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The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter-And How to Make the Most of Them Now Paperback – April 2, 2013
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"Any recent college grad mired in a quarter-life crisis or merely dazed by the freedom of post-collegiate existence should consider it required reading."―Slate.com, Staff Pick
"Meg Jay takes the specific complaints of twenty something life and puts them to diagnostic use."―New Yorker
"The professional and personal angst of directionless twentysomethings is given a voice and some sober counsel in this engaging guide. While Jay maintains that facing difficulties in one's 20s 'is a jarring--but efficient and often necessary--way to grow,' the author is sincere and sympathetic, making this well-researched mix of generational sociology, psychotherapy, career counseling, and relationship advice a practical treatise for a much-maligned demographic."―Publishers Weekly
"A clinical psychologist issues a four-alarm call for the 50 million 20-somethings in America.... A cogent argument for growing up and a handy guidebook on how to get there."―Kirkus Reviews
"Excellently written, this book is sensitive to the emotional life of twentysomethings."―Library Journal
"THE DEFINING DECADE [is] just the wake up call many twentysomethings need."―The Coffin Factory
"I strongly recommend THE DEFINING DECADE for anyone in their 20s trying to figure out their life's direction. You'll learn how to search productively, how to avoid being indulgent, and how to turn good opportunities into great ones."―Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do With My Life?, co-author of Nurtureshock
"Before reading THE DEFINING DECADE I didn't know enough about the importance of our twenties to be concerned that I could mess it all up. Now that I do, I could worry myself into paralysis, or, as Meg Jay suggests, grab life by the helm--even if I still have no idea in hell where I'm going. Without a doubt, The Defining Decade will leave you eager to embark on what I now see can be the most exciting odyssey of one's life."―Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, editor of My Little Red Book
"THE DEFINING DECADE is the book twentysomethings have been waiting for. It will not tell you what you should do with your life, but it will inspire, motivate, and educate you to figure it out."―Rachel Simmons, author of The Good Girl
"THE DEFINING DECADE is eye-opening, important, and a pleasure to read. I highly recommend it."―Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus
About the Author
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As a twenty something, I would recommend this book to my friends and even those still in high school. Dr. Jay teaches lessons about how to ideally approach one's twenties and why it really matters. She interweaves research, stories, and counseling sessions with her patients to make a thought provoking but easy book to read. In many of those patients, I saw my friends or myself. There was the twenty something coffee barista still waiting for the right opportunity to come by. There was the beautiful and successful, girl chronically hooking up and never dating because she's still plagued with teenager, self-image problems. There was the bicycle shop guy wanting to be original and afraid of settling down. What they all have in common is this intense desire to know, "Am I going to make it? And what the hell should I be doing in my twenties? School was so easy, but life is so hard."
This book isn't a step by step guide. It won't go into how to systematically meet guys/girls, get over depression, or how to do well on an interview. There are plenty of books on getting into the details. Instead, this is a thought provoking book aimed against the popular twenty something zeitgeist today that, "we can do anything", "there's always time", and "I have until 30 to get my life together." Not to mention the million other stories we tell ourselves like, "I'm never going to get good at this", "It's better to wait rather than choose", or "Everyone on Facebook is doing better than me." In a sense, this book is like "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" to personal finance. They are paradigm shifting books that sweep away the false assumptions and beliefs we acquired from our childhood and culture and replace them with solid, real principles on how reality works. This book isn't going to do the heavy lifting for you, only you can do that. This book is the starting point to begin living one's twenties with drive, clarity, and purpose.
The book itself is divided into three sections: Work, Love, and The Brain and the Body.
Work talks about increasing your identity capital, the value of "weak ties", that you know what you want even though you think you don't, the unhelpful prevalence of Facebook comparisons, and seeing a career as the first step in a unique, customized life versus settling down.
Love goes into the importance of taking dating seriously in your 20s, compatibility with possible in-laws, how to make sure "living together" isn't harmful, and choosing the right partner.
The Brain and Body is sort of a misc. collection of pieces centered on how your brain, body, and mind works.
The Brain and Body section also covered a lot of neuroscience research I wasn't aware of. For example, your brain undergoes a radical period of reconfiguration in your 20s which means now is the best opportunity for learning skills. Or, the frontal cortex that controls a lot of our mature responses such as regulating emotions is still developing for most people in their 20s. Besides the physical brain, Dr. Jay also talks about the mind such as learning how to calm yourself down, how to develop confidence (rather than believing it's fixed), and that you can radically alter how you feel by changing parts of your life.
It also has a very frank chapter on fertility and that ladies don't have as much time as they think to have children. The final chapter before the epilogue talks about mapping your years to see how limited your time truly is. It seems common for many young people to talk about getting their career in order or going to graduate school eventually, getting married, and having kids but not all at the same time. Except, when you're 25 or 27 saying this, you're quickly running out of time.
It's hard to convey in a review how good the book is. This is the book I wish I could have written in ten years. Not just because of the advice, but because of the patient interviews. I found myself agreeing and sharing the same POV as the patient many times but through the counseling session, it was almost like I was sitting there and seeing my own assumptions fall apart and seeing the truth for what it really is. This book doesn't knock you over the head with what Dr. Jay thinks is right but begins from where you already are and lets you see for yourself the problems in your logic. Just as any good psychologist does.
This isn't your run of the mill advice book. There's a lot of popular myths and assumptions that this book dispels with cold, hard truth. I'm a self-help addict, and there was plenty of new information I never heard or thought of before.
The underlying message in all the stories and chapters is start living your life now. Take responsibility. Don't believe the lies that your twenties don't matter or that confidence is only innate. For most people, the late night parties, pointless jobs, and random hookups won't be what build your identity, what you care about or remember in the future. If anything, as Billy in the book says, you will probably feel betrayed that you wasted the best years of your life doing all the meaningless things that culture and others mislead you to believe most important. So, start preparing now because the investments (or lack thereof) that you do in your twenties will have the greatest impact in your career, marriage, and overall happiness. As she ends the book, "The future isn't written in the stars. There are no guarantees. So claim your adulthood. Be intentional. Get to work. Pick your family. Do the math. Make your own certainty. Don't be defined by what you didn't know or didn't do. You are deciding your life right now."
I've given away a case of these books, and every single person receiving it said it was exactly what they needed to guide them in making major decisions toward a better life. (Many of the twenty-somethings I gave the book to said they HATE to read... which doesn't apply when given the secrets to solving the overwhelming anxiety that comes to those stuck in their twenty's or the caregivers of those who are trapped there).
As a 28 year old this book would have been even more helpful to me 5+ years ago, but alas, such is life. And perhaps as someone a bit older this book is helpful to me in other ways, as I can recognize a lot of things in hindsight. So yes, I think that anyone 17-32 can benefit from this to some degree or another. This book has provided a lot of perspective for me on some of the mistakes I probably could have avoided with love + work, but it's also helped to pin point those mistakes, learn from them, and use it as fuel to move forward in the best way possible. This isn't some spiritual "chicken soup for the soul" book - in fact Meg pushes pretty hard for young people to AVOID those sentiments and not get caught up in the emotional traps that a lot of young adults these days are vulnerable to (from TV, movies, their friends, own parents, etc.)
She wants twentysomethings to ask themselves the real tough questions about relationships, jobs, money, education: and then answer them honestly. It's actually all really practical, well thought out advice from a highly skilled therapist/professional in the field. You don't have to relate or even agree with EVERY thing she says, but nonetheless Meg provides perspective that everyone can identify with on some level. The writing is great, too; she does not talk down, come off as condescending, or dismiss anyones concerns: she really gets on the same level as young adults who are struggling.
Thank you for this book, Meg.