The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter- and How to Make the Most of Them Now. (2012). Dr. Meg Jay. New York: Hachette Book Group. 273 pp. $17.00. ISBN 978-0446561754.

Review by: Juliana Espinosa. Academic Advising Center. University of Utah.

In her new book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now, Dr. Meg Jay argues against the popular notion that thirty is the new twenty. A clinical psychologist and visiting associate professor at the University of Virginia, Jay believes the twenties is a critical period in adult development for Millennials, one in which individuals begin making intentional and well-informed choices on how they want to live in their thirties and forties. The book addresses psychological and emotional development in people of this age, and resists the trivialization of the twenties as a period filled with carefree adventures and little or no consequences.

The book is divided into three parts: “Work,” “Love,” and “The Brain and the Body.” The first and third sections make arguments especially relevant to academic advising. In “Work,” Jay cites multiple examples of her work with young adults experiencing anxiety and decision paralysis. She discusses the use of deliberate distractions and procrastination as techniques for avoiding planful decision making. Jay also discusses the role of social media, and the pressure Millennial students feel to live an Instagram-worthy life. In “The Brain and the Body,” Jay connects the behaviors discussed in “Work” with physiological factors: as the frontal lobe develops at an increased rate during late teens and into the twenties, an individual’s capacity for learning greatly increases. For professionals looking to aid in the development process, it’s important to guide individuals away from pleasure-seeking or avoidance toward growth in communication skills, decision making, and relationship building.

As she expands these ideas, Jay arrives at four crucial components of the twentysomething development and experience, which she describes using the terms, “Identity Capital,” “Weak Ties,” “Outside In,” and “Do the Math.” As a set, these components suggest individuals in their twenties experience the healthiest growth and development when they acquire individual resources, invest in themselves over time, and learn to see value in delayed gratification (resisting what Jay calls “present bias,” where the more concrete instant gratification is preferred over abstract concepts like time and future goals). On the other hand, growth and development stymies when individuals surround themselves with too many like-minded peers, and indulge in linear, black-and-white thinking processes.

Academic advisors have multiple opportunities to engage with students in the promotion of healthy growth and development processes related to Jay’s model. By encouraging the building of identity capital, strengthening weak ties, encouraging a growth mindset, and combating present bias, advisors can aid students in taking advantage of this period of expanded learning capacity, and steer students away from patterns of behavior that lead to anxiety and decision paralysis. One example is to incorporate goal setting activities into advising appointments to aid students in developing a sense of time and perspective. In Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ book, Designing Your Life, the Odyssey Planning activity is a great activity that challenges an individual to create and rank three alternative five-year plans.

While The Defining Decade offers valuable considerations for academic advisors, the book has its blind spots. In discussing identity capital and weak ties, Jay makes no mention of class, gender, or racial privilege. Responsible academic advisors will need to incorporate the consideration of each student’s privilege and social status into the use of Jay’s model. As a whole, however, The Defining Decade stands to benefit academic advisors in better understanding the current population of twentysomethings. The book is a useful tool for further exploring adult development, and for reflecting on how academic advisors might adjust advising practices to better prepare graduating seniors for the next window of opportunity.



Burnett, B. and Evans, D. (2016). Worksheets and Discussion Questions. Retrieved from


Jay, M. (2017). The Defining Decade. Retrieved from https://megjay.com/the-defining-decade/

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