I can't believe I'm saying this, but the best book I read in 2014 was a self-help book.
I know you're rolling your eyes right now (I'm looking at you, dad). I get it. But stick with me here.
I picked up The Defining Decade after hearing its author, Meg Jay, on an NPR program and then seeing the book on the shelf of my favorite neighborhood bookstore shortly thereafter. And I'll be honest - I picked it up with an agenda. I read this book to validate all of my life choices. More specifically, I read it to remind myself that the things I'm doing in my twenties right now are the right things for my life, something I have not always been convinced of.
Back when I was 21 years old, engaged, and committed to a post-graduation banking job, I had about 5% confidence that I was on the "right" path. I got plenty of raised eyebrows and "wow..." reactions when telling people at Rice or at Stanford (where my husband went to school) that we were getting married right after graduation. I dreaded working a desk job while all my acquaintances traveled the world. I feared that making those decisions would commit me to a life where I never traveled, never made good career progress (because I was always sacrificing career for my husband, you know), and just generally lived a boring life.
Hopefully the contents of this blog have provided ample evidence of just how wrong I was about that.
But I can't blame myself for thinking those things at the time. Almost everything you're exposed to as a twentysomething tells you that early marriage and conventional jobs do not a well-traveled, independently successful, happy person make. It was so refreshing to hear someone (an expert!) say otherwise.
When I picked up this book, I didn't really expect to learn anything new. I mostly expected to nod in agreement while the author said that people need to start thinking about marriage before they turn 30 (check) and that working a full-time, demanding job will move you toward the kind of career you want (also check). And she does say those things.
What I didn't expect was how empowering her treatment of those subjects would be. I think that is a very hard balance to strike, especially when you're giving advice on finding a relationship. Her love is tough, yes, but her advice is practical, actionable, and attainable.
I also didn't expect how illuminating the third section dedicated to twentysomething biology would be. She dedicates a significant portion of the chapter to how intensely stressful your job can be due to your low position on the professional totem pole combined with young brains' relative inability to absorb surprise, criticism, lack of agency, and other unpleasant workplace experiences. Before reading this book, I thought that the intense stress I frequently encountered at work was unusual and just plain bad for me. After reading this book, I know that the kind of intense stress I face is a sign that I'm in the right job. Jobs that go nowhere aren't stressful. Jobs that make you into an interesting and successful person are. Did anyone else really need to hear that?
Finally, what I REALLY didn't expect would be how much I would think about this book after reading it, and how often I would feel the need to recommend it to all of my friends. So I think you know where I'm going with this - READ THIS BOOK! Pick it up yourself, buy it for your daughter/son/sister/brother/friend/foe/next door neighbor/WHOEVER, but read it. It will take you two or three hours, and you'll come away feeling like you can conquer the world. I'll leave you with the author's call to action as proof:
There are no guarantees. So claim your adulthood. Be intentional. Get to work. Pick your family. Do the math. Make your own certainty. Don't be defined by what you didn't know or didn't do. You're deciding you life right now.
Have a great day.