Your Time is Now: The Defining Decade Summary

“You have to read it!”

When I finish a book, I spend the next two weeks telling everyone I know about it – from my mom to my coworkers to my Uber drivers. In the middle of my monologues, when I finally take a second to breath, I normally get a similar response along the lines of, “Wow. I wish I had time to read.”

Listen, I get it. Work is hectic. The gym takes up a lot of time. Meal prepping is important. Game of Thrones is cool (to some people, I guess. Can’t say that I agree…). We all have our priorities, and reading isn’t always on the top of that list.

With that being said, I would like to introduce you to my new (and hopefully recurring series) called… *drum roll please*…

I’ll Read It, So You Don’t Have To

I read the book, pull out the good stuff, and give you only the info you need to know. You save time. I still get to nerd-out. And, my poor Uber drivers don’t have to listen to my ramblings anymore. Sound good?

Episode 1: The Defining Decade 

Meg Jay has spent her career counseling young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. Her 2012 book “The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them now,” is a culmination of all the wisdom she has compiled from working with young people, both her own observations and those of her patients – their problems, their fears, their regrets, and, mainly, what they wish they would have known and done in their 20’s. While at times I think Jay’s voice is a bit dramatic or her characters’ stories are too cliché, her overall argument that young adults in their twenties need to grab life by the balls (clearly, I’m paraphrasing) struck a chord with me.

Your twenties are a special part of your journey because they are a time to discover yourself and to try new things. You get a chance to explore – what do you like? What don’t you like? Where do you want to live? What do you what to do for work? etc. etc.

While it is a time for exploration, it’s also very important to remember that the choices we are making now are going to affect us for the rest of our lives. That’s not meant to scare anyone. It’s meant to light a fire under all of us. It’s a call to action.

Stop waiting for life to happen to you. Now is the right time to start creating your life. Be intentional, work hard, be smart. Live your life “in real time.”

Top Five Messages from Defining Decade

The book is broken up into three sections – Work, Love, and The Brain and The Body. Here are the top five take-away’s from the “Work” section, which I found to be applicable for every aspect of life.

1. You’re standing in front of 6 jars of jam – not 24
“I get hung up thinking. I should know if this is going to work out if I’m going to try it. It feels safer not to pick” (40).

Using the classic Standford University study by Sheena Iyengar (TED Talk here), Jay highlights the fact that when faced with an endless amount of options, people are less likely to take action because they feel overwhelmed by so many choices (24 jars of jam). We’ve been told our whole lives that we can do anything in the entire world if we put our minds to it – but that’s pretty much a lie. We each have, maybe, six good options for our next move. Being an adult requires sitting down, writing those options out, and figuring which one leads to the life you want – not floating around, waiting for an option to come to you.


2. Don’t fall for the Tyranny of “Should”
“Goals direct from the inside, but ‘shoulds’ are paralyzing judgements from the outside. Goals feel like authentic dream while ‘shoulds’ feel like oppressive obligations” (47).

Ask yourself: what are your own personal goals vs. what things are you striving for because you think you should be doing so? Are you still studying for the GRE because you think you should go to grad school? Have you paused your “passion project” because you should just focus on your 9-5 job right now? Don’t let these shoulds keep you from where you want to be going. Do the things you have to do (like pay your rent) so that you can do the things you want to do. Write your goals down and start making moves toward them. Don’t let “should” run your life.


3. Making choices requires courage
“The more terrifying uncertainty is wanting something but not knowing how to get it. It is working toward something even though there is no sure thing” (39).

It takes courage to start deciding what you actually want for yourself. It takes courage to move away from the negative of, “I don’t want that. I’m not that,” to the affirmative, “I am this. I want this. I’m doing this.” Don’t be afraid of limiting options by “settling” on something – have the courage to start life by actually picking something. This is the gray area of life in which we start to define ourselves – to color in the picture of who we are going to be. If we’re so afraid of accidentally picking the wrong color or coloring outside of the lines, we are never going to fully understand what we could be. It’s scary to get started, but simply picking one color to start with takes courage.  If you’re feeling stuck, sometimes the best thing to do is just, do. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “You can’t think your way through life. The only way to figure out what to do is to do – something” (15).


4. Create your personal narrative
“Life does not need to be linear but it does … need to make sense” (63).

You know where you’ve been. You know where you’re at. You know where you want to go. What is the one common thread that ties the story together? This is what interviewers want to see – not necessarily a perfect resume that has you following cookie-cutter steps up the ladder. Having diversions is okay. Taking a long, winding path is okay. It’s all about the story you tell. Your personal narrative. Take ownership of what you’ve done and how that’s going to help you get where you need to go – and why this next job (next project, next side-gig, next whatever) is a perfect fit to help you continue your path. Don’t forget that it is your life to write.


5. Weak Ties – recognize them, remember them, use them
“…weak ties give us access to something fresh. They know things and people that we don’t know…” (21). 

Who’s going to be the person who helps you take that next step in your career? It’s not your parent, your best friend, your current boss. It’s actually the “weak ties,” in our life that may lead to us to our next steps. My favorite piece of tangible advice from Jay is to keep in touch with your weak ties,“The people we have met, or are connected to somehow, but do not currently know well…” (20-21). The classmate from college you completed your senior project with. That co-worker that you say hi to every morning and complain about the coffee with. Your neighbor that you chat with every time you’re walking the dog. These people are your “weak ties.” Recognize them now. Make a list. Write it down. Keep in touch. You never know where these connections are going to lead.


No one has all the answers. Jay’s book certainly doesn’t have them all. But, the key is just to get started. Don’t let time slip away and life flash by. Stay motivated. Stay driven. Stay passionate. Your time is now.


Maggie Tarasovitch is a writer and corporate analyst currently based in Columbus, OH. She is a graduate of Syracuse University.

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