Jessica has gone to bed or before she wakes up, and dedicate the couple of hours between getting home from work and her bedtime exclusively to her.
“Whenever I do have to spend the night away with work, we FaceTime to catch up.
“And I make sure I’m at home every weekend with Jessica, when we spend time quality time together, doing things we love, like baking and roller-skating.
“Becoming a mum made me more ambitious than ever,” says Brown. “I want Jessica to have the best opportunities in life, and it’s up to me to create those for her.”
Despite the recession, for some young professional women there’s never been a better time to climb the ladder, say insiders.
“From an employer point of view, we’re getting asked to look at gender balance at lot more, especially in traditionally male-dominated professions like IT, science and engineering,” says Trayc Keevans, director of inward investment at Morgan McKinley, a global recruitment consultancy based in Cork.
“As a result, females looking at careers in those areas are well placed to progress [quickly].”
“Our 20-something female clients are more focused and confident than ever before,” she says. “They’re seeing women like [Facebook CEO and author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead] Sheryl Sandberg and Glanbia managing director, Siobhan Talbot, pictured right, excelling in their careers, and leaning in more themselves.”
Country singer McHugh, who’s originally from Glasgow, says, “Music is very much a male-dominated industry. As a woman, you have to work ten times harder to get the same degree of respect. I think it helps to know what your goals are. After that, you just have to work hard to achieve them.
“I’m a very family-oriented person, and hope to have a family of my own one day.
“In the meantime, my ultimate goal is to have a stadium tour.”
Even overachieving Lawrence says she can’t wait to move off centre stage and start a family.
“I do feel like the reason I was put on this Earth is to be a mother,” says the starlet, who’s dating British actor, Nicholas Hoult, “which is why it’s funny for me to end up with such an overwhelming career.
“Ever since I was a baby, I was always playing house.”
Fionnuala Darcy says: “Some women do feel the pressure to ‘have it all’.
“For some, the cost can be very high — finding themselves in a race against their biological clock, for example.”
“The one thing that celebrities like Lawrence and Lena Dunham have in common is a deep sense of self-worth,” she says.
“Win or lose, they are true to themselves.”
“For 20-something women here, the pressure is not to be successful, but to be happy with what you have to offer.”
Three twenty-something Irish role models who have made their mark:
¦ ‘Bray Bomber’ Katie Taylor (27) made history when she became the first Irish woman to win boxing gold, at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, later describing the feat as “better than all my wildest dreams.”
¦ Magdalene survivors’ advocate, Maeve O’Rourke (26), from Dublin — who, in 2011, brought the group’s case before the UN Human Rights Council, as a law student — was last year named ‘pro bono lawyer of the year’ at the Family Law Awards in London.
¦ Dublin woman Laura Whit-more (28) beat off competition from 3,000 hopefuls to land her dream job as a presenter on MTV, in 2008. More recently, she replaced Caroline Flack as the host of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! Now.