Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Finding Ourselves: The Odyssey Years

I was excited to see the NY Times op-ed piece on Oct. 9 entitled “The Odyssey Years”, by David Brooks, which discusses the growing trend of people in their post-college years taking time to find/create themselves.

“There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.

During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.

Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there’s bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don’t even detect a clear sense of direction in their children’s lives. They look at them and see the things that are being delayed.

They see that people in this age bracket are delaying marriage. They’re delaying having children. They’re delaying permanent employment. People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments — moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family.

In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.”

The rest of the article goes on to validate that this “searching” is a common and shared trend seen in people of our generation. We prefer to invest in finding our own path and setting our own timeline, much to the dismay of our parents (especially when we give up a "perfectly good career, relationship, education, etc.")

I think the term “Odyssey Years” is useful to identify this phase because, just like the term “adolescence” did a century ago, it validates that what we're feeling is a common struggle and not be embarrassed feeling we're the only ones who are "lost". In helping overachievers as a profession, you can’t imagine how many people have said to me “it’s nice knowing that other people feel this way and it’s not just me!

I think it’s GREAT that we have the opportunity to do our own searching. It definitely makes life a bit more difficult during these “Odyssey Years” (fighting the cyclops, being tempted by sirens, etc.) but this journey definitely gives us a better sense of self and confidence in being able to choose what’s right for us.
  • Are your “Odyssey Years” driving your parents crazy?
  • Is your “searching” any easier knowing others are going through the same thing?
Please comment!

1 comment:

Rob said...

Great post! And it brings you full circle to your first post, about the poem "Ulysses." :)

I'll definitely read the op-ed. It definitely resonates with me, although I think it doesn't describe many of my high school and college friends. I assume the odyssey years are partly a benefit of affluence, but I wonder how common it is in other wealthy countries, whether there is a cultural aspect to it, and whether our liberal approach to education is a major influence.

The Odyssey metaphor is especially apt because the Odyssey was supposed to have lasted 10 years, about the span of time from college to the onset of "real" adulthood nowadays.

In any case, is there any reason we can't stay in the odyssey years forever?