Review: The Defining Decade, Meg Jay, PhD

You know what I’m happy about? I’m happy that before reading The Defining Decade — which was judgmentally delivered to me at my office without any explanation I could discern as to why it was being delivered to me, so I could only conclude that the universe thinks I’m doing my twenties wrong (which I am not) and would like to help me out with it — I saw the second episode of the HBO show Girls, in which Lena Dunham’s character glances at a relationship-rules book and says that she hate-read it in the Detroit airport once. I’m glad that happened so I could have the word “hate-read” in my working memory for writing this post.

Disclaimer: I do not hate Meg Jay, PhD, although I feel awkward when authors put “PhD” on the front of their books because it makes me think that their PhD is in something completely unrelated to the book they’ve written. I instantly suspected Meg Jay of having a PhD in Puppeteering or something, but no, her PhD is in the perfectly reasonable and germane areas of clinical psychology and gender studies. Just FYI.

It is just that The Defining Decade — which I hate-read over the course of four subway rides, because it’s very short and quick — is extremely judgey about things that I don’t need to be judged about. This book is not Varsity Adulthood. It’s barely Junior Varsity Adulthood. It’s basically just, Hey kids, take your lives seriously, time is ticking by, which is a message I have already absorbed. The book clearly wasn’t aimed at me and apart from some next-level retirement planning, which is on my to-do list I swear, I am doing okay in all the relevant areas. I have a job I like that employs skills I developed over my academic career. I do not treat my work life or my romantic life as a rehearsal for the future (that’s what college was for). I did not go into debt in the course of acquiring my bachelor’s degree in English, and thus I am not spending these years paying down thousands of dollars of school debt. I am doing fine.

You see how that last paragraph was sort of self-righteous? That’s me overcompensating for how incredibly judged The Defining Decade made me feel. Because I sort of have that thing where I want all the real grown-ups to approve of me. I wanted to howl “No! Not me, Meg Jay, PhD! I’m doing fine! I’m not aimless, I’m fine, I’m fine!” Whenever new people got on the subway and were near me, I wanted to say, “Excuse me. You may observe that I am reading this book and conclude that I am not doing a good job at my life right now, but in fact I am hate-reading this book and concluding that I am doing just fine. Thank you for your time.” But I did not do either of these things. I am not a crazy person.

What you should take away from this post: I’m fine. I just crave approval.

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21 thoughts on “Review: The Defining Decade, Meg Jay, PhD

  1. “I feel awkward when authors put “PhD” on the front of their books because it makes me think that their PhD is in something completely unrelated to the book they’ve written.” Ha, I know right? And even when it IS relevant, it still strikes me as a gratuitous appeal to authority. It’s not like they shouldn’t mention it in the author bio or introduction or whatever, but if it’s right after their name on the cover and spine, it makes me suspect that perhaps the content doesn’t seem authoritative enough in itself and they thus feel the need to draw attention to their expertise.

    Anyway, I like the expression “hate-read”, and I’ll avoid this book like the plague because I’m already doing a good enough job of feeling like I’m wasting my life and that soon it will be Too Late for me to ever achieve anything without any external encouragement 😛

  2. And I bet she uses her PhD as a stick to beat her clients with, too. I have a feeling that if she were an inspired therapist, she wouldn’t have written this book. Also, the word “hate-read” is now in my permanent vocabulary.

    Also, you (and Nymeth!) are two of the most amazing 20-somethings I know (in Nymeth’s case, she is an imaginary friend, but still.) Dislike, dislike, people who roll their eyes at people in their most difficult decade…which is what I still remember my 20s as being. Exciting, yes. Adventurous too. But the stress and rampant uncertainty were awfully hard. Go judge your ownself, Meg Jay, PhD.

  3. Sometimes, if you have a PhD and you’re writing a letter to the high school principle or the local newspaper editor (or, once, a letter to your own mother) it’s hard to resist signing your name something like “Jeanne Griggs, PhD.” Because it does make you sound like such a blowhard.

    • support. Especially when you’re angry about something and want to make it crystal clear that you are way more right than they can possibly be. I sign “Legal Sister, esq.” when I’m writing things laying out rules politely but am feeling very angry.

  4. I think I would have preferred it if Meg Jay PhD would have been more entertaining and certainly less judgmental had she got her PhD in Puppeteering, actually. I already hate this book, and I haven’t even read it.

  5. Err, sorry, that should have read: I think I would have preferred it if Meg Jay PhD would have gotten her PhD in Puppeteering. She probably would have been more entertaining and certainly less judgmental. I already hate this book, and I haven’t even read it.

  6. If I had my PhD in Puppeteering, I would put that on everything. “Trapunto, PhD Puppeteering” Letters to the editor, government forms…

    I wonder if you would hate Megan Daum’s collection of essays, My Misspent Youth? It’s a decade out of date, but you might find it an antidote to judginess, as Daum writes as one of the suffering-but-not-dumb judged. It’s one of the few books by a New York centric New Yorker I have really relished. Plus, after leaving new York she published three books, and presumably acquired a tailgate all her own for tailgate parties, so she is like an inspiring success story for youthful misspenders!

    NWK is so right, it is the most difficult decade. From my perspective of 3 and a half, anyhow. But not defining.

    • Warning: Meghan Daum is NOT a good role model for youthful misspenders after all. I just read her third book and I am anti-inspired by her life story and personal outlook. Plus there are some shocking grammatical and typographical errors, and she uses the word “indeed” in a semi-selfconsciously-avuncular way every second paragraph.

  7. How you make me laugh! And oh boy, hate-read is a term I’ve been waiting for all my life. What I remember about my 20s is that it was the decade when I was most tender about the judgment of others. So probably the PhD lady had a direct line on how to needle her readership best. I don’t think that’s a very nice thing to do with the skills from a dissertation, personally, but what do I know? My feeling is that if you have to put PhD on the front of your books, you are probably a little tender about external validation, too. 😉

  8. I completely agree that putting PhD behind your name is awkward. I’m okay with it being in the biography, but putting it as the name on the front cover just makes me think that you’re trying to prove something.

    I love the word hate-read 🙂 As for the book, I don’t think it’s for me. She sounds too judgy, and really, the last thing I need at this moment is someone telling me how wrong I was for getting a loan in order to go to university, or how a job should fit with your academic skills, when there wasn’t any other option or when there’re basically no jobs at all. See, I’m already arguing with the book even when I haven’t been near it. Guess it really is better that I stop typing now.

  9. I love the phrase “hate-read.” I almost (almost, but not quite) wish I had something to hate-read just so I could say that.

    My five year old niece is obsessed with all things princess (which makes me want to stab myself in the eye on a regular basis, but don’t tell her that) and long ago she decided her name was Bella Rose Princess. Why she put the “princess” part at the END of her name, I’ll never know, but it never fails to make me think of people who put PhD at the end of their names and I have to resist the urge to put a comma in there before “princess.” Anyway, the point of this paragraph is that reading this review made me realize that now seeing “PhD” makes me think of the word “princess,” which makes me want to giggle and then accuse Meg Jay of thinking of herself as some kind of princess (which is cute when you’re five and you’re doing it because you love princesses, not because you think you’re entitled to everything, but not cute when you’re a grown-up and are sitting on a throne judging people).

  10. Girls! I need to watch it!

    I feel like I would not like this book. Since I am nearing the end of my twenties, I would read it thinking ‘Yelp! I guess it’s too late for me!’ the entire time. EVEN THOUGH I feel like I’m doing okay at life so far, too. Sigh.

  11. I had a classmate in school recently that everyone hated because she was mean and really self-absorbed. She was also a lawyer and her email signature line said, “___ ____, Esquire.” We all judged her for that. I don’t think we were wrong to do so. Who uses the word Esquire? Who that isn’t a JD realizes that Equire relates to law and not to a men’s magazine? I judge her, and I do not deny that I judge her very harshly. No one needs to know all about your advanced degrees.

    I don’t think I will read this book because, well, I also feel like I am living my 20s ok. Not quite as exciting and adventuresome as I’d like them to be, but I DO have a good amount saved for retirement at least!

    • But, but, “esq” is so much fun to write! It’s got that fun old-fashioned ring to it that letters like J.D. or P.H.D. simply don’t, and if I need to show that I’m an attorney elegantly, I’d rather write a little “Esq.” than “Attorney at Law”. Not that I defend your classmate, who sounds dreadful. I just defend the fun of esquiring.

      • Ah, but she didn’t just write “Esq.” She wrote out the whole word “esquire.” And she wrote it while an MBA candidate, so it wasn’t particularly relevant to anything she was doing. If you are a practicing lawyer, then by all means do it! But if not…

  12. Really a great post: smart, engaging, and fun. While I probably would have thrown the book back at the person had they dropped it on my desk, I am glad you powered through to give us your thoughts. Most of the time, baby-boomers ignore that our generation exists. Other times, they either tell us how horribly we are doing, or just condescendingly tell us we should be more like they are, but didn’t they make this mess? All the things they have to say that would help seem to get lost in the delivery.

  13. Pingback: Right Now Matters, Right Now. Sorry :( | The Young Professional

  14. What I took from your post: You’re fine, got your life together, no worries, you judge people who write books by their cover, and you want us all to know it.

  15. What I garnered from your post: Your review was done with an air of arrogance, you’re in your 20’s, you have lived your life perfectly thus far, right now you think/know you have done everything perfectly, right now have no regrets and know that you never will because you never make mistakes, you can’t take suggestions or advice from someone that has interviewed and compiled information from those in their 20’s, you are jealous of someone that has achieved a hard-earned a degree. You took this assignment negatively from the get go and narcistically thought someone was trying to give you a message rather than its pure form, just another book to review. It appears you are one to take issue if anyone WERE wishing to share or offer you advice that might help you or someone else with their future. HA! Sorry to say, you have not lived long enough yet to reflect back on a full life to know of what you speak except in the here and now. Very much a 20 year old viewpoint not looking beyond the horizon = good luck to you!

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