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

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  30,813 ratings  ·  2,752 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
ebook, 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 3…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)
Kelsey An Upmarket Conversation
Marriage is one of the most important decisions people make in their lives. Twentysomethings should be ch…more
An Upmarket Conversation
Marriage is one of the most important decisions people make in their lives. Twentysomethings should be choosy about the right things when they can still think clearly about claiming their lives (rather than scrambling when they reach their thirties and wedding invitations start pouring in).

Picking Your Family
Your spouse's family will define the decades ahead. Choose wisely.

The Cohabitation Effect
Couples who move in together before getting engaged have higher divorce rates. If you must move in together before getting engaged, one way to avoid lock-in* is by making sure that both parties have a clear understanding of each other's commitment level prior to moving in. Regularly check in with yourself and make sure you're not just staying because it's more convenient than leaving.

On Dating Down
The stories you tell about yourself affect who you let yourself date. Hold yourself to a higher standard.

Being in Like
Some research says that the more similar two people's personalities are, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their relationship.

*Lock-in is defined as "the decreased likelihood to search for other options, or change to another option, once an investment in something has been made."(less)

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Apr 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was ok
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, i
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
Cristina Monica
This is a fascinating and informative psychology book. I couldn’t have chosen a better moment to read it - I was in the right mood for it and I needed it, besides.

I am turning twenty-three in June. I’m happy with the number and where I am currently in my life, though it’s hard to believe sometimes that I started reviewing books at sixteen and here we are today.

I especially needed to read this book because, honestly, sometimes I don’t know if I’m wasting my twenties or doing something really goo
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Scott Shepard
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
Kimly Nguyen
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
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.

May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Tim Harrison
May 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 20-sthg
Right book right time.

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

I’ve had a terrible track record with therapists. Having been to about six different ones, I’ve come to 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 at times, and
Jul 19, 2012 rated it liked it
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,
I loved this book! I think I highlighted more than a half of it :D

The Defining Decade definitely struck a chord with me - it touched upon many issues I'm facing or faced quite recently, so a lot of times I was emotional and couldn't read more than a couple chapters at a time.

It's written in an engaging way - showing struggles and dilemmas through people's stories.
The author also cites her sources, books and research, which is something I value and admire.

Most of all I loved that it didn't co
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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 ("
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 06, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Kevin Bensema
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Bryan Duong
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Azaa Kh
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
It seems like yesterday that I turned twenty, and I remember having no clue about what I wanted to do with my life and feeling like a ten-year-old at heart. And yet, as a ten-year-old, I imagined that it would mean a complete adulthood. Besides physical appearance (well okay, I still look like a ten-year-old), nothing seemed to have changed drastically. Mom used to say "Don't rush to become an adult, you'll be one for the rest of your life". On the contrary, if you don't become one, you'll be a ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Nguyen Linh Chi
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book a year ago, now I have to re-read this since I have problems with my self-orientation and motivation.

Read this book, when you fail your job interview, you get bored with your job, you wonder what you should do with your life, you receive negative feedback from your boss, you have a quarrel with your parents about life choice, you break up with your boy/girlfriend, you are having a going-nowhere relationship. The best quote I love in this book is "Being an adult is not abou
Teenage Reads
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Young adult about to go into the real world
Shelves: 2020
Your twenties is where your life is made. Everyone wants to stay young forever, but if you also want to be married with child number one, have a steady career, and a house by the time you are thirty-one, then you cannot still be having flings and working at a Starbucks at twenty-seven, or even twenty-five. Growing up, life had a structure to it, from your parents determining how you spent your day as a child, to school, which for some last until they are twenty-two to twenty-five. After sch
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A thought-provoking, insightful, constructive, and ... I'm guessing, helpful self-help book (yup, it is what it is) that's quite easy to read and (for its intended audience) well worth the time. When it was recommended to me (for various reasons, none of which have to do with being in my twenties, which are, alas, more than a few decades behind me), I expected it to be a slog, and I was wrong. I'm glad I read it, and I expect I will have numerous opportunities to recommend it and share copies.

Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this the day before my 26th birthday, and on the heels of a quarter-life crisis that feels like it arrived maybe a year late, but also maybe at exactly the right time.

I read this book the way I (imagine) my twenties will play out. I rushed through the first half, barreling towards a destination without really stopping to reflect. The day after my birthday, I realized the last 40 pages or so were notes, and that I was actually a lot closer to the end than I thought I was. The la
Dec 23, 2017 rated it liked it
This had some useful advice. Life-changing, maybe not, especially if you're already familiar with things like a growth vs. fixed mindset, the availability heuristic, etc. Anyone over 30 is probably better off giving this a pass because the tone was pretty doom and gloom - if you screwed up your 20s, your life is ruined, forever. The end. (I'm only being half facetious)

My sketch notes:
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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

Articles featuring this book

Lori Gottlieb is a bestselling writer, psychotherapist, and author of the weekly "Dear Therapist" advice column for The Atlantic. Her new bo...
73 likes · 7 comments
“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.” 87 likes
“Twentysomethings who don't feel anxious and incompetent at work are usually overconfident or underemployed.” 45 likes
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