In The Defining Decade, clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay has made it her personal mission to let everyone in their twenties – whom she commonly refers to as ‘twenty-somethings,’ know that 30 is not the new 20.
In a single generation, the years spent in your twenties have shifted from being defined by responsibility and adulthood, into one defined by experimentation, drifting, and non-commitment. As twenty-somethings, there’s a growing shared mentality of, “Am I going to make it? How am I supposed to know what I should be doing? Aren’t I too young to be settling down? School was so easy, but now real life is so hard.”
Many of us have been brought up with the belief that at this age, ‘we can do anything,’ and ‘there’s always time,’ and even ‘I have until 30 to get my life together!’ Essentially, we are tempted and encouraged to close our eyes and hope for the best. And if it doesn’t work for the best now, then everything is possible in our thirties.
However, Meg Jay’s thought-provoking book is aimed at sweeping away the false assumptions and beliefs that we acquired from childhood and culture alike, and replacing them with solid principles on how reality works. It’s the starting point to being living one’s twenties with greater drive, clarity, and purpose.
Throughout The Defining Decade, Jay constantly refers back to real-life experiences and conversations she had with her twenty-something counselling clients.
Each individual story is something that I can easily resonate with, and I’m sure that many others in a similar position of navigating their twenties can too, as we begin to face the reality of the real world kicking in. There were often times during reading where I thought, “wow, I’ve literally said the exact same thing!” It was almost like I was sitting there in the counselling session, seeing my own assumptions fall apart, and seeing the truth for what it really is.
As one of the clients put it, “I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean. Like I could swim in any direction, but I can’t see land on any side, so I don’t know which way to go.”
Jay offers guidance and lessons on combating common bad habits and problems that many of us face. Her encouragement and ideas on how to get back on track can motivate and bring hope to anyone looking for purpose; something many of us are in need of, considering the tough year we’ve faced due to the pandemic.
The book is divided into three sections: work, love, and the brain and body. Every chapter taught me how each of these can change more during this decade than any other time in adulthood, and that this change is all within our control.
I found this to be the perfect book to read during my final year at university, with the reality of the real world kicking in just around the corner. And as a self-help addict, there was plenty of new information I had never heard or even thought about before. For example, whilst the first few years of life are considered the critical formative period for childhood and how we turn out, the twenties are that same critical period of adulthood. Jay explains that these are the years when it will be easiest to start the lives we want.
“The twenties are an inflection point – the great reorganisation – a time when the experiences we have disproportionately influence the adult lives we will lead. Even a small shift can radically change where we end up in our thirties and beyond.”
The underlying message in all the stories and chapters is to take responsibility now. Don’t believe the lies that your twenties don’t matter, or that confidence is only innate. Start working on your ‘identity capital’ – which is your own collection of personal assets. Start preparing now, because the investments that you make in your twenties will have the greatest impact on your future path.
The Defining Decade is my go-to book for a good dose of hard talk. I would recommend it to any recent graduate or current student stuck in a quarter-life-crisis, or merely dazed by the freedom of post-university existence; or in fact anyone of any age who wants to learn how to take advantage of the time they have right now to create the best future for themselves possible.