The Defining Decade

One of the reasons I started this blog was due to frustration that this stage of life has no instruction manual. There is no prescribed path, and no set timeline for when you should do any of those major “adult milestones” like starting your career, getting married, starting a family, etc. This book isn’t an instruction manual. But it is the most well-informed and helpful piece of writing I’ve come across about emerging adulthood and the twentysomething years.*

The author, Dr. Meg Jay, is a renowned and experienced clinical psychologist who manages to ride the line between speaking with wisdom and a removed perspective about people’s twenties without ever being dismissive, pandering, condescending, or judgmental. That’s a huge deal.

The book breaks down into three sections: work, love, and the brain and the body. I found the work section most helpful and informative — likely because that’s the area which I feel the least equipped to handle and the least prepared for.

Of course, the content of the book will strike everyone differently, which is why I highly recommend reading it if you are college-age or in your twenties. It’s an informative read for other ages too, but covers aspects of high school kids don’t need to prioritize yet and would serve as more of an informative (rather than useful) nonfiction piece for folks much over 30. But these are the points that struck me most as I read it, paraphrased and with commentary:

  • “Later” doesn’t mean the distant future — and it might mean now. One of the biggest themes among examples mentioned in the book was twentysomethings feeling like, or at least saying, that all the important things are for later down the road. It can be easy to feel lost at this age, and I’m certainly guilty of procrastinating. But Jay reminds readers that putting off investing in goals — from careers to relationships — is guaranteed to make things harder down the road.
  • The things you care about and are good at have value beyond trivia. Jay calls this “identity capital.” You need to offer more than what’s on your resume, which means identifying and nurturing aspects of who you are that can benefit you and the people around you.
  • Choosing might actually open more doors. Sometimes we delay significant choices or transitions because we’re afraid it will limit our options down the road, especially if we don’t feel like we have “enough” of our future goals figured out. But just starting in the general direction you want to move will make the next steps easier and clearer.
  • Drop the “should.” It’s your life. Stop worrying about what you see all your peers doing on Facebook or what media or your family tells you that you “should” be doing. This stage of life is the first one where people are on such wildly different paths with such varied timelines. Listening to advice and planning well for goals are wise, but if your whole life is run by “should,” you’ll just make yourself miserable.
  • It’s not a time to be unintentional about relationships. Jay mostly talks about romantic relationships, but I think it also applies generally. I feel really glad that I’m in a thoughtful, worthwhile relationship where we actually treat the relationship as something to be tended to. But it can be easy to let that slide, or to not be intentional about investing in friendships and family relationships that are important to us.
  • Show your brain some respect. I had no idea how much brain development actually happens in the emerging adult/twentysomething years. (Hint: It’s a lot.) The cool thing is that means there’s a lot of opportunity to grow and improve. The catch is that you’ve got to capitalize on it — the patterns, habits, and skills you build now are generally the foundation for the rest of your adult life.

There were certain times as I was reading the book where it started to feel like a lot of pressure given all that evidently rides on the twentysomething years. But every time that started to concern me, Jay offered thoughtful commentary and helpful advice to mitigate the pressure. It’s the kind of book that I’d like to pick up and re-read every year or two for the rest of my twenties, and which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Is there a book or article that has helped you decipher the twentysomething years? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

 

*The usual disclaimer that, as always, I receive no compensation of any kind for discussing this book, and my opinions are entirely my own. Also a huge thanks to my friend Kami for recommending the book!

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