Review: The Defining Decade

Graduating from college is monumental enough. But graduating amidst a pandemic, into one of the worst economies, and during a pivotal election year is even more daunting. Much like how I receive a lot of new information, it was through Instagram stories that I discovered this book, The Defining Decade, by Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist. I decided to give it a shot.

Common Feelings

The book is divided into three key categories deemed the most relevant to twenty-somethings- Work, Love, and The Brain and Body. Each chapter addresses an important issue and uses stories from real clients that the author has spoken with as a psychologist. Many of the clients in the book are lost because they do not know what to do, are so stuck in a certain position that they don’t know how to get out, or simply do not have a plan for their future. I’ll be honest, reading about some of their stories did make me feel better about myself by comparison, but the point of the book isn’t really to be reassuring. I thought about how relatable it was to feel like you are navigating an ocean and don’t know how to swim. I’m sure other twenty-somethings feel the same. I remembered what Emily, the grad student whom I worked with in my research lab said. Basically, she said everyone who seems to know what they are doing is probably faking it, and that’s what most of adulting really is.

Critical Periods

So apparently, the twenties is another one of those critical periods. This time though, it’s not so much about developing your brain like when you were an infant, but rather about learning how to be an adult and navigate new challenges and uncertainty. I’m glad I learned about this so-called critical period while I was still in it. I noticed that in all sections of the book, Jay emphasizes the importance of being intentional, and acting with a purpose. So much of what we do during our twenties translates to how we will live the rest of our lives. Most of the 30 year olds who visit Dr. Jay were nonchalant and indifferent in their twenties and thus struggled to thrive in their thirties. The emphasis of the book was that the time is now.

“That’s cool, but we’re living in a pandemic, so…”

I really enjoyed Dr. Jay’s book and all the lessons she offered relating to work, life, and the brain and body. She stressed the value of being intentional, taking action, and making your certainty. Twenty-somethings are already worried and anxious about whether their life is going to work out. In the middle of a pandemic, that anxiety heightens for many. In the midst of all this increased uncertainty, how exactly are we supposed to “take the world by storm”?

When thinking about this question I thought about something that Dr. Jay mentioned, called present bias. This is our human tendency to overemphasize immediate rewards while discounting the future. We end up putting a lot of psychological distance between now and then, and this creates a lot of abstraction. Basically, we place emphasis on the present a lot. Which in some ways is good. But to stop ourselves from overthinking about the future, the best way to deal with this is to remember that the situations we are in won’t last forever. Obviously, none of us know when this will all be over, but we can control how we adapt to these changes and move with them. Those that are thriving mentally and physically are those that have learned to be flexible and calm in the face of uncertainty. As someone who values structure and organization, this is new. And we are all learning.

“You are deciding your life right now.”

-Meg Jay, PhD.

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