The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now

The Defining Decade

The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

I’ll level with you. Until a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have picked up this book. Psychology? Pah. Man up.

The older I get the more I narrow minded I realise I must have been and realise just how much grace I’ve been given by people around me!

I don’t know how the process of softening rock-hard judgements begins for everyone else. I suppose for me it’s a trust issue. If people or ideas I trust point me to areas that I haven’t explored/I’ve kept locked down, then, if I trust them enough, I may venture to that new area. With time I’ve realised these forays often prove very useful and they’ve become easier and easier with each successful trip.

It was the wisdom of my pastors in Maui and a friend/tutor in Oxford who helped illuminate my glaring blind spot here. Anyway, a few books later and this book, The Defining Decade pops up.

The Book

Easy, fun, and informative. The book, firstly, is easy to read. I don’t mean that it’s light fluff but that the author has a natural, gentle style that is a pleasure to read. Ideas are formed and repeated with just the right distance between the two to sit well in my mind.

Secondly, the book is fun. There are lots of stories. Some stories I laugh at, boldly. Some I laugh at a little more nervously as they land closer to home. Real-world stories help to connect the reader. Like a great film, we identify ourselves with certain characters. This is the same for The Defining Decade. I found myself turning to the next chapter keen to read the forthcoming story and see how much of me I saw in it.

Because of these two reasons, and probably many more, I learnt a lot from the book. Great writing + great storytelling = compelling learning. Here are some of things I learnt.

What I Learnt from The Defining Decade

I suppose that I didn’t walk away from this book saying, “Aha! I get it now.” Rather, the book reinforced some ideas I already held and helped to shape them to fit the stage of life I’m in now (side note: yeah, it’s risky to read this in your late twenties – who wants to hear they might have got them wrong?! – but hey, man up, it’s worth it).

The big idea is simply this, “Ideas have consequences.”

What we believe will determine how we act. Choices we make about career, marriage etc. well, they are big ideas, big decisions, and have big consequences.

Here are three things that stuck with me;

  1. Weak Ties“The Urban tribe is overrated” claims Jay. More and more, twentysomethings form a group of like-minded, socially-similar peers. With the dispersion of the family many people seek comfort in close friends. The trouble is, “the urban tribe helps us survive, it does not help us thrive.” By neglecting to cultivate weak-ties – relationships beyond our immediate close friends – we limit our connections and our potential.I can relate to Jay’s advice. My last job and my year of study in Oxford were the result of weak ties. I went out of my way to grab that lunch, have that coffee, with two “weak ties”. And big things happened as a result. If I had stayed put I would never have branched out discovered so much more of who I am and who I am meant to be.
  2. The Cohabitation EffectOk, so I knew that moving in with your boyfriend or girlfriend was a bad idea. Marriage first, that’s the way, right? What I didn’t realise was some interesting studies that show just why cohabitation before commitment is bad.Jay calls it, “Sliding not deciding.” Bob moves in with Jane because it makes life “simpler”. But they haven’t decided to get married. However, with time, their lives become more and more entwined. In the end it’s “simpler” to get married. But then the marriage breaks down. The reality is couples who live together first are more likely to divorce than couple who do not.There’s value to the right amount of space needed to make a good decision. Instead of being led by a rush of hormones, or by cold pragmatism, weigh up the decisions neutrally. A good reminder – not just for who to marry, although I can’t think of many bigger decisions.
  3. Delayed Gratification“People of all ages and walks of life discount the future, favoring the rewards of today over the rewards of tomorrow.”This might be the biggest, and one of the hardest, lessons to learn. Credit cards, passionate romance – our culture screams that whatever you want you can have it now. But then comes the mountains of debt and the heartache.We are promised bliss and happiness, but often it turns out to be a lie. The trouble is, even though we’ve been fooled before, we’re easily fooled again. The smart decision is to delay gratification. To work hard and put off the reward. To invest now and take later. But if the purpose of work is pleasure and gratification then we’ll easily put it all on credit to get it now. How we define work will define a very large portion of how we live.I find that being a Christian helps to break the cycle of “must-have-it-now”. In Jesus I can truly know myself and be truly satisfied in God. I have desires for other things, but Jesus is my chief desire and through worshipping Him my priorities and desires are straightened out. Being a Christian isn’t about killing desire, it’s about desiring the right things. We’re built as creatures of desire – but as C. S. Lewis talks about, we are “half-hearted creatures” with weak desires.


This is a really useful book and I have no problem recommending it to twentysomethings (or thereabouts). Especially so those in university or who have just left. The Defining Decade is full of helpful wisdom, the stories are down to earth and the points are well made.

Have you read it? I wonder what you think. Be great to hear from you on this.

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