The Defining Decade: What People In Their Thirties Regret About Their Twenties

Contemporary culture tells us that our twenties aren’t that important. They’re for experimenting, travelling and generally fucking around. But Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade disagrees. As a clinical psychologist that mainly sees clients in their twenties and thirties, Jay wrote The Defining Decade to give readers an insight into how important the twenties can be.

The world is changing. Most people in their twenties are graduating from university to find that getting a graduate job in their field isn’t easy. Competition is higher than ever, and it seems more like it’s who you know rather that what you know that determines whether your applications will be seriously considered. As a result, many people in their twenties end up doing jobs that they’re overqualified for – jobs in bars, coffee shops or retail. Jay’s clients who end up in these positions often feel unhappy and disappointed. Too many of these types of jobs for too long can impact our future finances and career. Wages usually peak in our forties so we could be wasting valuable time to increase our earning power.

Jay recommends that people in their twenties focus on increasing their identity capital – the collection of skills, relationships, and professional resources that we build over our lives. This may be through taking a pay cut to work in a lowly job in a lucrative industry, in order to get your foot in the door and work our way up. A simple way summarizing it as Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad says, is: “Don’t work to earn, work to learn.”

A common problem Jay encounters while speaking to her clients is that they are anxious because they are comparing their situations to other people on social media. They’ll say “All of my friends are getting married and having babies,” when that is statistically very unlikely. The ones that are doing so might even be people they never talk to anyway, but just happen to be friends on Facebook. It’s important to remember that social media is usually a highlight reel, and even so, comparison is not necessary – what’s important is that you are working towards your own goals, not trying to imitate another’s.

There is a huge discrepancy to how people regard dating in their twenties compared to their thirties. People in their twenties tend to partake in the hook-up culture that has become more normalized over the last few decades. They often go into relationships with people that they know for sure that they won’t end up marrying, but they’re okay with it anyway. When people turn thirty, it can switch like a game of musical chairs when the music stops – everyone ends up pairing up with others, even if they may not be entirely compatible. Jay recommends that people in their twenties be more intentional with their dating so that they don’t have to rush or panic when they start to get a little older.

Jay also warns about the dangers of cohabitation with partners. People in their twenties often move in with their partners because of convenience, or to share financial costs. Before too long, they feel like the next stage is marriage, but they might not really be totally compatible for each other. This is what Jay terms “sliding, not deciding”. Jay recommends if partners are to move in together, to have a conversation about how committed they are to each other and where they see their relationship going in the future.

Another gripe that Jay’s clients often talk about is how their relationships with their family aren’t what they hoped or wished for. Maybe they felt neglected, unloved or unsupported. The good news is though, as an adult they can choose a second family through their partner – getting along with your partner’s family can be a large source of well-being and a sense of belonging.

In a study of people in their twenties, they rated that their most important goal in their life was to be a good parent, followed by having a good marriage, and then a good career. So if people know for sure that they want to have children at some point in their lives, they need to know this: Females become half as fertile from their peak in their twenties at age 30, they are only 25% as fertile at age 35, and 12.5% as fertile at age 40. That’s not to say that people in their thirties and forties cannot have children, but the chances of fertility issues or miscarriages are much more common, and it can be devastating. For men, quality of sperm decreases with age too, although it is not quite as drastic.

The biggest takeaway from Jay in The Defining Decade is that we must do the math on our lives. If we are planning on going to law school and becoming a lawyer, and then want to get married and have three kids after, then what age do you have to start law school? The answer most probably is right now!

For a lot of people reading in their late-twenties or early-thirties, the outlook can seem bleak. But it’s much better to know all this now before it really is too late.

Wild: Lessons from Cheryl Strayed’s Memoir

Wild is the 2012 memoir of the American author Cheryl Strayed. It detailed her journey of self-discovery as she took a 1,100 mile solo-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, starting in the Mojave Desert in California and finishing at the Bridge of Gods in Washington.

Since then Strayed has been portrayed in a film adaptation by Reese Witherspoon in 2014.

I read the book over a couple of days as I sat in my family home in UK. The memoir is incredibly vulnerable, truthful and poetic. Cheryl’s story is a moving one, and at times tragic.

Strayed was only 22-years-old when her non-smoking mother was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. Her mother’s rapid decline in health and subsequent death dispersed her family, and Strayed ended her marriage after engaging in affairs with multiple men. Her previous motivation and her will to look after herself slowly ebbed away, and she started using heroin with a new lover named Joe.

It was only after stumbling on a Pacific Crest Trail guidebook in a store that she decided to go on this epic and dangerous journey of self-discovery. To her credit, she bought the guidebook, slowly saved up to buy all her hiking gear, and navigated the wilderness (with the extensive help of strangers) to finally reach her destination after over three months of walking.

One of the most memorable scenes in the book is when Strayed decided that she has to put down Lady, her dead mother’s frail old horse. Her stepfather had stopped taking responsibility of the horses and had remarried and moved his new wife’s children into the house where Strayed had grown up just a few years before.

She was too broke to have a vet give an lethal injection, as she had spent all her money on equipment to hike the PCT. So after some advice, she decided that best way would be to shoot Lady in the head. After leading Lady out to the perimeter of the farm, she found the courage to pull the trigger. But Lady didn’t die right away. Lady writhed in pain and the solemn, sad eyes of the horse stared at Strayed as she was shot another two times and died slowly. It was tragic.

The biggest lesson I took from Strayed’s memoir was to make me think of the responsibilities of having a death in the family. Strayed’s brother, sister and stepfather all shirked responsibility after her mother’s death, and it was too much for Strayed to handle by herself.

Strayed lost her marriage, had an abortion, took drugs and hiked the PCT; and even though she had the will to find a way through those struggles and eventually fulfil her dream of being a writer with a loving family, I am sure that others in the same downward spiral would have perished.

Wild is as much a cautionary tale as it is an uplifting journey of self-discovery.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech

This chapter was mostly about a hypothetical situation where a woman finds out her husband has been having an affair. Peterson hypothesizes how this could have occurred and what could have been done about it. One of the most important things (I assume) that makes a good relationship is communication. But the communication needs to be a particular way. It cannot be vague, it needs to be precise. It needs to be specified what is bothering the person, and what they want instead. Brushed under the carpet and it’s a long and torturous marriage, no matter how little the annoyance. From that breeds resentment and bitterness.

The dangers of avoiding conflict is put forth thought-provokingly in an example by Nassim Taleb in the book Antifragile. He surprisingly describes that the frequency of military conflict occurring in his native Lebanon is in fact healthy. He explains that as a consequence conflicts occur as small skirmishes as opposed to a less frequent but devastating all-out nuclear war. In the same way this is why forests should be allowed to burn periodically to clear out deadwood and return nutrients to the soil. If forest fires are artificially suppressed, the deadwood accumulates. When a fire eventually starts, the whole forest burns and gets destroyed.

In a marriage, conflicts that should occur that are suppressed can eventually lead to divorce. The wife and/or husband did not have enough courage to bring up issues that would eventually snowball to the point of no return.

I did a personality test recently that deemed a weakness of mine was that I was romantically clueless. I would love to dispute this but I don’t think I have enough evidence to make a case! Therefore this chapter was quite revealing to me in what can make or break a marriage.

Be precise in your speech.