Meg Jay’s ‘The Defining Decade’ provides advice for twentysomethings to maximize their time in college

Dr. Meg Jay’s “The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter — and how to make the most of them now” was recommended to me by Nicki Karimipour, a twentysomething doctoral student who is a teaching assistant with me. We both read the book and are discussing what we’ve found most interesting about the book. This is the second of our conversations about the book.

Nicki Karimipour: In her book, Dr. Jay discusses how the first 10 years of your career significantly determine your ultimate earnings and thus, much of your livelihood. What can current students and other twentysomethings do to help maximize their time in college and make themselves more competitive when they enter the job market?

NABJ tabling - photo by Julie Dodd

Joining professional organizations is a good way for twentysomethings to learn more about careers and make connections. Photo by Julie Dodd

Julie Dodd: In “The Defining Decade,” Dr. Jay encouraged/urged some of her Millennial clients to move beyond thinking about a career area they might be interested in to actually preparing for that career.

Even though most of her clients were college graduates, they had not found their college experience to provide the background they needed to move into the job market. Volunteering in the field was one of Jay’s suggestion. Preparing for the field’s admission test (like the LSAT for someone considering law school) was another suggestion.

As Dr. Jay noted, some Millennials are hesitant to move forward into a career because they haven’t tried it out yet. Pursuing relevant professional experience can help Millennials develop more competence and confidence in their career choices.

As a college teacher, I encourage students to get involved in activities that will enable them to try out their career interests and develop their portfolio – that’s true of undergrads and twentysomething graduate students.

For the undergrads, they can get involved in relevant campus organizations, which in my area would be communications/media, such as the Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Black Journalists, Public Relations Student Society of America, etc.

They also can practice their communications skills in other areas – writing for the sorority newsletter, helping with the social media for a student organization, helping plan a campus event, etc.

For those twentysomethings who have graduated, they can join professional organizations in the cities where they live. Joining college alumni chapters also is a good way to make connections that can help lead to job opportunities.

A real key to advancing one’s career in the communications field (as with many careers) is internships. Most internships are a semester in length, giving students the opportunity to have a number or work experiences and to get to know the culture of the organization.

One internship can lead to the next, so students shouldn’t wait until their senior year to get a first internship. Some undergraduate and graduate degrees require an internship or have an internship as an option for elective credit.

From my perspective as a teacher, the vast majority of the college students I work with “get it” on the value and necessity of getting involved in professional experiences while still college students.

I have conversations with just a few students right before graduation who don’t have after-graduation plans and aren’t sure what they want to do. When I ask what internships they’ve had, they typically haven’t had an internship They come across as not feeling empowered – or sometimes even responsible – for taking action to be ready to move into the job market. Some of those students would benefit from on-going counseling with someone like Dr. Jay.

You are a twentysomething teaching about 40 students every semester who are twentysomething (or very close to be twenty). What is a specific piece of advice that Dr. Jay talks about that you try to convey/say to your students?

Nicki Karimipour: I really admire the creativity and optimism that my students possess. Most college students are high-performing individuals by nature, and they are up for a variety of challenges.

In addition, many young people have big dreams and aspirations for their lives, and I don’t think they should ever lose sight of those hopes and desires.

With that said, I also think it’s essential to be as realistic as possible about the future, especially given the current economic state.

The truth is, nobody gets where they want to be without lots and lots of hard work — there is no substitute for that. Dr. Jay talks about the importance of setting goals, which “direct us from the inside . . . and feel like authentic dreams.”

UF Career Showcase - Photo by Julie Dodd

Most colleges host job fairs to encourage students to interview. UF’s Career Showcase also includes workshops on how to write a résumé and how to dress professionally. Photo by Julie Dodd

In her book, Dr. Jay also highlights some ways in which twentysomethings have grown acclimated to instant gratification. I think in this society we are all a bit guilty of that, but making goals and creating a concrete and attainable roadmap of how to operationalize those goals will make all the difference in the long-term.

It may feel easier or more comfortable to let the chips fall where they may, so to speak, but the outcome might not be the most ideal.

The most important takeaway point for me from the book is that when you actively participate and take responsibility for creating your own life (as much as possible), you will likely be a lot happier with the outcome. And that you should begin today, because according to Dr. Jay, “30 is not the new 20.”

Julie Dodd: I’d like to add to your comment about the impact of the economy. Without a doubt, some twentysomethings who aren’t in a career-advancing job have done the preparation (degree, internships, roadmap planning) and have actively applied for jobs in their professional field. The problem is the economy.

About five years ago, our college’s Job & Internship Fair was renamed Interviewing Day. The name change was to reflect the fact that many of the organizations participating in the fair didn’t actually have jobs and internships.

In the last few years, some of the top grads of the college move into post-graduation internships when they would have been hired into full-time jobs right after graduation if they had graduated six or seven years ago.

But that doesn’t mean that twentysomethings should be thinking to themselves, “The economy is so bad that I shouldn’t really make any career plans. I’ll just keep on being a server at the restaurant, as the tips are pretty good.”

As Dr. Jay encourages her clients, they shouldn’t be “settling” with an employment situation because they aren’t willing to take the initiative to find (and prepare for) that career-starting job.

See our previous post on “The Defining Decade.”

We’d be interested in your comments about “The Defining Decade” or your own experiences as a twentysomething or someone (teacher, employer, parent) who is working with Millennials.


  1. […] *** We’ll continue our conversation about “The Defining Decade” and how it applies to our work with Millennials in our next post. […]


  2. […] to make the most of them now.” I read the book and then suggested that Nicki and I collaborate on blog posts about our perceptions of “The Defining Decade” and how Meg Jay’s advice applied to the college students we were […]


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