The Defining Decade (Your 20s) by Meg Jay

Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now

This book is for people in their twenties. The author is a clinical psychologist who worked with people of that age group. This is the generation where things aren’t very stable. The twenties can be the most productive phase of your life.

What happens in your twenties will affect what your life will be like in the future. You can’t change as much in your life in your 30s. You should make use of your twenties.

Do not waste till you are 30 before you act. You may regret doing that. ‘The unlived life is not worth examining’. Kate had a difficult past and was affected by it. She was disappointed because she knew she wasted her twenties thus far. Times are changing and people are getting married later. Now, some people felt that it would be the wandering years. The problem with this is that they don’t start planning for their future. Short-term work and internships have replaced permanent jobs. A lot of them didn’t expect their twenties to be so difficult. You will find things harder to get going when you’re in your 30s. Everyone deserves to make the best use of their 20s. The book introduces the concept of identity capital. Learn to navigate your twenties well.

Identity Capital. Some people suffer an identity crisis at this stage of their lives. Sometimes, you need time to discover your true identity. Identity capital is a collection of your assets. These consists of both hard and soft skills that can be placed on a resume or not. After college, I went camping and on adventurous expeditions. The work was both meaningful and fun. You need to earn door-opening identity like a camping trip. Some underemployment creates skills that you can include in your resume. However, do not take too many small jobs which are part-time etc. Unemployment in your 20s might result in heavy drinking habits in your later years. Your wage growth occurs mostly in your early wage growth. Research indicates that salaries peak in our 40s. Take jobs with the most capital. Working at a coffeeshop had low capital. Use the capital to generate more for yourself.

That’s why I wish I had done more during the first few years out of college. I wish I had pushed myself to take some work leaps or a wider range of jobs. I wish I had experimented – with work – in a way I feel I can’t right now at almost thirty. I felt a lot of internal pressure to figure it out, but all the thinking I did was really debilitating and unproductive. The one thing I have learned is that you can’t think your way through life. The only way to figure out what to do is to do something. – Helen

Weak Ties. Learn to meet someone new etc. This book came about because of weak ties. Your urban tribe is a bunch of very close friends. Unfortunately many people do not interact with others outside their circle. Most of the jobs you will encounter come from people with weak ties. Birds of a feather flock together. This explains why homogenous cliques form. Weak ties expose us to new material. Weak ties encourage us to communicate more formally and professionally. Networking is actually a good thing. Have courage to call your friend. Weak ties and communication within your community are the key. If weak ties do favors for us, they start to like us more. If you want someone on your side, ask for a favour. This is the foot in the door strategy. One more favour may lead to bigger ones in future. Altruism is linked to happiness and better health. Make yourself interesting and relevant if you want to earn favours from others. Ask for a clearly defined favour. ‘A wise man makes his own luck’. Have the courage to approach your weak ties.

The Unthought Known. Uncertainty is always present. Don’t wait for someone to pick you up and direct you in a certain direction. Making choices is the key. The longer you wait, the less options will be available to you. The more choices you have, the more decision fatigue you will experience. Narrow down your choices to six at most. Look past at your past and achievements. Unthought knowns are things we know about ourselves but forgot somehow. We are afraid of disclosing this to anyone at all.

Not making choices isn’t safe. The consequences are just further away in time, like in your thirties or forties. – Meg Jay

My Life Should Look Better on Facebook. For many people, Facebook meant stalking others and looking at your friends. Judging happened and it was not pleasant. It is a way of keeping up with the times. They feel jealous over the success of others on Facebook. Everyone doesn’t post their troubles on FB. You can be too caught up with a particular image your parents want you to be. Goals are from within, shoulds are from the outside. Learn to focus on the task at hand and don’t bother about anything else.

The Customized Life. Some youth don’t want a 9 to 5 job. They want to have a distinctive life. Difference is what gives our lives some meaning. However, it is easy to want to be different. Having a positive identity is much harder. Learn to be affirmative instead. Start to work on your resume when you are young. Ian owned a custom bike. That gave me a clue about what he wanted in life. However, even a customized bike has its own common parts with other bikes. You need a good story in your life. Spin a story on your interests and talents. How does your past story relate to what you want in future. Create a shaper narrative and sound convincing.

This is how it’s done. This is how it starts. Claiming a career or getting a good job isn’t the end; it’s the beginning. And, then, there is still a lot more to know and a lot more to do. – Meg Jay

Society is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on the decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness. The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. Yet there are no courses on how to choose a spouse. – David Brooks

Love: An Upmarket Conversation. Your 20s are when you will spend time alone. The marriage age is increasing for developed nations. A divorce is extremely painful and will haunt you in future. There are actually many people who want to settle down. Divorces can lead to massive unhappiness. According to research, getting married late ain’t the best option. Once at 30, singles start to panic. The moral of the story is to take all your relationships seriously. Start thinking about marriage in your 20s. Start planning early. Be choosy about the right things in your 20s.

Dating for me in my 20s was like this musical chairs thing. Everybody was running around and having fun. Then I hit 30 and it was like the music stopped and everybody started sitting down. I didn’t want to be the only one left without a chair. – Cathy

Picking Your Family. Things start and end with the family. Successful people brim with confidence. Some successful youth are good at hiding their troubles. Emma felt lonely and her parents were undergoing a difficult time. Friends can only do that much. Families are more important. Sometimes, you need a new family. She also had a difficult relationship with her boyfriend. She also didn’t like how unambitious her boyfriend’s parents were. Learn to partner someone else. Later, she ended the relationship. You must take love as seriously as work. Marriage is a commitment between 2 individuals. If you have a broken family, learn to create a better one in future.

The Cohabitation Effect. In psychotherapy, slowing down your thinking helps. Cohabitation is becoming more common. Many people thought moving in together before marriage would be a good idea. However, according to research, doing this is bad and leads to higher divorce rates. Why doesn’t it work? The problem was that most people didn’t consider it carefully before doing it. People have different agendas during cohabitation as well. Everything tends to appear fuzzy at this stage. However, if couples are engaged and then subsequently cohabit, there are no divorce rates. Do not enter seemingly low-cost and low-risk situations where you can’t get out subsequently. Switching costs are involved and can be very large. After you are 30, the switching costs are even higher. Divorce seems like a big thing for those in their 20s. It is better to get clear on a person’s commitment level before cohabiting.

It is the couples who live together before being clearly and mutually committed to each other who are more likely to experience poorer communication, lower levels of commitment to the relationship, and greater marital instability down the road. – Meg Jay

On Dating Down. Do not simply accept anyone when dating. You must suffer a lot of emotional trauma if you do that. Many people have some form of self-cure. For instance, one could listen to angry, hurtful songs. Psychologists find it difficult to cure this. Your coping strategies might cause you to be even more alone. Your iPod can’t be your best friend. Some people engage in such behaviour because they are lonely. The patient felt desperate and wanted to have sex. In our 20s, we have the most self-defining memories. Stories become part of our identity. Write a good story and edit it such that it will sound good. Think about what you want in a partner. Revise your own story.

If someone doesn’t want me, I feel awful. My confidence goes down. If there isn’t a guy in my life, it’s like a desert to me. Each person who wants me feels like an oasis. Like maybe this will be the last person to want me. I feel like I have to drink up. I have to take whatever I can get. If I don’t find someone, I view it as being rejected by everyone. – Cathy

What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility. – Leo Tolstoy

By this I mean 2 things: being alike in ways that matter and genuinely liking who the other person is. Often these go hand in hand. That is because the more similar two people are, the more they are able to understand each other. – Meg Jay

Being In Like. Compatibility is a good thing to have. Travelling to a third world country together with your spouse is indeed very thrilling. However, education and background are not the true similarities. These are deal breakers, not deal makers. They may bring couples together, but it won’t guarantee happiness. Instead, one should consider personality. There are Big 5 personality profiles. They are ‘Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism’. For every one of them, there are various levels (low, medium, high). There are no right or wrong personalities. Personality convergence is possible after hanging out with each other for a long time. However, this rarely happens. Neuroticism is an accurate predictor of relationship unhappiness. What people wants from marriage change over time.

The same way you make any decision. You weigh the evidence and listen to yourself. The trick is going to be to listen to what matters, not every single thing that makes you dissatisfied or anxious. – Meg Jay

The more you use your brain, the more brain you have to use. – George A. Dorsey

The Brain and the Body: Forward Thinking. Patients with frontal lobe damage have reduced ability to interact and make social connections. The frontal lobe is only mature in our 30s. Forward thinking comes with practice and experiment. Large social networks change our brains for the better. You must fully utilize your brain in your 20s. It is time to get busy now.

Calm Yourself. People in their 20s are too excited and do not possess the right protocol for work. They need to calm themselves down. People tend to remember better bizarre incidents and emotional events. Creating flashbulb memories are important in your 20s. The brain, at this stage, is also more prone to negative information. With age, comes the positive effect. Quitting your job isn’t always the best solution to a problem. Do anything not to get that blitz feeling. Constant worrying will lead to negative thoughts. You can control your reaction to a situation. Re-evaluate situations based on the facts. Learn to take control over your emotions.

Inaction breeds fear and doubt. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. – Dale Carnegie

Outside In. Believe in a growth instead of a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset will affect your success levels in future. Confidence comes from the outside. It comes from mastery. Confidence comes after demonstrating that you could do the job effectively many times. People build resilience after overcoming difficulties and setbacks. The book talks about the 10,000 hours concept. It takes time to be good at something. You need feedback to improve yourself. You can fall in love and have a good job. It does not have to be mutually exclusive.

Getting Along and Getting Ahead. Most people’s personalities are fixed by 30. 20s are the best time for change. Employed people are happier than those who are unemployed. You need to invest in yourself to feel better. Even having simpler goals makes one happier. Your goals help to shape your personality. Learn to manage your emotions. Being single in your 20s can have detrimental effects in your 30s as well.

Every Body. People are having children at a later age. Educated parents are beneficial for the bringing up of children. There are an increasing number of women in the workplace. Many people in their late 20s want to have a kid. The biological clock will tick inside you. Older sperms might be linked to neurocognitive problems in future. Learn to decide at an earlier stage of your life. Fertility is highest when one is in their 20s. Egg quality decreases over time. You have to have sex for longer periods of time to increase the chances of having a baby in future. Fertility clinics are very expensive and have low chances of success. IVF is risky as well. Many people grief because they wanted a kid too late in their lives. Postponing marriage and children might lead to more stressful lives.

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time – Leonard Bernstein

Do The Math. Time flies and sometimes you wonder where did it all disappear too. Retirement planning is never on the cards for those in their 20s. People tend to value the present over the future and they save too little. People in their 20s are prone to present bias. Learn to write the last sentence of your life and then work backwards to determine what you should do.

Epilogue: Will Things Work Out for Me? Prepare and know as much about adulthood as you can. People in their 20s want to feel important and that what they do matters.

The future isn’t written in the stars. There are no guarantees. So claim your adulthood. Be intentional. Get to work. Pick your family. Do the math. Make your own certainty. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You are deciding your life right now. – Meg Jay



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