Reading: The Defining Decade

Subtitled “Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now,” by Meg Jay, I loved this book. I first heard Meg Jay on NPR’s TED Radio Hour podcast, and loved her message. She’s a clinical psychologist working both as a college professor and in private practice. Her introduction notes, “Eighty percent of life’s most definitive moments take place by age thirty-five. Two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first ten years of a career.” I found that pretty hard to resist.

Dr. Jay introduced me to the phrase identity capital–a collection of our personal assets. As you go through life, you accumulate experiences as well as skills. Her issue with underemployment after college is that it doesn’t give you any identity capital (and barely gives you relevant skills). You’re better off with jobs that help you continue to develop conversations that lead to lucky breaks. So nannying might be great for paying the bills, but work that on the side if you must while temping in a field you might be interested in so you begin to have experiences and conversations that move you forward.

Scary as it is to contemplate, time isn’t endless, so you can’t afford to mess around. I’m even more insistent on this point. I don’t think you can afford to write off the four (maybe five) years of college as a complete time out from the real world. As I read comments from clients like, “…you can’t pull some great career out of your hat in your thirties. You’ve got to start in your twenties.” I want to amend it to say: You can’t expect to pull some great career skills out of your hat upon graduation. You’ve got to start building them now.

Dr. Jay goes on to note that After serving on several admissions and hiring committees,…a good story goes further in the twentysomething years than perhaps at any other time in life. To go into internship interviews with a memorable story, you need to be doing things before you get the glorious internship that leads to the amazing first job. Spend your summers and your extracurricular time wisely!

The book goes on to a great second half on relationships, in much the same theme. (If you’re dating badly now, you’re missing out on building the relationship skills you’ll need when the right one comes along.)

Recommendation? The book is a fast read, full of stories about clients that really help drive the points home painlessly, but I recognize you might have to pick and choose so if you are really strapped for time, spend 15 minutes listening to her TED Talk. (Got an hour, check out the TED Radio Hour podcast on The Next Greatest Generation.)

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