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

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  15,176 Ratings  ·  1,488 Reviews
Our "thirty-is-the-new-twenty" culture tells us the twentysomething years don't matter. Some say they are a second adolescence. Others call them an emerging adulthood. Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, argues that twentysomethings have been caught in a swirl of hype and misinformation, much of which has trivialized what is actually the most defining decade of adulthood ...more
Hardcover, 241 pages
Published April 17th 2012 by Twelve
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Genetai I know this question is old but I feel the answers might be a bit misleading for those that see it now.

I'd say you're better off not reading this at…more
I know this question is old but I feel the answers might be a bit misleading for those that see it now.

I'd say you're better off not reading this at 35. The tone isn't very positive for 30+. So especially when your goal is to read this to get back on track I'd advice looking for a different book that is not written as specially for your 20s as this book can be quite depressing, and in particular when you're older.

However, if you have your life together and would like insight into the 20s period in ones life, maybe for your (future) child, I do recommend you to pick it up.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Apr 22, 2012 Miranda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I feel so conflicted about this book. I really, really wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did.
Like many others, I was impressed by her Op-Ed piece and pre-ordered the book, thinking that it would have more for me (I'm almost 29 and a *half*!), and that it would more objectively discuss social phenomena such as cohabitation and divorce.

On the one hand, Meg Jay has some pretty good career tips and makes some good points regarding time. While Dr. Jay only pays lip service to the reces
Jun 26, 2013 Debby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't think this book would've resonated with me in my early 20's as it does now in my late 20's. In my early 20's I was absolutely a go-getter - got a job immediately out of college, was in a relationship with a man I thought I was going to marry and I thought babies would come in due time. I had a 5-year plan and was on the fast track towards all of that by age 30. I would've scoffed at this book, saying why would I need this type of advice when I have everything going for me?

Along the way,
Apr 16, 2012 Gwen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Gwen by: NYT article on cohabitation/marriage 4.15.2012
Shelves: well-being
Disclaimer: I am a single urban-dwelling female in my mid-twenties, and those attributes have definitely shaped my opinion of this book. And when I saw Kay Hymowitz's glowing recommendation on the back of the book jacket, I knew that I was in for a frustrating read.

The very day I read this book, The Billfold had a blog posting critiquing Jay's work, and between the review of Mike Dang (The Billfold) and Goodreads reviewer 'M' (below), I don't have much to add to their comments.

Dang's review, in
Jul 30, 2012 Hannah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Students entering/in college
Recommended to Hannah by: New York Times/News Articles
Shelves: favorites, psych-ish
I like the overall message of the book: Your life, even at your twenties, means something, so make the best of it. I fully believe that people, no matter what their age should not waste away their life by partying all the time and practicing bad habits. Goofing off every now and then is perfectly fine, but making a career out of it is pointless unless you get paid for it and you find it fulfilling. Therefore, this review may be a bit biased.

With the basic message out of the way, I do think the a
Jul 19, 2012 o rated it it was ok
Technically I think my review is "spoilery", so I'd advise not reading it if you want to read the book without influence from my opinion. I do not consider myself an authority in anything, and this review is simply my incoherent rants about things that made me upset, for my own reference. It's also pretty long.


This book made me really, really, really fucking angry.

Don't get me wrong, I understand what Dr. Jay's purpose for writing this was: trying to empower twentysomethings and help t
Nov 23, 2013 Lightreads rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Make your popcorn, kids, and gather round: I read a self-help book.

Sooo….never read one of these before, and I always assumed that the audience of self-help books was composed largely of people who don't actually have what I think of as "problems." And by that I mean self-help books are for people dealing with something that can be dealt with, as opposed to something that can't. The difference between 'I need to learn to be more assertive' and 'my retina tore in half and it's inoperable' (true s
Jan 19, 2013 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Yuck, I will not be finishing this one. She comes across as very judgmental to both her clients and readers--I would hate to have her as my therapist! The biggest problem is she stacks everyone up against the same measures of success: a "good" job, finding a suitable spouse, and procreating. If you decide to have children in your thirties or even forties, you're apparently squandering your prime baby-making years in your twenties. She doesn't seem to factor in that maybe not everyone wants the t ...more
Kimly Nguyen
Jun 03, 2013 Kimly Nguyen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was as if I had my own personal psychotherapist in the comforts of my own room, spoon-feeding me the ugly truth and guiding me towards my desired pathway of success and happiness....minus the outrageous charges.

At the prime of my 20s, this book was just what I needed. As a 20 year old young lady who is in the midst of figuring out what the hell I should really do with my life, why my romantic relationships have been debilitating, and what kind of academic and career choices I should carry
May 26, 2012 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First off, I expected to hate The Defining Decade. Which does beg the question as to why I was reading it, but never mind that. I feared that the book would read like one giant "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG" to me, a single, 28-year-old law clerk living at home while I continue the search for a more permanent position. I suspect Dr. Jay would tell me that I am doing a few things "wrong," at least in the sense of not furthering my goals, but I also learned I have probably done at least a few things righ ...more
Scott Shepard
Dec 25, 2012 Scott Shepard rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this book very helpful. I think anyone in their twenties who don't know what they should do with their life should read this book.

Dr. Jay does not say that young people in their twenties who don't have a steady job are doing it wrong, or that thinking about a career or love later in life is a bad thing. She merely states (accurately) that all our actions have consequences and if you want a career and children in your thirties that you should start thinking and planning those things in y
I read this one at the behest of my parents mind you. My dad won it from a radio station under mysterious circumstances. HA! Its really short though so no biggie…

The book forwarded a surprisingly intelligent view given my low expectations. It constitutes a defense and justification for living a relatively focused, disciplined, and "conservative" life during your 20s rather than treating them like throw away years in which underemployment and meaningless relationships should be pursued. Instead,
Oct 27, 2013 Kristin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, if you want to suffer from panic attacks and depression, then by all means, READ THIS BOOK! I liked the first couple chapters of this book that talked about the working world and how it's really important to network and not be a loser jumping from one lame-o job to the next. She had a good message stating that these are the years in which we need to begin creating a stable career identity in order to move forward and/or up in the future. GOOD STUFF. The rest of the book...NOT GOOD STUFF.

Tim Harrison
Some interesting thoughts w/r/t relationships and shaping your personality as your frontal lobe finishes development, but fails to take into account the current employment atmosphere for the work section. It looks like much of her research and most of the examples given were prior to the recession, when it was possible for her to talk with her clients with such ease about "getting the apprenticeship in DC" or one of the other incredibly difficult suggestions she gives for avoiding "hiding" in un ...more
Rosie Nguyễn
Nov 04, 2014 Rosie Nguyễn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20-sthg
Right book right time.

Got a lot of new ideas for my coming book when reading this.

I read this book from start to finish in literally a few hours, having been sucked into its timely lessons and enlightening ideas. Being a 22-year-old and recent college graduate starting my career, I could relate to Dr. Meg Jay's discussions about the mindset of a twentysomething. She uses logic, data, and experience to share the dangers that twentysomethings find themselves facing and that thinking the twenties are all about "finding ourselves" and putting off decisions and living it up ("
Bryan Duong
Jun 15, 2017 Bryan Duong rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book addresses some of my biggest gripes about twentysomethings (especially entitlement). That being said, not all twentysomethings lack ambition or fear commitment.

The chapters about work were my favourite. Otherwise the author is a bit heavy-handed on marriage, having kids and perpetuating social norms.

In my opinion, her clients' stories are pretty representative of the "struggles" that twentysomethings go through. They are all variations of people I know or stories I've heard.

The social
Story time!

I’ve had a really bad track record with therapists. Having been to about 6 different therapists, I’ve come to really distrust them. The last one I had seemed to be working out. She gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get my life back on track back in 2010-2011. She helped me find the courage to move to London. When I returned from London, I kept seeing her so we could deal with the inevitable depression of being back home. During our sessions I found her to be impatient with me
Arjun Balaji
Meh. I enjoyed Meg Jay's original NYT op-ed on cohabitation and put this on my reading list, though putting it off to when I thought it would be more applicable and ended up coming away pretty disappointed,

This is a book in 3 parts – on work, love, and "the brain and the body". The career advice is mostly shallow and limited. While it's a good kick in the ass, it left a lot of the why unanswered. I think Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work
Jan 23, 2014 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think this book is probably immensely helpful to upper class twenty-somethings who have the time, higher education, and disposable income to be traipsing mindlessly through their lives. But to actual middle- and working-class twenty-somethings (you know, the vast majority of us), this book is mostly frustrating and panic-inducing. The advice in this book boils down to:

- Go get a job! Not just any job - make sure it's a highly respected job within the field you went to school for. (Meg Jay seem
Jul 10, 2013 Grace rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yup, I read this book. It was good and informative.

But I have to say, the main thing it told me was the stuff I already knew. Which, to be fair, I maybe needed to be told again. But that was the fault of a lot of adults in my network (not my parents, to be clear) making sure I know that I'm still young, and it's fine to have fun, and blah blah blah.

That has always irritated me, because I have always felt like I was missing out. I have never heard my parents regret having a family so young or ta
May 07, 2013 Ahmed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is a must read for everyone who is struggling to move on after school. Which is most of people, including me.

It's divided into a number of sections:
Dealing with issues regarding your work life. The moral here is that the twenties go by quickly. You shouldn't take work seriously only in your early thirties, cause the more you delay taking work seriously, the harder it becomes to have a successful or at least decent careers. Who wants to hire anyone who wasted their 20s? Commit to w
Kevin Bensema
May 28, 2012 Kevin Bensema rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other
The author makes some excellent points: what we do and with whom we date and interact in our twenties will define the remainder of our life. She lays out the typical 'lost and wandering' feeling of a person in his 20s through discussion of counseling sessions with past clients.

The main thrust is this: you undergo major changes for the last time in your twenties, and your work and family life are probably going to be defined by what you do and do not do. If you want your life to look like X, you
Beth Rosepal
May 20, 2017 Beth Rosepal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to her ted talk and decided I had to read this book. Everything was so insightful and gave me the motivation to start being more decisive in my life. The one chapter involved statistics about fertility as you get older and that sent me into a panic but everything else definitely had me feeling like I am making the most out of some areas and where to start making the most out of other areas of my life. Definitely recommend to my other fellow twentysomethings.
Bobby Jones
Mar 13, 2017 Bobby Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ovo treba da bude biblija za sve koji su napunuli 25u.
Evan Snyder
I tripped into this book via a post on NPR ( and thought it would make for an interesting read, being 23 myself and a little over a year into my first job. I was sorely disappointed.

Most of what Jay mentions about finding a good job should be the common knowledge of anyone who attended a college with a career center that advertised its events - I understand that not every twenty-something is lucky enough to be in this position; however, Jay clearl
Laurie Niestrath
Every once in awhile I find a book that is so worthwhile that I want to make it the "official" book to give to everyone that I know. In this case, "The Defining Decade, why your twenties matter-and how to make the most of them now" is that book! Nearly everyone that I know has a child in their 20's or on the verge of entering that decade. The trouble with book gift giving, is the meta message that seems to permeate every gift; the receiver is either doing something wrong or has the potential to ...more
While this book definitely caters to a certain, privileged demographic (trustafarians or trust fund babies; college-educated twentysomethings who have the means to seek therapy about not having a decent job, relationship, etc.) I found it to be useful in that it inspired me to take myself seriously and think about the bigger life plan. For me, it was an immediate catalyst to get my apartment in order and check things off my to do list that have been sitting there for a long time. It made me real ...more
Mar 12, 2015 Bex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: I understand this book isn't for everyone, but I feel like some people quickly dismiss the book as rubbish because of the fear that comes with figuring out what you want in life and how to get it when it seems so, so far away. I, for one, having always grown up different now find myself just wanting to be 'normal'. Yes, I do want a house, mortgage, good job and kids. I just wish I'd realised this at 21 not 25.

So, yes, I realise this book is more often than not written for the heteros
Sam Bowyer
Oct 18, 2013 Sam Bowyer rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so bad, I made notes.
The writer's tone wavered so hard from trying to be 'your pal' to Hal9000- making it almost impossible to read ( this may be no shock as it is the author's profession to seem helpful but actually be distant).

I tried to read this with an open mind, in an attempt to try and capitalise on my relative youth before ageing and it being too fucking late. The stories included within are trite, unbearable- and , although I don't doubt her credibility as an academic ( as
Aug 19, 2016 Monika rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
When I first heard about this book I assumed it would be preachy and belittling. I was completely wrong. I feel like I need to give this to all my friends struggling with post-grad life. It definitely clarified some things. However, it does lose some marks for the chapter on fertility. I'm sure it would be applicable/helpful to some readers, but it revolved too strongly around the assumption that we are all headed for a life involving children. It seemed a little too dismissive of those not inte ...more
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She is an clinical assistant professor at the University of Virginia and maintains a private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Dr. Jay’s book, The Defining Decade, was a 2012 Staff Pick and her 2013 TED talk “Why 30 Is Not the New 20″ has been viewed more than 2 million times. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Forbes, Psychology Today, and NPR
More about Meg Jay...

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“Forget about having an identity crisis and get some identity capital. … Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that's an investment in who you might want to be next.” 69 likes
“Twentysomethings who don't feel anxious and incompetent at work are usually overconfident or underemployed.” 31 likes
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