Book Review: The Defining Decade (Dr. Meg Jay)

While historically, the majority of my coaching work has been delivered to mid-career professionals with 10-20 years or more of experience under their belt, I’m getting an increasing number of inquiries from young professionals and recent graduates who are just kicking off their occupational adventure.  Or perhaps more accurately, I’m getting contacted by the parents of said professionals, asking whether they can send their kids along to get some help in finding an initial opportunity.

Just like with my older audiences, I can assure you that the twentysomethings I’ve been working with manifest a very diverse range of attitudes, motivations, and perceptions about their careers and how to go about the job hunting process.  Some of them are incredibly enthusiastic and gung-ho, taking every coaching suggestion offered and executing it to the nth degree.  Others, however, are clearly wrestling with some emotional barriers that are inhibiting their success rate, whether this involves a lackadaisical attitude toward finding work based on a sense of entitlement or the fear, paralysis, and confusion that simply comes from the complexity of the modern market and how to approach it.

To better understand some of the issues that these younger professionals are dealing with, I recently picked up a copy of Dr. Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade, subtitled “Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them.”  Having read some similar publications in the past, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything all that new and/or profound in this book and was merely seeking a gentle reminder around how folks from the younger generations tend to view things.  Page after page, however, I was extremely impressed by the solid insights that Dr. Jay had to offer — based on her years of experience counseling twentysomething clients — and actually feel that this book could be a great read for older professionals, as well, who might benefit from exploring how their foundational career years ended up later impacting and shaping their lives,  careers, and overall happiness quotient.

One of the highlights of The Defining Decade, at least to me, was the analysis of how social media sites like Facebook have impacted the lives and career expectations of the individuals who have grown up with these tools.  Dr. Jay points out, example, that so many young adults struggle with pangs of uncertainty based on the fact that so many of their friends on Facebook seem to be living these marvelous lives and posting constant updates about their successes in work, love, and life — forgetting that many of these claims and postings may be exaggerated and not 100% grounded in reality.  Additionally, she talks about the importance of building “identity capital” in your early career years, in terms of accumulating some useful and interesting experiences that will interest potential future employers.  While a hard concept to explain, she discusses this strategy in contrast to just “going on random adventures” or just taking any old job to get by or pay the bills.

Most importantly, I loved the constant emphasis the author placed on the idea that professionals of all ages today need to take 100% responsibility for their career destinies. In one passage that particularly stood out to me, she writes:

“There is a certain terror that goes along with saying ‘my life is up to me.’  It is scary to realize there’s no magic, you can’t just wait around, no one can really rescue you, and you have to do something.  Not knowing what you want to do with your life — or not at least having some ideas about what to do next — is a defense against that terror.  It is a resistance to admitting that the possibilities are not endless.  It is a way of pretending that now doesn’t matter.  Being confused about choices is nothing more than hoping that maybe there is a way to get through life without taking charge.”

So in closing, I’d highly recommend this book as one of the best works of its kind for its intended target audience, namely twentysomethings and their parents.  At the same time, however, I also think that there will be many older readers like myself who also can get great mileage out of this publication and would benefit from picking up a copy.  It truly provides some provocative insights about the overall arcs that our lives and careers are built around — helping us make sense of the decisions that all of us made, earlier in our lives, and the consequences that resulted.  Really, really good stuff.  And again, a very pleasant surprise from the more narrowly-focused book I HAD been expecting!

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5 Responses to “Book Review: The Defining Decade (Dr. Meg Jay)”

  1. Thanks, everybody, for chiming in and sharing your thoughts — and hope you enjoy the book as much as I did! While I can imagine certain twentysomethings may not jump for joy over some of the concepts the author expresses, I think they’re important ones and again, contain some undeniable truths about how the decisions you make early in life lead to certain types of consequences down the road…

  2. As always Matt a very insightful post. Will be reading this and sharing with my very own twentysomething. – Jen

  3. Hey Matt, almost feels like the circle of life, as I think about my career, and the start of my son’s. He is a sophomore at Western and is starting to feel the pressure and stress to figure out his future. He is both hopeful, but there is a lot of angst when he compares himself to his peers, who seemingly have it all together. The cool thing is that he is starting to become passionate about the environment, and has found himself contemplating a combined Environmental Studies and Economics degree. I will definitely be recommending this book to him! Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. 1. My $.02 + a few dollars will buy you a latte.
    2. This is true for children of all ages: your job must give you skills and prepare you for your next job.
    3. Don’t be afraid to fail. Admitting to yourself that you made a misteak is important because it gives you information: you did something that you don’t have to do again! As the writer James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portals to discovery.” As Shakespeare might have said, “‘Tis better to have loved a short than never to have loved at all.”
    (Sorry, Will :^| )
    4. Remember that pain is your friend: if you do something painful, whether physically or emotionally, that’s feedback to your psyche and it gives you information (see # 3).
    5. Try to see your life as an adventure, with good times and bad, exhilarating and boring. You need the lows to feel the highs. As Siddhartha Gautama said, “All things change. Nothing composite is immutable.”

  5. David Lightfoot April 14, 2015 at 6:30 am

    Matt,
    Thanks for the book recommendation. This sounds like a good read even for someone like me (over 60).
    David

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