The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter


Dr. Meg Jay is a Clinical Psychologist who wrote a book last year titled, The Definite Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – And How to Make the Most of Them Now. In it, she talks about many difficult issues everyone in their 20s go through. She goes through three sections: (1) Work, (2) Love, and (3) The Brain and the Body.

Her main message in the book is that you can’t waste time thinking that the 20s are some part of your life that is for fun and partying and that you’ll get to the next part of your life after. We forget that our twenties is what actually sets the stage for later on. It is the foundation for which we we lay our lives. It’s not to say that you can’t create new foundations later on, but the stronger you lay it now, the better able you’ll be able handle situations later. Dr. Meg Jay talks about Identity Capital (a term sociologists use a lot) a lot in her book:

“Identity capital is our collection of personal assets. It is the repertoire of individual resources that we assemble over time. These are the investments we make in ourselves, the things we do well enough, or long enough, that they become a part of of who we are. Some identity capital goes on a resume, such as degrees, jobs, test scores, and clubs. Other identity capital is more personal, such as how we speak, where we are from, how we solve problems, how we look. Identity capital is how we build ourselves – bit by bit, over time. Most important, identity capital is what we bring to the adult marketplace. It is the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs and relationships and things we want.” (pgs. 6-7)

This idea applies to every aspect of the book. As a man in his twenties, a lot of these ideas really resonate. No one has their life completely figured out – whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or even 60s. There are always going to be unknown variables that we learn how to respond to. Our response is often part of what Dr. Jay refers to as Identity Capital.

With regards to work, Dr. Jay says at one time or another, many twenty somethings, have been underemployed.

“They work at jobs they are overqualified for or they work only part-time…But some underemployment is not a means to an end. Sometimes it is just a way to pretend we aren’t working.” (pg. 11)

She goes on to talk about how 20-somethings often work at jobs that are “fun,” but are really a signal to future employers that they were lost. The longer it takes for us to get our footing in the door, the longer and harder it’s going to be to turn the ship around. It’s not to say that there will never be a point to shift your sails, but the sooner the better. And as the saying goes, it’s better late than never.

This same idea applies to relationships, where many in their 20s think that it’s a time to have fun, go out, hook up, party, do what they want because the 20s is the “time” to do it, supposedly. While that may all be true, the problem lies when this lifestyle continues past the point of being goal-oriented. A shift often happens where people will want to settle down and have a real relationship. They key is realizing the reality of your situation. How old are you? How old did you envision yourself being when you got married and had kids? How long did you want to be married before having kids? These are important things to consider so you know the time course you’re working with, especially for women. Is the course you’re on now setting you up for that future? Let’s be clear though. Life happens. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. However, can you do all you can do on your end and let go of the end result? If you’re not where you want to be, then think about the stories you’re telling yourself and how those may be affecting your life. Dr. Meg Jay says

“The stories we tell about ourselves become facets of our identity.” (pg. 108).

She talks about how she often helps clients build professional identities, but that personal stories about relationships are much trickier because of the intimate nature of them that requires a great deal of reflection that can often be painful.

“The power of these untold personal stories is that they can loop silently in our minds without anyone, sometimes even ourselves, knowing about them. The stories are often hiding in the gaps between what we plan to do what we actually do, or between what happens and what people tell people about what happens.

These “stories” that Dr. Meg Jay speaks of are not something uncommon to this blog. I’ve talked about what life coach, Iyanla Vanzant, says about stories and how we can become “addicted” to our stories because that’s all we know. We have to learn a new story to tell ourselves. The 20s is a crucial period of time to figure it out and set us up on a new trajectory. You have to think about what you really value and what you want out of life. Figure that out and go about the business of making it happen. It won’t always come easy and it won’t always be an instantaneous revelation, but don’t avoid figuring out your passion for fear of making the wrong decision. And while you’re doing all that, have some fun too!

So what stories are you telling yourself? Are you setting yourself up for where you want to be? Share your thoughts and your experiences! Did any of this resonate with you? Are you trying to navigate your 20s right now? What about your 30s?

There’s a lot of other interesting ideas like these in this book and it’s a must-read. If any of these ideas resonated, be sure to check it out! To purchase a copy of the book, click here.

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Rubin Khoddam, PhD Clinical Psychology student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Blogs by Rubin, Books, Relationships, Therapy

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