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The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now Hardcover – April 17, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 677 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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

"Meg Jay brings a sharp intellect, expertise on the life cycle, and extensive clinical experience to this powerful book. Age and time, she argues, are not malleable, even if people live longer and our culture believes that everything is possible. Reading this book will benefit clinicians, cultural commentators, and twentysomethings themselves."―Nancy Chodorow, author of Individualizing Gender and Sexuality: Theory and Practice

"This fascinating, engaging book makes a convincing case that the twenties are the most transformative period of people's lives, and even better, shows readers how to get off the couch and live that decade well. It should be read by all young adults, their friends, their parents, their grandparents, their bosses, their siblings . . . really, by just about everyone!"―Timothy D. Wilson, author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change

"Expecting to experience the joy of freedom and self-discovery, many young men and women find instead confusion, loneliness, and anomie. Jay is just the sort of guide that these twentysomethings and their parents need: sensitive, thoughtful, and wise."―Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys

"THE DEFINING DECADE is a rare gem: a fresh, original contribution to the study of adult development that's also a pleasurable, almost effortless read."―Daphne de Marneffe, PhD, author of Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life

"Blending the latest social science research with real life accounts of twentysomething clients and students, Jay provides valuable and compelling insights and direction for twentysomethings, their parents, and parents of future twentysomethings."―Leslie C. Bell, PhD, author of Hard to Get: 20-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom.

"THE DEFINING DECADE is a must read for the twentysomething who is looking to build a meaningful, fulfilling, and rich life. Dr. Jay clearly illustrates some of the biggest mistakes we can make in our twenties. But more important she gives advice about how to make decisions that will set twentysomethings up for success in the workplace and intimate relationships in their thirties and beyond."―C. J. Pascoe, author of Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School

"THE DEFINING DECADE does an excellent job of conveying the latest social science on twentysomething relationships and helping young adults to understand why these relationships can be so confusing and challenging...Young adults looking for insights about love, life, and marriage should turn to Dr. Meg Jay's engaging and insightful new book."―W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia

"Meg Jay masterfully blends cutting-edge research and life stories of psychotherapy clients to make a compelling case that this age period is crucial for launching love and work. You will learn a lot from this book and it will spur you to seize control of your future now."―Avril Thorne, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Listen to me closely. If you know someone already in or entering the third decade of life, or their parents, or their therapist, you must give them this book. Meg Jay slams a cultural corrective on our desk. Pay attention. The twenties are the defining decade of human life where the foundation of every future is laid...No one should turn thirty without having read this book."―J. Anderson Thomson Jr., MD; staff psychiatrist, University of Virginia, department of Student Health; co-author, Facing Bipolar: The Young Adult's Guide to Facing Bipolar Disorder

About the Author

Meg Jay, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in adult development, and twentysomethings in particular. She is an assistant clinical professor at University of Virginia, and maintains a private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia. Dr. Jay earned a doctorate in clinical psychology, and in gender studies, from University of California, Berkeley.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1 edition (April 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446561762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446561761
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (677 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Peter Park on April 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read Dr. Meg Jay's NY Times piece on co-habituation (...) which lead me to ordering her book. I received it yesterday and read it in one sitting. So, I think it's pretty good.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
After I read this, I was surprised no one had discussed making the most of the twenties decade before. With the job market slow for college grads, and a seeming extension of the teen years into the entire twenties decade, this book is a huge wake up call and an excellent roadmap out of youth and into what should be the most exciting time of your life. This book covers two basic and profound aspects of life; choosing a mate and having children and choosing a path that leads, step by step, to a career that is fulfilling and rewarding.

The author makes a point about dating: are you goofing around or really trying to sort out whom you want to spend time with? After all that is sorted out and you eventually find the right person, you could be a lot older and suffering from infertility. That's a great point; we spend a leisurely youth and then when we get serious, it may be difficult or impossible to conceive (I didn't get married seriously until I was forty, so I can totally support this advice. I have no children.) Here is a case for being serious about whom you choose and deciding to have children before the mid-thirties, when it starts getting a lot more problematical. (And you are at the peak of strength, less likely to be fatigued by the task.)

The second very important point of this book is that frittering time away in jobs that don't lead to a career will cause you to be "damaged and different." In other words, one really doesn't have the time to take any old job and the more time you spend on what you think you want to do for the majority of your work life, the better off you will be. According the author, the string of random, low paying and dull work can lead to depression and drinking.
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Format: Hardcover
This book provides tough love that many of us 20-somethings need, which is best-summarized with the last sentences of the book:

"As I gathered up my maps and turned to go, I hesitated and asked the ranger, 'Am I going to make it?'
He looked at me and said, 'You haven't decided yet.'
He was telling me what this book has been all about. 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."

Reading this book, you get the sense that Meg Jay was gritting her teeth as she wrote it. She does her best to be sympathetic to the 20-something psyche, writing with all the delicacy she can muster, but you can still sense an underlying current of, "COME ON, PEOPLE, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!" That's good. We need that. We've been coddled for too long.

If you are thinking of working at a coffee shop because that seems non-corporate, or going backpacking in Europe in order to "find yourself," or putting off marriage or children until you've finished grad school, then Meg Jay is talking to you, and you should listen.

But there's one thing about this book that I found troubling: It has a rather Me-Against-the-World sentiment. In the epilogue, Meg Jay writes about her favorite sign, one posted at Rocky Mountain National Park that says MOUNTAINS DON'T CARE, meant to encourage preparedness against an uncaring wilderness. She views the world as out-to-get-you unless you are tenacious and strategic and forward-thinking. You've got to acquire all the resources you can as quickly as you can to ensure your safety before the world GETS YOU.
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