At age 29, I’ve just finished a book I wish I would have had in my hands 10 years ago. If it had been published when I was 19, I hope I would have made myself reread it every birthday for the next decade.
Because this book is a basic survival guide for your 20s.
I read The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now this January as part of the 12 books/teachers I’m studying this year for my essay writing. It came recommended to me from my good 20-something friend Sarah, who had found it life-changing. I can see why.
The author, Dr. Meg Jay, is a therapist who has worked with several 20- and 30-somethings. Throughout the book she incorporates thorough research with examples from her client stories to offer a practical roadmap for 20-somethings to think proactively and live intentionally in this decade, to find their way in terms of career, relationships and self, and to set themselves up for productive, fulfilling 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
How the Book Delivers
My husband – a connoisseur of deep, thought-provoking books – found The Defining Decade to be too basic for his liking, but that’s actually what made it so enlightening for me. I’ve spent 10 years over-complicating my every move. For an experienced therapist to come and break this complex decade down to basic, simple insights? It’s a gift!
Jay helped me gain more meaning around my complicated lostness. It was validating to see that my year of aimlessly wandering (read: partying) in Orlando had value, to put purpose to a number of odd jobs I’ve held (even as a Jello-shot girl at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights), and to understand how my brain has been working and taking lessons away from all of these experiences.
I scribbled notes all over this book, but I’ll share a few parts here that impacted me the most.
Career: Identity Capital and the Importance of Weak Ties
This section had the most impact on me because it’s the one I’m currently seeking clarity on. My focus in my early 20s was love and relationships with the solid career goal to be a best-selling author, so you can see how it was a matter of time before I would finally wake up to real life.
A typical 20-something, I’ve held six jobs since graduating college eight years ago, and I’ve never had a two-year anniversary anywhere (except with my husband).
Jay gave unique advice on creating a story with your resume, finding the theme that’s consistent through all jobs and finding passion in that story to generate confidence when communicating it with interviewers. She talks about building identity capital in both personal and professional areas, and the importance of taking the job that gives you the most capital, not as paying dues but rather as investing in your vision for your career.
“Life gets going when you use the bits of capital you have to get the next piece of capital you want.”
-Dr. Meg Jay, The Defining Decade
Furthermore, Jay talks about focusing on our “weak ties” to get us further in our career. The message here reinforced for me how important it is to be constantly making connections in your 20s.
I can attest to this idea that new opportunities often come through people outside of our inner circle. That’s how I’ve gotten a number of freelancing jobs, and the job I have now? I had a great conversation with a stranger at a bar and gave her my business card. A year later, I have a full-time job at the company she works at.
And that weak tie is now a good friend!
Relationships: On Dating Down, Choosing Your Family and Rewriting Your Stories
“The best time to work on your marriage is before you have one.”
Dr. Meg Jay, The Defining Decade
While the chapters on love seem to be targeting those who are dating or single, I took a lot away from this section as a married gal – not only on my relationship with my hubby but on the relationship I have with myself.
With advice on avoiding dating down and choosing your family, Jay gets into the personal reasons behind why some 20-something relationships may be unhappy/unfulfilled. She brings up this idea that we all have stories we believe about ourselves that keep us stuck, dating down in relationships and even working down in our career.
This idea of rewriting those personal stories was what hit me. So much so that it’s worth another blog post of its own, so look forward to that next week! But here’s a snippet from Jay:
“The stories we tell about ourselves become facets of our identity….Though some of these stoies may be left untold, they are no less meaningful or powerful. Research – and clinical experience – suggest that these untold stories are most often about shame. The power of these untold personal stories is that…they can look silently in our minds without anyone, somtimes even ourselves, knowing about them….Yet these stories are the bits of identity with perfaps the greatest potential for change.”
-Dr. Meg Jay, The Defining Decade
Is The Defining Decade for You?
Much of the reading experience felt like a therapy session (but for only the small price of a paperback book!). I had tons of ah-ha’s and “oh, that’s what that meant” and “holy moly, she’s speaking right to me!”
There are plenty of topics to dive deeper into and I plan to in upcoming posts, but here I mainly want to make the case for 20-somethings to give this book a shot. Even early 30-somethings, if you’re feeling lost, the insights in this book may help you gain a sense of direction.
Yes, it’s simple and perhaps basic. But during a decade of life that feels so complicated, simple may be exactly what we need to put things in perspective. One simple, clarifying book sure sounds more effective to me than scanning a multitude of self-help articles from various internet articles.
Interested? The Defining Decade is available on Amazon or check your local bookstore or library.
Have you read The Defining Decade? What was your biggest takeaway? My Instagram post on the book drew a few comments from friends who said they made defining life choices after reading this. Share your experiences/thoughts here in the comments!
Have any favorite books that shaped the way you think about your 20s? I’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments.
Come back next week for further insights on The Defining Decade. Be sure to like my Facebook page so you don’t miss it!