Meg Jay's 'Defining Decade' gives purpose to the 20Something years that Americans have been drifting through. (Image via TED Talks)

‘The Defining Decade’ Reveals the Untold Truth About Your 20s

Turns out, you're living the most impactful years of your life right now.

When you enter your 20s, most people tell you that the decade is supposed to be full of self-discovery and life-changing memories. There is a world of opportunity and endless adventures in front of you. However, what if all of that was a lie?

Written by Dr. Meg Jay, “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How To Make the Most of Them Now” answers the questions that 20-year-olds, or 20Somethings, aren’t even asking themselves. 20Somethings worry about the future. Whether their worrisome thoughts are centered around work, love or health, Jay’s novel covers the triangle of a balanced 20-year-old’s life.

Rather than conforming to the lifestyle of a 20Something, where traveling and being independent are at the forefront, Jay emphasizes the need for young people to think just the opposite. Many of the chapters’ messages are oxymorons and tell readers to adopt a completely different mindset to the norm.

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With a doctorate degree in clinical psychology and gender studies, Jay is a clinical psychologist who works primarily with 20Somethings in their transition to adulthood. Jay discusses the developmental stories of some of her patients, which pairs well with the four overlapping sections in her novel: work, love, the brain and the body.


Close friends and family are people to fall back on when times get tough, but they aren’t the people to talk to when furthering your career. Jay believes that there is “strength in weak ties.” Leaning on others that you aren’t very close with to help you break into your career should not be seen as a weakness. People are actually willing to help 20Somethings because of the satisfaction of helping others. Nonetheless, young adults need to be aware about how much they are asking of others.

As you walk into a grocery store, dozens of brands fill the aisles top to bottom. There are so many options that it can take someone a lot of time to decide which product to buy, especially if they don’t know what they are looking for. The same goes for 20Somethings in deciding what career to pursue. People in their 20s are told that they can do anything they set their mind to, but Jay says that isn’t the case. There needs to be a redirection in narrowing down your career choices to only what you are good at, instead of considering other job industries.

The stories that 20Somethings tell on social media isn’t always their reality. The true stories that you plan out can greatly impact your potential in the workforce. Jay explains the grave importance of defining your story and how to work towards it.


Today’s generation of young adults have popularized hookups over relationships. This mentality must be erased in order to make that transition into adulthood, but more and more 20Somethings are pushing the boundaries of when to settle down. When young people don’t worry about their romantic relationships in their 20s, they immediately start to panic about their love life when they turn 30.

Jay speaks about the cohabitation effect where couples are more likely to divorce if they live together before they get married. Additionally, young people who tend to “date down” are rooted in their unedited stories of who they are now compared to who they were in the past.

The Brain and the Body

The way you perceive the world can greatly affect the mindset in your 20s. With the stress of balancing your work and social life, Jay emphasizes the need to calm yourself. It’s definitely easier said than done. Adopting a calm mindset comes with understanding that every small detail matters in your job, but doesn’t have to ruin your entire life.

Likewise, confidence is a huge contributor to the 20Something’s way of life. Jay says the belief that confidence comes from the inside out is a misconception. Building one’s confidence comes from your experiences and comfort with the material in front of you and doesn’t just happen through rewiring the connections in your brain.

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The last thing that Jay talks about in “The Defining Decade” is time-management skills. According to Jay, people in their 20s have to think about redefining their personal stories, establishing connections to further their work life and starting a family. However, Jay makes clear that everyone’s biological clock is ticking, and you need to learn how to prioritize to make the most out of your life.

The greatest stage of development is thought to be when people are in their adolescence. Fortunately, people are forever changing, and past habits don’t have to be future ones. “The Defining Decade” is cluttered with a wide range of psychological experiments, relatable situations and aha moments.

Jay’s unconventional way of thinking can sometimes be contradictory to the messages that she’s getting across. The idea behind her novel is to clear the path of 20Somethings, but can actually confuse and create more worry about their futures.

Putting in some thought towards finding a life partner and having children fill up this quick 200-page read, which applies more stress on 20Somethings. For example, the highest probability of having children is in your 20s and afterwards, significantly drop at 30. This statistic doesn’t help the fact that more people are settling down later. Young adults focus more on their career to establish stability when they should be juggling everything at once.

Moreover, Jay tells readers to not step out of their comfort zone when choosing a career and focus more on what you are good at rather than what you are passionate about. This is a simplified way to live your life, but down the road, it may cause a lot of unhappiness in the future.

“The Defining Decade” is straight to the point and doesn’t sugarcoat any jarring statistic about 20Somethings. Although the novel may cause some worry, being informed about every aspect in a 20Something’s life is better than being ignorant and coming face-to-face with these hardships later on.

Alexandra Fabugais-Inaba, Rutgers University

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Alexandra Fabugais-Inaba

Rutgers University
Journalism and Exercise Science

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