Tuesday, October 09, 2007

We Need to Reject the “Odyssey Years” Concept

This evening’s most-read article at the NY Times is “The Odyssey Years,” by David Brooks. It’s a catchy read about a new phase in life called the “odyssey,” which comes after adolescence and before adulthood. Brooks refers to it as a “decade of wandering.”

During the Odyssey years, 20-somethings are “delaying” marriage, children and permanent employment, says Brooks. In other words, they’re delaying adulthood by Boomer-era standards.

Again, this is a fascinating read, but I feel it’s helping to create a problem where I don’t believe one exists. Are 20-somethings “delaying” adulthood, or are they simply redefining it? Why should marriage or having children be considered “accomplishments” and not problems? Aren’t there already enough people on Earth? Don’t most marriages end up in divorce anyhow?

I’m a bit concerned with even coming up with this category, “odyssey.” How many 20-somethings actually go through an “odyssey” in their 20s? The whole concept sounds like an excuse for the behavior of a few.

Look, as a guy in my early thirties, I’ve noticed that people on an “odyssey” in their 20s pretty much stay that way well into their 30s; while people with families by age 30 were pretty much working their way towards family life all through the 20s. For the latter, the post-college years were less of an odyssey and more of a terrible struggle with the new realities of modern life.

The new realities of modern life, acknowledged by Brooks, are instability in the job market and instability in social life; things that make it hard to live up to Boomer-era measures of accomplishment like financial independence and having kids.

A potential problem now, is that those who once struggled will now kick back and take it easy because they’re in “the odyssey years,” bro. It’s cool, man. Whatever, dude. It’s okay to drift.

But it’s not, I assure you.

Those who take their 20s as an odyssey will continue on an odyssey well into their thirties. And those who fight it will end up with a more stable life.

Which one is better? An eternal odyssey or mind numbing stability? It depends on the person. Some customized mix of the two is probably best. But by making up a new stage in life (an excuse) for wandering, my guess is that more people will end up drifting and ultimately disappointed when their early 30s set in.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.