The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay

Overview: Our “thirty-is-the-new-twenty” culture tells us the twentysomething years don’t matter. Some say they are a second adolescence.Others call them an emerging adulthood. Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, argues that twentysomethings have been caught in a swirl of hype and misinformation, much of which has trivialized what is actually the most defining decade of adulthood.
Drawing from a decade of work with hundreds of twentysomething clients and students, THE DEFINING DECADE weaves the latest science of the twentysomething years with behind-closed-doors stories from twentysomethings themselves. The result is a provocative read that provides the tools necessary to make the most of your twenties, and shows us how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity, and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood-“if” we use the time wisely.
THE DEFINING DECADE is a smart, compassionate and constructive book about the years we cannot afford to miss.

My thoughts: I like the overall message of the book: Your life, even at your twenties, means something, so make the best of it. I fully believe that people, no matter what their age should not waste away their life by partying all the time and practicing bad habits. Goofing off every now and then is perfectly fine, but making a career out of it is pointless unless you get paid for it and you find it fulfilling. Therefore, this review may be a bit biased.

With the basic message out of the way, I do think the audience is limited to people who have access to resources and opportunities, mainly the middle class and upper class. I think the same basic message is viable for all classes, but people of lower classes who don’t have access to internships or college may have a harder time connecting with Jay’s clients.

Jay backs up all her claims with psychological research that most college students learn in basic psych. While having Jay repeat the same information I’ve already learned is kinda boring, it is interesting to see how she applies the research. I’ve read a few reviews and comments on her articles and books, and basically, they complain that her book is too conservative and that she claims causation instead or correlation. I don’t think she’s that conservative or confusing causation with correlation. She uses caution and subtle sentences in explaining the difference, but that’s how I would expect every psychologist/psychiatrist to react. Her book centers on research and experience in her practice, not on ideology or politics. The major problems people have with her book are probably more due to a limited research/experience with those certain situations rather than her general principles.

By adding her clinical experiences, she means to illustrate the research and her ideas in real life, which works. However, some people may not realize that case studies are specific instances in which it works a certain way for one person. Things may go differently for someone else. That’s why when reading her case studies of people, you have to be careful to understand the general idea and not concentrate too much on the details. I know that seems kind of backwards since a case study focuses on specific details and it’s not valid to use generalizations from one case study to another, but for the sake of understanding her argument, I suggest you break that scientific rule and go with the flow. She’s using the case studies as examples and not scientific proof.

I do think that Jay did a better job on the work issues of her book and that’s the section I find more accessible than any other section. However, her other discussions of topics have validity, especially the fertility subject. Some people may not have kids, so they can breeze over the section if they wish, but I think she spends a lot of time talking about fertility is because it’s something couples need to talk about: if they want kids, when they want them, possible fertility problems–I think it’s important for every couple to talk about even if they don’t want kids just in case birth control fails or an accident happens. I also fully agree with her on being in good relationships all the time and not staying with someone who’s a deadbeat. Humans are creatures of habit and someone may get stuck in a bad cycle of relationships if he or she is not picky about whom he or she dates.

My only real issue with the book is that it’s too future oriented. Yes, it’s important to plan for upcoming events, but at the same time, if you’re not enjoying your life now or you’re so stressed about the future, you can’t realize what’s in front of you and something’s not quite right. I wish Jay would’ve spent a bit more time talking about the past, present, and future, but she didn’t really connect them too much. She sort of blames twentysomethings for being too present oriented, which is funny ’cause I’m twenty and think she’s too future oriented to the point where she forgets to tell people to enjoy their current situations. I think her book would have a better tone if she said something along the lines of, “Hanging out is nice and it’s important to treasure your friends, but don’t forget you still have future goals to achieve. To achieve them, you need to make sure you’re taking steps in that direction earlier in your life rather than later.”

Another issue I have with this book is saying how bad off thirtysomething and fortysomething people are. They’re not all bad off. We can learn from older people’s mistakes, but I don’t think they should be berated for choosing to do things later in life. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. However, by using poor decisions of older people, Jay is emphasizing her point that it’s better to start planning when you’re young, which I kind of agree with. She crosses a line sometimes when she speaks about her older clients. I know she’s trying to point out how later decisions affected them, but at the same time, it comes close to almost wagging her finger at them when they’ve already suffered enough.

Sometimes, Jay’s writing feels like a mother/aunt/teacher who can just give you a look and you know you’re doing something wrong. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s condescending, but it does make me wonder and ask questions about my life. Based on other psychology books I’ve read, I know her advice is relative based on the situation, but it’s strong advice. If you get anything out of the book, I think it should be this: Your life matters, so make the most of it by taking deliberate actions earlier than later, especially in the direction that you may want to go in. Decisions need to be made because they do impact your future. If you just let life happen to you, it may not be all that fun.

Her advice seems to go against what most people say nowadays, such as, “You have time for that later,” “Marriage and babies are for older people,” “You’re only 23. You don’t need a serious relationship or career,” and so on. However, I really do believe that we need to put aside these sayings that give “freedom” to twentysomethings and instead use Jay’s advice and give them “responsibility for their lives.” I want responsibility, so I’m shrugging off anyone who tells me I have time to wait. I’m taking time by the horns and taking action in the direction I want.

I bought this book from Amazon for $14.05 without taxes or a shipping and handling cost.

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