Book Review 13: The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

17 Feb

I’m 25, and this is one of those self help books I’ve seen read/recommended to/recommended by my friends. Being in “your twenties” is a relatively new development stage as Americans postpone marriage and children until later and later. There’s this sort of pop culture idea that your twenties should be wild, and free, the best days of your life, and they don’t matter much because once you’re thirty you get your life together. Enter the newly named quarterlife crisis.

Jay’s book really makes the point that your twenties matter. Yes, they are a time for self discovery and exploration and travel and all of that, but if you want to be happy in your thirties and forties and beyond, you should be laying the groundwork in your twenties. That means building “identity capital,” or holding jobs that either interesting, challenging, or unique enough to give you a story that lets you sell yourself in future interviews. It means realizing your career options are not actually unlimited, you can’t do anything. You have a limited set of career options based on your education, skills and interests – so just pick one and get started! If you don’t like it, you can switch careers. But you need to start your career in your twenties so that you have work satisfaction, and feel challenged and accomplished, later in your life.

And it also addresses the very real, but very ignored (at least by my friends and peers) concern of the biological clock. Yes, focusing on your career and ignoring marriage and family when you’re young seems like a good idea, but biology dictates that there’s a relatively small window where having children is easy. Having a child when you’re forty is the exception, not the norm. As easy as it is to ignore that reality, it’s something to consider.

The problem I have with this book is that my friends fall into two camps. I have many friends who this book is geared towards – who have hopped from internship to internship, from romantic partner to romantic partner, without really thinking about what they want out of life and what steps they should be taking to get it. This book is what they need to solve their “quarterlife crisis” – it’s not saying to stop enjoying yourself or experimenting, it’s asks you to think about the life you want and take steps to secure your future happiness.

But I fall into the other camp. I actually did the things this book recommends. I chose a career (lawyer),  and built up tons of “identity capital” for my career through grades and unique work experience.  And in my personal life, I’ve been dating my boyfriend for seven years and marriage is on the horizon.

So what next? I feel like the rest of my life is decided – lawyer, husband, marriage soon followed by children, where I’m living, etc. I sort of wish I had taken more risks, done more things, been freer in my twenties. It’s scary. And  I feel like I’m lacking identity capital in my personal life. That as a person, I’ve been so focused on building my “adult life” I neglected to develop as a person. So, even though I only usually read one self help-y book per year, I’m on the hunt for another one.


3 Responses to “Book Review 13: The Defining Decade by Meg Jay”

  1. Katie Robinson April 6, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    I’m currently reading this book and am starting a post series on what I’ve learned from it. You post came up as a related article so I’m using it in my post as well.

    I wanted to comment though on how you said you wish you had more personal life identity capital… It’s not too late. You can still take these risks and adventures. I would say that I’m currently right on the line between the two camps you talk about, but I’m about to fall more onto your side as I am just out of school and setting up my life. I felt that this book and its advice perfectly complements my own life. I’m a spontaneous soul who goes crazy if I dont take advantage of life and all it has to offer. I’ve made bucket lists to complete by 25, 30 and 35. At first I was really discouraged that my life was coming together too fast, I thought I wouldn’t have time to do all these adventures on my bucket lists, but then I realized none of this has to stop. Carpe diem is a way of life that can be shared with friends, husbands and eventually children. Its just something you might have to work a little harder for or think about more. You might not be able to drop everything and go, but you can still do and find whatever personal life identity capital you want.


  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR5 Book Review #13: The Defining Decade by Meg Jay | Cannonball Read V - February 17, 2013

    […] But I fall into the other camp. […]

  2. The Defining Decade: Identity Capital Part 1 | Ask The Young Professional - April 8, 2013

    […] Book Review 13: The Defining Decade by Meg Jay ( […]

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