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Dr. Helen

I am reading clinical psychologist Meg Jay’s book titled The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now. Her take? That eighty percent of life’s defining moments take place by thirty-five. Therefore, she is giving advice to those in their twenties to make the most of this “defining decade.” From the book description:

Our “thirty-is-the-new-twenty” culture tells us the twentysomething years don’t matter. Some say they are a second adolescence. Others call them an emerging adulthood. Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, argues that twentysomethings have been caught in a swirl of hype and misinformation, much of which has trivialized what is actually the most defining decade of adulthood.

Drawing from a decade of work with hundreds of twentysomething clients and students, THE DEFINING DECADE weaves the latest science of the twentysomething years with behind-closed-doors stories from twentysomethings themselves. The result is a provocative read that provides the tools necessary to make the most of your twenties, and shows us how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity, and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood-if we use the time wisely.

In the preface of the book, Jay states: “It might even seem like adulthood is one long stretch of autobiographically consequential experiences — that the older we get, the more we direct our own lives. This is not true…. In our thirties, consequential experiences start to slow down. School is over or nearly so. We will have invested time in careers or made the choice not to. We, or our friends, may be in relationships and starting families. We may own homes or have other responsibilities that make it difficult to change directions….as thirtysomethings and beyond we largely either continue with, or correct for, the moves we made during our twentysomething years.”

I do think Dr. Jay is on to something. Many people think the twenties don’t matter, that there is plenty of time to lay a foundation for one’s life later on, and that after thirty, everything will come together. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. The book seems good at helping those in their twenties make decisions about what they want to do and where they want to be. Sometimes hoping for the best doesn’t work, but goal-oriented behavior does.

However, while I get her point — don’t waste your twenties — I don’t think that life’s defining moments mostly take place before thirty-five. There are many things that happen through our lifespan, each one special and consequential to us as individuals, that take place at different times (some sooner, some later). Many people fear reaching thirty as they think life is over and our society often concurs. However, many great things happen after that age, some more consequential than when one was in their twenties; to think that any decade is one’s best or only chance is to put a cap on human potential, a waste at any age.

More from Dr. Helen: 

“Young women who want to be rich and powerful should major in economics or engineering and be prepared to work 60 hour weeks.”

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
The most important part of life is what remains. Make the most of it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
First, she doen't define what life’s defining moments means to her. Second, she's either in that young age group or -- she has no life outside her self imposed confinement! Coming up on 80 in a couple months I can't think of a decade or lessor time frame in which I and my family haven't experienced a life’s defining moment -- though beginning two years ago, I slowed down and decided to enjoy retirement of sorts. Now, life’s defining moments is when my feet touch the floor every morning, if you know what I mean.

The lady keeps confining herself to writing books directing the lives and thoughts of others she will never experience life to its fullest. Get out and live your own life! Every generation is different with their own peculiar problems and no one person is going to save them from their mistakes nor should they try as mistakes usually lead to one of those life’s defining moments from which most will grow and mature from. The end!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (37)
All Comments   (37)
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My 20s were a period of aimless wandering and a complete and utter waste of a decade.

It wasn't until I turned 30, met my wife and settled down that things really began to happen. I returned to school, got an engineering degree, put my wife through school, started a family, and together we achieved in life things we scarcely imagined were possible. After 35 years of marriage, we're still together and still eager to challenge the world. (One of our supreme pleasures is spoiling the grandchildren for a weekend and then giving them back to their parents ;-)

In hindsight it would have been nice to have realized in my 20s what I discovered in my 30s but life is what you make of it and the old saying of "better late than never" has never been more true.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm 70 and I had my life's most significant defining moment in my mid 60s because I changed for the better in a very clear way. It is the sort of thing that can happen to younger people, but without saying too much about it, it changed me permanently for the better. I simply an not the person I spent most of my life being. I will die in the certain knowledge that I have gotten this far. My advice is if you find yourself discouraged - don't buy into it. Keep going.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'd have to agree with Jay for the most part. That doesn't mean that defining moments completely stop, but rather that the course of your life can be drastically affected by choices you make in your late teens and 20s. Your earning potential and retirement are often drastically affected. Your experience as a parent and perhaps grandparent is affected.

There are exceptions to every generalization, but that doesn't make it completely invalid either.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
By the age of 30, most people have experienced all that life has to offer. After that, it's mostly repetition.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would point out that at least one defining moment comes at the end. Prior to that event it seems some folks can find there way into better relationship to life through faith, or meditation, or other practice that actually allows them to enter fully into maturity. It may just be being a hard working and honest person. When you see old people of yourself acting childishly it is a pretty good indicator that there is a lack of maturity, a lack of wisdom. So I think that for some the most defining events come toward the end of life.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I heard a radio interview with cellist Yo Yo Ma. He said that one of his instructors told him that everyone has an emotional reservoir that builds up from childhood until about age thirty. Thereafter, there are few emotional additions to this reservoir, and we are unlikely to add new depth to our emotional responses after that age.

Childhood and the teenage years are an emotional roller coaster. I so appreciated one of my friends who said that when she was a child she made herself a promise that she would not forget what it was like to be a child when she grew up. As a child, she could tell that most adults had really forgotten how intense life is for children, and she determined that she would never forget so that she would not become insensitive to kids.

Sex hormones have a big influence on the developing brain during puberty. This is one of the reasons teens need more sleep than adults.

When our brains are still very plastic, and have not yet completed their development, we shouldn't take everything for granted and think we have unlimited time. But who was that wise when they were young?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I thought it was "everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten", I finished that way before age 35.

It's also said that for most authors, their first book is all they have to say.

But, you don't know until you try, whatever the numbers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This may not be entirely on topic, but 35 is crucial to movie stars. Female movie stars are the prettiest from 25 - 35. After 35, fish lips, balloons chest, cat eyes. Too awful to watch. Male stars lose their hair, gain another jowl, and a beer tummy, cat eyes, and all that. Too painful to see.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Defining moments, if they are taken to mean a singular event or act that identifies or reveals one's character, happen throughout our lives.

I'm a few months shy of 60.

Character, honor, human decency, service to others, selflessness, loyalty, are not things...they are a process. Rarely do they occur in a moment. Rather, they are developed over time.

Events that test our character do indeed happen in moments. A man who cheats on his wife, slanders his country, lies with impunity, commits small and large acts of treason, traitorism and treachery...isn't allowed to run for President until after he is 35.

So, the character, honor and loyalty defining moments are not revealed to others, often until the person has the power and influence to do great good or great harm.

In your 20's is a good time to build up a reservoir of traits that will serve your fellow man, when the day comes that you have the position to do so.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm seventy-five years old and every day brings one more damn 'defining moment' or another.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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