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BOOK REVIEW: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of them Now

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When you first matriculate as a college student you are usually somewhere between the ages of 17 and 19 years old. These years are defined by exploration and growth, a growing knowledge of yourself and the world of opportunities around you.

When you graduate -- in most cases, we hope, four years later -- you're in your early twenties. And that's what The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of them Now, is all about. Slate.com said of the book: "Any recent college grad. . .dazed by the freedom of post-collegiate existence should consider it required reading."

The author's view  

The author, Meg Jay, is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia. She also has a private practice and focuses her practice, research, and writing on adult development and twentysomethings.


Meg Jay-author.jpgJay sees several trends for today's twentysomethings -- entry-level jobs going overseas; many out of work, working part-time, or underemployed; earnings lower than those of the previous generation; debt racked up in the college years; many moving back home.

But, Jay says, despite these and other pressures on this age group, the twenties are the critical foundational period for one's later adult life. "With about 80 percent of life's most significant events taking place by age thirty-five," she writes, "as thirtysomethings and beyond we largely either continue with, or correct for, the moves we made during our twentysomething years."

In separate sections titled "Work," "Love," and "The Brain and the Body" the author addresses the critical tasks facing individuals in their twenties, deftly interwoven with actual case studies of clients from her practice that resonate with authenticity.    

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Identity capital

The author also introduces a new concept in her section on work: identity capital, which she defines as follows:
 
"Identity capital is our collection of personal assets. It is the repertoire of individual resources 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 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 other things we want."  

For Jay, identity capital is largely positive, a way to value one's attributes and experiences and look at them as the glass half full, not empty, and as a platform for moving forward.

Implications for college students 

The twenties will always be a time of further exploration, of trying on occupational and personal roles and relationships, of learning more about oneself and one's place in the world. 

You can perceive the twenties as a time of continued learning in a real-world setting, a setting that your years in college have prepared you for. The variety of experiences you have had both in and out of the classroom have supplied you with your own identity capital, to review, assess, and present to the world as you take your own next steps.

For more information

This is just a brief glimpse into Jay's work, a well-researched, well-written, and compelling case for continuing to explore and move forward with one's life, not to wait, during one's twenties. For Jay, thirty is definitely not the new twenty - far from it, as her book makes abundantly clear.    

To learn more about The Defining Decade (now available in paperback) and author Jay and her work, visit her website. You can also screen her 15 min. TED talk, "Why 30 is Not the New 20."