My Review of The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter - and how to make the most of them now

By Julia Casey, Center for Economic Development Entrepreneurship Specialist

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

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

TL:DR: “Your twenties don’t matter. Do what you want.” is garbage advice.

Why are you telling me this?: After college, I panicked because I had no idea what I wanted to do, and for the first time in my life, I did not have a clear path. Everybody kept telling me that my twenties did not really count so I should just do whatever I felt like. The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, Phd had some better advice for me.  Read this book if you are in your twenties. Buy this book for the twenty-something people, the college kids, and the high school grads in your life.

The throwaway decade myth: “With 80 percent of life’s most significant events taking place by age thirty-five, as thirtysomethings and beyond we largely either continue with, or correct for, the moves we made during our twentysomething years.”  Basically, you develop patterns, gain experiences, and make moves in your twenties that follow you through the rest of your life. Your prefrontal cortex, the part that gives you the real smarts, develops a lot during this time and is creating said patterns based on your experiences in jobs, relationships, and life.  

Jay splits the book into three sections: Work, Love, and The Brain and The Body.  As a clinical psychologist specializing in twentysomethings, she peppers the book with real-life stories of clients like Helen having an identity crisis, Sam’s refusal to get a boring day job (or any job), and Jennifer and Carter splitting before the ink was dry on the marriage certificate. It’s like people-watching in book form.

These are my takeaways from each section:

1) Do work:  If you want meaningful work and/or career success, you better start in your twenties.  Jay has some great advice on how to do that. This one hit home for me:

Analysis paralysis or treading water - standing still doesn’t work.  Like I said earlier, the end of my college experience was served with a heavy side of panic.  It felt like I could do anything I wanted at that point. Every door was open if I chose to walk through it.  It also felt like the first door I walked through would close and lock behind me. Jay does a little mythbusting while walking through a similar dilemma with her client, Ian.  

  • You have interests, passions, and expectations in life that will cut down your possible paths.

  • You can make a different choice if one does not work out

  • It is scary to pursue something that you really want to do. You might fail. Do it anyway.  You will either end up doing something you love or be better equipped to make a different choice.

2) Does love suck or do you suck at love?:  As the the most annoying phrase in any textbook states, “this is beyond the scope of this text” aka this is not a relationship blog. The quick of this section is who you choose as a significant other affects your life more than any other choice you make. Don’t be a dum-dum about it.

3) Science and stuff: Jay also smacks you with some science and general life advice like:

  • “In a use-it-or-lose-it fashion, the new frontal lobe connections we use are preserved and quickened; those we don’t use just waste away through pruning.”

  • The brain is wired to focus more on the unexpected and/or bad events.  New and challenging experiences, which are most experiences in your twenties, have failure built in. However, that failure causes a lot of anxiety and uncertainty.  Talk to people with a full formed frontal lobe to provide some perspective. Learn to forgive yourself and move on.

  • “In one study that followed nearly five hundred young adults from college to the mid-thirties, increased goal-setting in the twenties led to greater purpose, mastery, agency and well-being in the thirties.”

  • You only have so many years to accomplish your goals.  Do the math.

#StartupLife: Great ideas and businesses most often come from combining unrelated concepts to create a product, service, or business model.  The brain goo that makes those connections is both strengthening and dying in your twenties. Therefore, pursuing new/challenging experiences becomes important to use those connections so you don’t lose them.

My two cents (because narcissism): That should be that name of all blogs I write but to the point.  I truly love this book and have bought it for the 3 out of the 4 of my younger siblings (the fourth one will get it when he graduates high school) as well as recommended it to many friends.  It helped give me a lot of perspective.

If you want to read the book, buy it at local bookstore or come visit my office.  You can borrow my copy.