The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now

The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now
Photo by Matthew Ball / Unsplash

Genre: Non-fiction, Psychology, Self-Help

Author: Meg Jay

As someone about to graduate from my 20s, I picked up "The Defining Decade" by Meg Jay out of curiosity. They say your 20s shape the rest of your personal and professional life, so I wanted to reflect on how I spent this “defining decade” and see what I did right or what I could have done better. And that’s exactly what I did—I spent last weekend walking down memory lane, jotting down the major events of my 20s. It was fun! Seriously, you all should try it.

So, my conclusion about my own 20s? Not too bad! It was eventful, adventurous, sometimes lonely, but definitely life-changing!

In this book, the author, a clinical psychologist specializing in young adult development, draws from her experiences working with 20-somethings to explain why this decade is crucial. Jay dives into careers, relationships, mental health, fertility, social networks, and identity, all while sharing stories from her clients to remind us how important it is to shape our foundation years. Whether you read this book or not, there's no doubt that our 20s are prime time for building a solid future.

I really liked the overall idea and concept of this book, but I didn't resonate with everything, and here's why.

Jay writes from the perspective of an American psychologist working with American 20-somethings. As an immigrant who moved to America in my early 20s, I didn't have the luxury of time to do anything other than try to find my footing in a foreign country. After graduation, I had 90 days to find a job or pack up and return home. With so many constraints, there was no time for deviation. Reading the stories in this book, I often thought, "I had no time or option to do all that.”

Despite the differences in our stories, I found valuable nuggets of wisdom in the book and here they are:

Identity Crisis vs. Identity Capital

This was my favorite concept from the book. Recently, I had been feeling lost and stuck, questioning what I was doing with my life—classic "identity crisis." This feeling was crippling, but the idea of "identity capital" presented in this book was reassuring.

If you are wondering what identity capital is- it's about building skills, relationships, and professional resources that will be valuable later in life.

Here's an example to help you understand better: You’re in your 20s, and you have a job. It may not be a dream job, and you might not enjoy every part of it (who does?), but you learn from it daily. Dealing with difficult personalities, working with sluggish team members, collaborating with diverse people, teamwork, learning work culture, and leadership—all these experiences build your identity capital. These skills, whether they enhance your resume or your personality, will help you move to the next stage in life.

Jay advises her 20-something clients to focus on building identity capital. It's okay not to find the perfect job immediately, to be scared, and to struggle. But it's not okay to avoid building your identity capital. This concept gave me a new perspective and made me more positive, knowing that I've been working on building this capital for the last few years.

The Strength of Weak Ties

The concept of "the strength of weak ties" highlights the importance of connections that are more acquaintance-level. These aren't our close family and friends but people we have less contact with. Jay encourages 20-somethings to be open to meeting people outside their regular circles because these weak ties can bring diverse perspectives and opportunities.

This idea made me rethink my habit of sticking to like-minded people. By expanding my network, I could access ideas, practices, information, and opportunities I wouldn't normally encounter. After reading this book, I'm more open to leveraging weak ties in various aspects of my life.

Importance of Goal Setting

Jay emphasizes the importance of setting goals in your 20s to guide you beyond this decade. While it might not be possible to figure out your entire life plan, you can start building ideas around what you want. Strategic plans can give you agency and purpose. Aligning short-term goals with long-term ones provides a sense of direction. This might involve finding jobs to build relevant skills, investing in supportive relationships, and making wise financial decisions. Since we're constantly evolving, our goals will change, so it's necessary to regularly reflect, review, and adjust them.

As mentioned earlier, I may not have resonated with everything in the book, but I walked away with some key takeaways. I’d say this book is not for everyone, so depending on your stage in life, you can decide whether or not to pick it up.

If you are in your late teens or early 20s, you will benefit the most from this book. However, if you are reading from outside America, you might not resonate with all the stories, but I am sure you will find some valuable insights as I did. Moreover, this could be a valuable read for parents of late teenagers or 20-somethings to understand them more deeply.

For those like me who are about to bid goodbye to this decade, I hear amazing stories from women around me that every decade after this gets better and better. This gives me hope, reassurance, and confidence that I am going to be a better version of myself in the coming days.

Here’s to embracing each decade of our lives! Keep exploring and building your identity capital.

Thank you for dropping by! I'll see you in the next blog post.

Until then, happy reading 😊