I was recently chatting with a friend on the phone and we ended our conversation by giving each other book recommendations. My friend was so enthusiastic about her recommendation that I think I had put the book on hold at the library before we even hung up. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay, PhD is one of those books that I could hardly put down. It’s a mere 200 pages and reads as quickly as Harry Potter. Now I’m not a professional book critic, but I promise that if you’re in your twenties, that you will find something relevant in this book.
The message in this book is straightforward: reclaim your twenties because they are a transformative period in life. We do not need to wait until we are thirty to find our dream job or settle down. Despite what society might be telling us–“that the twenties don’t really matter and that that they don’t count; you can start real life when you turn thirty. Have fun until then.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend the next several years just waiting around until life is supposed to count.
There are three sections: work, love, brain & body. Because it would be illegal for me type the contents of the entire book in this post (even though that’s how compelled I am to share it with you), I will give a few of the big take-away points.
#1 Identity Capital Jay encourages us to stop having an identity crisis and start building our identity capital. This simply means adding value to ourselves and investing in opportunities that are worth it. For example, a client told Jay that she was a talented photographer and wanted to work in the art world, but had been nannying to pay the bills. She said she was going to take a job at a coffee shop and pass up an interview to be a floater at an animation studio because the pay wasn’t stellar. This decision has a clear choice to build identity capital. Although being a floater wasn’t the client’s ideal job, it was an “in” to the world in which she wanted to ultimately thrive. If she got the job she could build connections and learn about the art world. Long story short, the client got the floater job, worked her way up to a movie director and then to a cinematography assistant where she works on movies in Los Angeles. Jay says, “But something better doesn’t just come along. One good piece of capital is how you get better” (13). So if you’re like me and you’re trying to find your way in the career world, take Dr. Jay’s advice and take the opportunity that will help you explore an option that counts.
#2 The Strength of Weak Ties Obviously our close friends and family have value, but when it comes to new information, weak ties are where it’s at. These are the people in our lives who are only acquaintances. They force us to communicate differently because we aren’t in the same clique. We have to speak more thoroughly, which promotes “thoughtful growth and change” (22). Because our weak ties aren’t people we are in regular communication with, they provide access to fresh information. “Information and opportunity spread farther and faster through weak ties than through close friends because weak ties have fewer overlapping contacts. Weak ties are like bridges you cannot see all the way across, so there is no telling where they might lead” (21). If you’re looking for a job or to meet someone new, talk to your weak ties. They are often willing to go out a limb for you, even though they barely know you. This is strange but that’s how tons of people get that job. And what do you have to lose by reaching out to a weak tie? Nothing.
#3 Be as intentional about love as you are about work. Because the trend is to settle down and marry later, many people end up with whoever they’re with at the moment when they feel the pressure to settle down. Jay gives a scary example in her TED talk: “Dating in my 20s was like musical chairs. Everybody was running around and having fun. But then sometime around thirty it was like the music turned off. Everyone started sitting down. I didn’t want to the only one left standing up. Sometimes I think I married my husband because he was the closest chair to me at thirty” (6:40 TED talk). She urges us to be intentional our relationships and not to “date down.” Don’t stay in your relationship because it puts a roof over your head or fills the void of loneliness. Another piece of Jay’s advice is to start working on your marriage before you have one. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve: the best.
So go put this book on hold or go buy it. This is a book that I could read over and over again. Get out there and claim your twenties–they matter!
To start off, I am for sure adding this to my summer reading list! I definitely feel like I have been floating through my twenties so far; it’s been far too easy to fall into a rut of putting off big decisions until later because “I’m only 23!”. SO DANGEROUS! Even though I’m still in school, I still feel like I’m coasting, and I definitely want to pay more attention to how I’m doing and what I’m doing to better my future, in all aspects of my life!
In the first point that you highlighted, I absolutely align with the idea that it isn’t so much about passively allowing something better to happen, but rather the importance is in how you get better. This point makes us accountable for our own futures and careers, which is easy to let slide into the “I can work when I’m 30” mentality. However, I wish you had talked more about overcoming the rejection we all face in the job search, and how to keep your head up when you’re looked down upon for your “young” age, as well as staying motivated when we take the more explorative and low paying jobs that may get us to where we want to be, but in the current time absolutely suck.
Similarly, I really enjoyed your analysis on networking, and how you (and Jay) connected networking to invisible webs and threads of interactions. This point of networking is drilled into our heads throughout college, but it doesn’t seem to become real until we’re out of the safe and sheltering college bubble and are trying to make it on our own. I think this also extends to relationships with friends (and at times family as well). I have so many friends that remain on the edge of acquaintance/close friend, and I don’t want to give up on potential friendships because I may not have time or am busy with work.
MUSICAL CHAIRS IS SO RIGHT. Just step into any bar at around 1:45 a.m. and you’ll see a game similar to musical chairs that is happening right before your eyes: who is going home with who, which usually has to do with proximity (i.e. they were the closest person to me on the dance floor or the last person I talked to). I try my best to distance myself from this game of musical chairs, but it’s hard to find fellow twenty-somethings that aren’t bouncing around from person to person and actually want what you want too.
I’m totally going to check out this book, and find some great tips and advice about navigating my twenties, because someone has to have better advice than the fortune cookie I had yesterday: “every exit is an entrance” (which is questionable on so many levels).
Thank you so much for sharing this book!