Monday, June 17, 2013

The (Debatably) Defining Decade

 ISBN: 0446561754 Published: Twelve, 04/02/2013 Pages: 239 Language: English

A few weeks ago, I finished Dr. Meg Jay's The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter, and How to Make the Most of Them Now, a treatise of sorts on that writhing, hotly-contested mass of twenty-somethings (it seems like many pundits, writers, and academic types picture us -- yes, I am a twenty-something -- as some sort of wild swarm). I had lots of, you know... FEELINGS. I read very many books, but few of them simmer for quite this long, and it's been almost impossible to keep myself from measuring my life against the metric Jay presents in her book. Am I doing it right? Am I setting my course for CEO or reclusive cat hoarder?

Well, probably something wildly different from either of those options. But let's dive in to what it actually discusses.

Romantically, everything here made sense, and seemed intuitive. Hold partners to a standard, or accept something half-baked and unfulfilling; if you're envisioning a particular type of relationship, look for that person in an environment where they could reasonably be found.

Professionally, though, things felt muddled, perhaps because that's where my 20-something confusion has been at its most chaotic. The book vascillates between case studies and research-infused prose, and one case study in particular unsettled me. In Danielle's passage, we read about her travails as an assistant to a television producer of The Devil Wears Prada ilk - cantankerous, petty, irrational, etc. We read about the toll this takes on Danielle's life, and how its implications become physical (anxiety, long days) as well as mental (work becomes her life). Dr. Jay's advice, after asking the patient to stop calling her mother during her lunch break, is simply to stick it out and put in the hours, the 40 hours a week for five years.

My beef: this seems like the ultimate deferment of happiness. It makes sense that if, as a twenty-something, you're living an unexamined life, then sure, you should try your best to ensure that you're on track to be happy, but if you're decidedly unhappy, is it really worth it to let that anxiety pile up over five years? Sure, you'll be better able to cope with difficult situations in the future, but to what end? Personally, I'd rather be employed in some less prestigious field (and have free time to pursue my art, interests, and friendships) than eternally stressed out and overworked.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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