The Defining Decade

Table of Content

📃 Book Details

Name – The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter And How to Make the Most of Them Now
Author – Meg Jay
Language – English
Pages – 272 pages
Publication date – 7 April 2016
Publisher – Canongate Books

🚀 Book wrap-up

When Clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay put together some counseling experiences with some troubled people in their twenties, what came out is a book called The Defining Decade that has the answers to the universal yet doubtful question of ‘what to do in our twenties?’.

Whether it is a quarter-life crisis or the disorientation of the post-collegiate plunged into reality, this book hopes to be the holy grail of every twenty-something person trying to find their feet.

🎨 Should you read The Defining Decade?

Did you fancied the twenties to be your youthful days of adventure and freedom but behind closed doors it was a nightmare you wish was over?

The Introduction in the book lists down these as the inner feelings of some people in their twenties. If you feel the same, then you should read the book.

  • 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.
  • I didn’t know I’d be crying in the bathroom at work every day.
  • The twenty-something years are a whole new way of thinking about time. There’s this enormous chunk of time and a bunch of stuff needs to happen somehow.
  • My sister is thirty-five and single. I’m terrified that’s going to happen to me.
  • I’d better not still be doing this at thirty.
  • Last night, I prayed for just one thing in my life to be certain.

🔭 Review of The Defining Decade

For a book that I read on a whim just because the title was captivating, I’m utterly pleased.

For every twenty-something-people who are drowning in their own clueless and hopeless self, struggling to solve the pressing life questions, books like these are hopes for salvation. I, too, read it with hope and the answers I got were settling and unsettling. But at least there were some answers, even if some were distasteful.

If you start with the realization that there is no magic scroll with secrets to solving your life problems, then you can appreciate these books that add up bits and pieces to some of your problems.

The Defining Decade tries to meaningfully present answers to the inescapable questions that everyone in their twenties comes across that all derived from the root question of what should I do in my twenties?

Right off the bat, what struck me was how relatable the book is. For a twenty-something-year-old, the book is an accurate articulation of the question that troubles us. That is a commendable feat considering the value in the solace of being heard or understood, and I love this book for that. But some questions might seem irrelevant or meaningless, but that is a subjective standpoint.

Like any other self-help book, the weakness lies in the answers. Sometimes hard to find, sometimes obvious, sometimes unsavory. But expecting it to have all the answers is unreasonable too.

So if you ask me, I recommend this book because I know the questions this book touches upon are the ones that are struggling you too. So try this one because we got nothing to lose but so much to gain.

📒 My Book Notes of The Defining Decade.

Introduction – Real-Time

The twenties are that critical period of adulthood. These are the years when it will be easiest to start the lives we want. And no matter what we do, the twenties are an inflection point—the great reorganization—a time when the experiences we have disproportionately influenced the adult lives we will lead.


Identity Capital

We are born not all at once, but by bits.

Mary Antin, writer

Identity capital is our collection of personal assets. Most important, identity capital is what we bring to the adult marketplace. It is the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs and relationships and other things we want.

Twentysomethings who take the time to explore and also have the nerve to make commitments along the way construct stronger identities. They have higher self-esteem and are more persevering and realistic.

I felt a lot of internal pressure to figure it out, but all the thinking I did was debilitating and unproductive. The one thing I have learned is that you can’t think your way through life. The only way to figure out what to do is to do—something.

— Letter from Helen

Weak Ties

The Ben Franklin Effect: If we do a favor for someone, we come to believe we like that person.

Strong Ties: People we are in constant contact with whom we can ask for anything

Weak Ties: People we know but are not in constant contact with.

Some of the breakthroughs in life don’t come from our strong ties, but enough from our weak ties.

Make yourself interesting. Make yourself relevant. Do your homework so you know precisely what you want or need. Then, respectfully, ask for it. Some weak ties will say no. More than you think will say yes.

The Unthought Known

Twentysomethings hear they are standing in front of a boundless array of choices. Being told you can do anything or go anywhere is like being in the ocean. Like this vast, unmarked body of water. You couldn’t see land in any direction, so you don’t know which way to go. You feel overwhelmed by the prospect that he could swim anywhere or do anything.

You’ve spent over two decades shaping who you are. You have experiences, interests, strengths, weaknesses, degrees, hang-ups, priorities. The past twenty-something years are relevant. Decide what you want in life.

My Life Should Look Better on Facebook

Facebook suggests that our twentysomething lives ought to look a lot better than they do. Scrambling after ideals, we become alienated from what is true about ourselves and the world.

The tyranny of the ‘should’ propel such a search for glory. All the “shoulds” and “supposed to’s” that littered sentences: Work should be Wow! She should be in graduate school. Her life should look better than it did.

We look at others and think that what we are doing is not good because others are doing better. Feel petrified that we are falling short of reaching our full potential. You need to stop worrying about how life was supposed to look because it isn’t pretty.

Stop thinking about other and just focus on the job at hand and try to do your best. When you stop comparing with others and start focusing on your results is when you start performing better.

The Customized Life

In the twenty-first century, careers and lives don’t roll off an assembly line. We have to put together the pieces ourselves. Life could be personalized and changeable, but it was going to take some time and effort—and you would probably need to start with some common parts. Having an uncommon life wasn’t going to come from resisting these choices, it was going to come from making these choices.

Claiming a career or getting a good job isn’t the end; it’s the beginning. And, then, there is still a lot more to know and a lot more to do.


Picking Your Family

Some grew up believing that family was beyond their control, or something other people got to have. The only solution they have ever known has been to turn to friends or therapists or boyfriends for moments of solace or to swear off family altogether.

What no one tells twentysomethings is that finally, and suddenly, they can pick their own families—they can create their own families—and these are the families that life will be about. These are the families that will define the decades ahead.

The Cohabitation Effect

Sliding, Not Deciding: It is the couples who live together before an engagement who are more likely to experience poorer communication, lower levels of commitment to the relationship, and greater marital instability down the road. A life built on top of a “Maybe We Will” simply may not feel as consciously committed as a life built on top of the “I Do” of marriage or the “We Are” of engagement.

Lock-In: Cohabitating couples can break up and are a bit more likely to split than married couples. But many cohabitating couples don’t break up. They slide from dating to cohabitation. Then they lock into marriage because getting married seems easier than dividing up the furniture and starting over, especially when friends start walking down the aisle.

On Dating Down

The stories we tell about ourselves become facets of our identity. They reveal our unique complexity. All at once, they say something about friends, family, and culture. They say something about why we live as we do from year to year.

Twentysomething women and men who are dating down—or working down, for that matter—usually have untold, or at least unedited, stories. These stories originated in old conversations and experiences and, so, they change only through new conversations and new experiences.

So if you think your story is broken, edit it and fix it.

Being in Like

People love those who are like themselves.

Aristotle, philosopher

Be with people who share the same personality as you.

If you are wondering how to determine a personality? You can use the Big Five.

The Big Five refers to five factors that describe how people interact with the world: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism. Just by reading about the Big Five and considering your behavior, it is pretty easy to tell whether you fall on the high end or the low end, or somewhere in the middle of the five dimensions.

There is no right or wrong personality, there is just your personality and how it fits with the personalities of other people.


Forward Thinking

Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.

Søren Kierkegaard, philosopher

Twentysomethings who use their brains by engaging with good jobs and genuine relationships are learning the language of adulthood just when their brains are primed to learn it. Twentysomethings who don’t use their brains become thirtysomethings who feel behind as professionals and as partners—and as people, and they miss out on making the most of life still to come.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by uncertainty, to want to lie low with the urban tribe, or our parents, until our brains just mature on their own and somehow suddenly know the sure answers to our lives. But that’s not how the brain works. And that’s not how life works. Besides, even if our brains could wait, love and work can’t. The twenties are, indeed, the time to get busy. It’s forward-thinking for an uncertain age.

Calm Yourself

When twentysomethings enter the workforce, and I mean to enter the workforce by getting a job that isn’t safe or easy, they are in for a shock. With no freshman class to huddle in, they may find themselves all alone at the absolute bottom. At the top may be bosses, who are in positions of power because of their talent or experience rather than their managerial skills. Some bosses are not interested in being mentors. Others don’t know-how. These very same bosses are often the ones who are tasked with teaching twentysomethings how to navigate the brand-new world of work. It may be a match made in hell, but that’s the way it is.

Because our twenties are when we transition into so many new things, twentysomething life is full of new and surprising moments, even flashbulb memories. Twentysomethings take these difficult moments particularly hard. Compared to older adults, they find negative information—the bad news—more memorable than positive information or the good news. When twentysomethings have their competence criticized, they become anxious and angry.

A good day at work lifts us high in the air while a reprimand from a boss whips us down to the ground. As criticism blows us every which way, we feel—at work and in love—only as good as the last thing that happened.

As we age, we feel less like leaves and more like trees. We have roots that ground us and sturdy trunks that may sway, but don’t break, in the wind. The wind that blows by can be more serious. But older adults—and even twentysomethings who work at it—can be rooted in the confidence that problems can be solved, or at least survived.

Outside In

In most cases, it is going to take at least ten thousand hours of their time to master something. Sometimes it seems that the challenge of the twentysomething years is to figure out what to do, and then suddenly it will just start happening. We imagine we will show up at work and instantly add value or be taken seriously. This is not the case. Knowing you want to do something isn’t the same as knowing how to do it, and even knowing how to do something isn’t the same as actually doing it well.

The real challenge of the twentysomething years is the work itself. Taking the time to master it.

Getting Along and Getting Ahead

In our twenties, positive personality changes come from what researchers call “getting along and getting ahead.” Feeling better doesn’t come from avoiding adulthood, it comes from investing in adulthood.

Most of these changes are about making adult commitments—to bosses, partners, leases, roommates—and these commitments shift how we are in the world and who we are inside.

The investments we make in work and love trigger personality maturation. Being a cooperative colleague or a successful partner is what drives personality change. Settling down simply helps us feel more settled. Twentysomethings who don’t feel like they are getting along or getting ahead, on the other hand, feel stressed and angry and alienated.

There are all sorts of ways to make commitments to the world around us and, sometimes, in our twenties we have to be forgiving about what being settled or successful means. A great relationship or a job to be proud of may seem elusive, but just working toward these things makes us happier. Twentysomethings who experience even some workplace success or financial security are more confident, positive, and responsible than those who do not.

Every Body

When people had their kids at twenty-two, it was pretty much a given you’d be around to finish what you started. Nobody worried about it. Now she says a lot of parents come in and say, “Hey, I need to be healthy at least until my kids are off in college. Please be sure I make it that long.” How screwed up is that?

What I can’t figure out, and what I feel like I am grieving a little, is why I spent so many years on nothing. So many years of doing things and hanging out with people that don’t even rate a memory. For what? I had a good time in my twenties, but did I need to do all that for eight years? 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?

— Billy

Do the Math

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.

Leonard Bernstein, composer

Most twentysomethings can’t write the last sentence of their lives, but when pressed, they usually can identify things they want in their thirties or forties or sixties—or things they don’t want—and work backward from there. This is how you have your multigenerational epic with a happy ending. This is how you live your life in real-time.

💯 My Rating


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