Book Notes: The Defining Decade - Meg Jay

Contemporary culture tells us the twentysomething years don't matter. Clinical psychologist Dr Meg Jay argues that this could not be further from the truth.


Title: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter And How to Make the Most of Them Now
Author: Meg Jay
Themes: Career, Life, Personal Development, Relationships
Year: 2012
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 0446575062, 9780446575065
Pages: 272

This book is a guide to not feeling lost in your 30s and 40s from a clinical psychologist who sees young people. It’s a must-read if you’re in your 20s. 

"... Feeling better doesn’t come from avoiding adulthood, it comes from investing in adulthood..."

The book centers around Jay’s experience as a clinical psychologist seeing people in their 30s and 40s who are hamstrung by having a “lack of vision” in their 20s. This book is meant to provide people in their 20s with some direction around creating a vision for their 30s and beyond.

The book coined the term identity capital, describing it as “the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs and relationships.” 

In other words, it is what we do to invest in ourselves to create the collection of skills, relationships, and professional resources we build up over our lives. It’s about owning up to your choices and becoming the person you want to be. Forget about having an identity crisis and get some identity capital. Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that's an investment in whom you might want to be next.

"... Our 20s are the defining decade of adulthood. 80% of life's most defining moments take place by about age 35. 2/3 of lifetime wage growth happens during the first ten years of a career. More than half of Americans are married or are dating or living with their future partner by age 30. Personality can change more during our 20s than at any other decade in life. Female fertility peaks at 28. The brain caps off its last major growth spurt. When it comes to adult development, 30 is not the new 20. Even if you do nothing, not making choices is a choice all the same. Don't be defined by what you didn't know or didn't do..."

Jay highlights the difference between school and adults. School requires you to solve clear problems laid before you, adult life requires adapting and finding answers in uncertain situations.

Large-scale social groups can improve our thinking by impelling us to communicate in a variety of ways and better configuration our beliefs. Having a few close friends and no one outside our bubble harms our development.

Jay advises that you take the job with the most career capital. Where you’ll build the most relationships, learn the most, grow the most. NOT necessarily make the most money.

"... 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..."

Chapters of the Book:

Preface: The Defining Decade
Introduction: Real Time

   Identity Capital
   Weak Ties
   The Unthought Known
   My Life Should Look Better on Facebook
   The Customized Life

   An Upmarket Conversation
   Picking Your Family
   The Cohabitation Effect
   On Dating Down
   Being in Like

   Forward Thinking
   Calm Yourself
   Outside In
   Getting Along and Getting Ahead
   Every Body
   Do the Math

Epilogue: Will Things Work Out for Me?

Meg Jay, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist, and an Associate Professor of Human Development at the University of Virginia, who specializes in adult development and in twentysomethings in particular. She earned a doctorate in clinical psychology, and in gender studies, from the University of California, Berkeley.

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