Reviewed by Laura Isaacman
Twentysomethings, listen up! Many of you have been wasting your time. You work dead-end jobs, live with your parents, and bounce between multiple sex partners, all the while comparing your apathetic life with those of your facebook friends who seem to be having a ball. You’re afraid of ending up depressed, worthless, and lonely. But you don’t worry much about the future, because these are supposed to be the most carefree and exciting years of your life. Well, hold on, because the big thirty is closer than you think.
In her book The Defining Decade, Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in adult development, draws from more than a decade of work with hundreds of twentysomethings in order to highlight and disprove common misconceptions about our twentysomething years, while offering advice on how to make the most of these years, now.
While many of us think that being free from responsibility is advantageous, Jay says it is actually harmful to our careers, relationships, character development, and self esteem. We spend more time wondering what we should be doing, and less time thinking about what it is we want to be doing. We define ourselves by exclusions, rather than our strengths. We choose relationships based on religious backgrounds or income level instead of personality traits. And we spend time with friends who do the same thing, making it nearly impossible for us to view ourselves, and our choices, objectively.
But according to Jay it’s time to stop, because our twenties are the most crucial years, a time of “great risk and great opportunity.” Our personalities change more in our twentysomething years than at any time in our lives, and this is because the neural networks in the frontal lobe of our brains experience a growth spurt. If our neurons are nourished with “complex challenges of adulthood: how to find a professional niche, how to choose and live with a mate, how to be a parent, where and when to stake our claims,” they will wire together; if they are neglected, these neurons will prune, or die off completely. Our twenties are when we have great opportunity to become more emotionally stable, socially competent, and more agreeable. If we don’t challenge ourselves in our twenties, we remain anxious, angry, and lost, just as we were in our teenage years.
Many of us will be able to identify with these twentysomething stereotypes, but think we still have years to turn our lives around. And, while it is “tempting to stay distracted and keep everything at a distance,” our thirties will soon be here. And what of our twentysomething years will have prepared us for a career? Will we have experience with being a good partner? Paying our credit card bills on time? Our mortgage? These are the things that most of us will want eventually, and our apathy will only delay our preparation.
So, while The Defining Decade may seem a bit like a self-help book for how to be the better you, it’s just the wake up call many twentysomethings need.