The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, PhD

This is the last book I decided to finish before I start reading for a very exciting project that I’ll start sharing with you all later this year. I saw a bunch of people I know reading this book last year, and I was intrigued. I’m usually the last one to catch on to book hype, and this one was no exception. This was another that made me break out my sticky tabs and start marking up pages because it was so good, and I hope this review motivates someone to check this book out.

The Rundown

The Defining Decade is a well-structured instructional book on how and why twentysomethings should be setting themselves up for success during the beginning of their adulthood. Jay debunks several myths and misunderstandings about the twentysomething years related to work, love, the brain, and the body. She also offers encouragement for twentysomethings who feel anxious and confused about their futures and explains how we can take advantage of the unique space we’re in. With an artful combination of research-backed theories and anecdotes from past clients (Jay is a psychotherapist), this book is a must-read for every twentysomething.

Length: 201 pages

Additional Sections: Foreword, Preface, and Intro (I don’t understand why any book needs all three, but it doesn’t hurt to read them)

Genre: Non-fiction/Self-help

Year Published: 2012

The Good Stuff

The Defining Decade is split into three sections: Work, Love and The Brain and the Body. 

Once you get through the introductory sections (which aren’t unpleasant to read at all), the book really starts off with a bang. My problem with a lot of self-help books is that they can be slow and uninteresting, but I finished this book in about three days because I just couldn’t put it down. The first section, work, was mind-opening. Jay uses stories from her twentysomething and thirtysomething clients to highlight and discuss issues that young people often face. I was encouraged by the fact that she said the twenties are really the only time where potential matters more than experience. Being able to craft a good story from your work experience, no matter how scattered you feel it may be, is a skill we need to develop in our twenties. This is also the time to go after that career field that you think isn’t possible for you. It’s certainly not going to be easier to switch careers in your thirties, so go for it now! This book was the push I needed to go after my dreams. 

A common thread throughout The Defining Decade is that twentysomethings don’t necessarily have all the time in the world. This was sort of a disappointment to me, because I’ve always grown up with the belief that I should make memories in my twenties and focus on boys and babies later. Jay isn’t pushing the idea that everyone should get married straight out of college, but she does encourage twentysomethings to be intentional and to think about where we want to be in our thirties and forties. I’ve always had a relative idea of where I want to be in my thirties and forties, but this book really made me think about exactly where I want to be and how I plan on getting there. 

I found the section on love to be oddly comforting. Before my current relationship, I always figured I would be in my early thirties when I got married, and that I would have plenty of time to have children because my mom had me in her mid-thirties. Jay challenges the idea that twentysomethings have to wait to get married later, or that they should avoid getting married in their twenties even if they have a wonderful partner. She doesn’t encourage twentysomethings to get married right out of high school or college, but she does do away with the idea that we should avoid serious relationships just because we’re young. I also loved the chapter on cohabitating, and it confirmed my beliefs on why I want to wait until I’m married to live with my significant other. Intention and commitment is really the name of the game in this section, and it reframed how I view twentysomething relationships. 

The brain and the body section was a mixture of chapters on several different topics. One of the best ones to me was the one about being anxious about your work and combatting impostor syndrome. Ever since I finished college, it’s been difficult for me to tell if my work is satisfactory; without grades every semester, it’s so difficult to feel confident about work because there aren’t constant markers of success anymore. Jay did a great job of explaining how to combat that anxiety, and made it clear that so many people are experiencing the same thing. She also touched on waiting too long to have kids, and how twentysomethings should plan out their lives with more intention so they don’t have to risk struggling to have kids (and potentially not having them at all) because they waited until their late thirties and forties. I think she did a great job of balancing reassurance with tough love, and I enjoyed it. 

The Defining Decade is filled with tons of great stories and a lot of reliable evidence that makes the book credible without being boring. I thought her tone was fun to read and the book was structured perfectly. I don’t think this was a book to solve all the problems twentysomethings will encounter, but I think it’s a great starting place for people in their twenties who want to figure out where they want their lives to go. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone in their twenties. I wouldn’t change anything about it. 

Overall Rating: 10/10


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