Book Review || The Defining Decade

Last December, I read this book:


Ignore my blurry finger, sorry.

And aside from it being nice to read because it was so well-written, I learned new things!

Dr. Meg Jay is a therapist who works with a wide array of ages, but takes particular interest in twentysomethings. She wrote this book for us because client after client came in and made it clear to her that we as a cohort need direction. We are constantly told that our 20’s are when we should travel and just live. While not all of these articles give bad avice, we must acknolwedge that we can’t just have fun and find ourselves. Not for a full ten years, at least.

These are the years we should be using to build a foundation for the rest of our lives! So because I found this book to be so very helpful, and because I want to make sure as many of my peers as possible have access to (at least some of) the lessons in Dr. Jay’s book, I have decided to make a list of the ideas I found most helpful.

Identity capital

Identity capital is “our collection of personal assets…these are the investments we make in ourselves, the things we do well enough, or long enough, that they become a part of who we are.” This capital can be professional, or personal, but all of it is useful. It creates the building blocks of our identity! While building capital falls under the category of finding ourselves, it is important to acknowledge that in our time of exploration, we have to have the courage to make commitments. We have to decide which parts of ourselves we want to nurture, and what to seek if we’re not personally fulfilled. Examples of identity capital: a job where you learn a lot and gain experience, like counseling a camp for juvenile delinquents (like Dr. Jay did), or the way you are well put together every single day.

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The strength of weak ties

Dr. Jay defines weak ties as “the people we have met, or are connected to somehow, but do not currently know well.” She says that we often find the best connections and opportunities through these people. The opposite of weak ties are the people who make up your “urban tribe.” Your tribe is the group of people in your life that form your main support network, people like your mom or best friend. While your tribe is great for getting rides and bringing you soup when you’re sick, the weak ties are the one’s likely to affect great change in your life. Know what that means? Networking!

People like to feel useful, and to think of themselves as kind, so chances are if you ask someone for a favor, they’ll do it. Example: “I got your contact information from my neighbor; she told me you work for an architecture firm. Would you mind passing along my resume and portfolio to your boss? I’d really appreciate the help!” That literally happened, and then I got an interview. I didn’t end up getting the job, but it was still a helpful and successful interaction. The worst they can do is say no. And in that case, just try not to take it personally, and move on.

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Confidence is built from the outside in

Right away this seems like the opposite of what I’ve heard most of my life (aside from “fake it till you make it”). Personally, I have sometimes found it hard to be confident when there is so much concrete evidence of why I’m not good enough. Because of this I found it easy not only to believe Dr. Jay, but to understand her. She says, “People feel less anxious–and more confident–on the inside when they can point to things they have done well on the outside. Fake confidence comes from stuffing self-doubt. Empty confidence comes from parental platitudes on our lunch hour. Real confidence comes from mastery experiences, which are actual, lived moments of success, especially when things seem difficult.”

This makes so much sense! According to Dr. Jay, the way our brain processes things at this point in our lives makes us focus heavily on negative experiences. We have to try harder to focus on the things we do correctly, and essentially build a case for why we’re awesome. Eventually, we won’t have to try so hard to convince ourselves of this fact.

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Notice how this list isn’t that long. There are a number of things Dr. Jay mentions that I have left out. These are just a few of the bits I found most helpful to me in my current stage of life. I’m 23, looking for a job, and just trying to figure out (and be comfortable with) who the hell I am and how I should go about getting to where I want to be in life.

Thanks for reading! Now go buy that book 😉


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