The Defining Decade

The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter - and how to make the most of them now, Meg Jay, PhD

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 who you might want to be next.
— Meg Jay
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How do I begin to describe the impact this book has had on my life? I'll start this with a huge 'thank you' to my wonderful sister who first recommended this book to me (and to Skye who actually got it into my hands as a very useful 23rd birthday present). If you are one of my friends who I've pushed this book on, blame (or thank!) Maya/Skye who got me started. 

'Self-help' books are usually not my cup of tea but I'm not entirely sure if you can call this that. What do you call a book that is more all-knowing mentor/confidant/friend than book? The Defining Decade seemed to reach into my soul and understood all the issues and confusion I was dealing with or puzzled by, and offered a perspective on things I didn't even know I should be thinking about.  A few years ago I made the observation to myself that I want to be 'intentional' about everything I do - from relationships to work to leisure - and this book helped me to define exactly why it's so important to be intentional. 

This book will continue to live by my bedside for any time I need to grab it for motivation, perspective, and understanding. It helped me reimagine and reframe my perspective on the next decade of my life. It is more bookmarked and underlined than any book I've ever read (for the record, I only do this to my personal books - I will never desecrate someone else's book). Finishing this book left a gaping hole in my life but the process of reading it lit a fire under me that has continued to motivate me to be a better version of myself.

For any and all of my friends in their twenties (or maybe to their parents who want to understand them a little better, I HIGHLY recommend you read this book. I've already passed out 5 copies and it has become my default graduation gift. 

What I liked about it:

  • Perspective - Meg Jay has spent her whole life working with, couselling, and studying twenty-somethings. At the same time, she is definitely not in her twenties. Jay speaks with the experience that comes with age and constant studying of an age group...at the same time, her work allows her to be totally in-touch with the mindset of a twenty-something. I didn't feel lectured to by a patronizing adult. Instead, I felt like I was being given a manual to success from someone who totally understood me but who had come out on the other side successfully.

  • Voice - Jay clearly identifies areas for improvement, growth, and potential failure. She doesn't cushion her blows and speaks from the perspective of a stark realist. At the same time, she is understanding and kind. I felt like I was hearing exactly what I needed to hear, but instead of feeling brow-beaten and depressed, I came out motivated.

  • Areas of Focus - A lot of this book added insight to subjects that were already front of mind for me (ex. my career, personal relationships). However, Jay also brought up subjects that I had honestly never put much thought to - for example, fertility. While you hear the concept 'biological clock' tossed around as a joke all the time, it was fascinating and incredibly important to visualize my life timeline and to understand where (and if) 'having a family' fit into the picture. (Did you know that a woman's fertility at 35 is only a quarter of what it is before 30?!)

What I didn't like about it:

  • A Gaping Hole in the Perspective - This book read straight into my soul and was so deeply accurate that it was sometimes a little terrifying. At the same time, this book is written for people like myself - well educated and privileged enough to have a choice (or at least options!) about how I want to live my life. This book ignores the lifestyle of twenty-somethings who don't have the luxury of having a fantastic education, or being able to walk into an interview and immediately have something in common with the interviewer. It ignores the possibility that there are twenty-somethings who are having to support or raise families, or who are struggling to pay off insurmountable debt. Better acknowledgement of this would have made for a more well-rounded book.

Favourite Quotes:

  • “Twentysomethings who think they have until later to leave unemployment or underemployment behind miss out on moving ahead while they are still traveling light.”

  • “The only way to figure out what to do is to do - something.”

  • “Part of realizing our potential is recognizing how our particular gifts and limitations fit within the world around us.”

  • “Lying there in the MRI, it was like I traded five years of partying or hanging out in coffee shops for five more years I could have had with my son if I’d grown up sooner. Why didn’t someone drop the manners and tell me I was wasting my life?”

  • “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.”