Home » Book Review: The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

Book Review: The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

I recently read The Defining Decade by Meg Jay and I only wish that I would have read it sooner. I was intrigued by the tagline “Why your twenties matter–and how to make the most of them now” because as a twenty-something, it feels like I’m inundated with conflicting messages about this period in my life. From “Don’t worry honey, you have your whole life ahead of you,” to “Decide what you want to do now. This sets the tone for the rest of your life,” to “Who cares? Let’s just have fun and worry about it later!” there’s a ton of messages out there that make my head spin. So I purchased The Defining Decade and devoured this book. Read on for my The Defining Decade review.

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The Defining Decade Review

About the Author: Meg Jay, PhD

Dr. Meg Jay (she has a PhD from UC Berkley in clinical psychology and gender studies) is a clinical psychologist. She practices in Virginia and specializes in adult development, making her a recognizable authority on the subject. She writes with a casual voice, making reading this book very easy and seems kind of like getting advice from your best friend’s mom.

Overview – The Defining Decade Review

The Defining Decade seeks to reach out to people who are questioning what they should be doing (especially twenty-somethings) with their lives. Jay separates the book into three sections–work, love life, and body– and sets out to answer the questions that she gets asked by her clients as they navigate their twenties. In this book, the reader gets to see little snippets of her conversations, examples of issues that come up in everyday life whether it’s co-habitating with a partner and ramifications years later or setting boundaries. I personally really liked these sections as it made the book more relatable.

Basically, the book can be summarized like this: Most major life events happen before you turn 35, so be intentional. Think about what you want. Think about what you need to do to get there. Then do it. Check in with yourself and make sure that you’re on track, because a small drift can result in bigger consequences down the line. She captured this best in her analogy saying that your twenties are like an airplane leaving New York City. At take off, a slight change in course could be the difference between landing in San Diego or Seattle. However, once you’re almost to San Diego, only a huge change/detour will redirect you to Seattle.

Favorite Parts

Favorite part: Identity capital — I enjoyed reading about how important other aspects of your life are (both in and out of the hiring process). These are the off-resume items that set you apart — did you volunteer with the peace corp? Are you an aspiring artist? What hobbies or other items make you a well rounded individual? Many people have work-related accomplishments and people will find someone who can complete the job requirements, but people looking for someone who is interesting and will make a good team member. It’s made me consider my own identity capital and think about how I can continue to develop it.

“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, PhD The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter–and how to make the most of the now

This book also stressed the important of networking, especially weak ties (the people you kind of know, and can reach out to for introductions, opportunities, etc.). This was fascinating to me as I generally don’t like to use weak ties but hey, maybe that’s something I’ll need to change.

Other Thoughts

It was a little bit surprising to think about all the major life events happening before 35 (college, first job, marriage, kids) especially since it seems like that both far away and yet zooming closer every day. I’m not sure that I agree on the stress on doing everything now/ASAP/by 35 (ahh your biological clock is ticking!). I think that this can cause you to make decisions you’re not ready for. However, I do appreciate the overall message of intentionality and opportunity costs.

I would have liked to see her address how to get started “on track” for your job, your love life, etc. But a lot of things have changed since it was originally published in 2012 (online dating, difficulties getting your foot in the door in the workplace). I also think that this book comes from a heteronormative lens and expects that the reader wants children. If not, then this book may not resonate with you as much.

Conclusion – The Defining Decade Review

Overall, this is a great book that people should be reading! I was inspired to get my life in gear after reading this. I definitely think that if you’re in your twenties, you should check out this book! Honestly though, even if you’re not in your twenties, I’d still recommend it.


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