Nov 28, 2007 2
Even moreso than the impostor syndrome article, one column has really been making the rounds. In an his NYTimes column, David Brooks coined the term odyssey years for the period in between adolescence and adulthood where young adults try new things, travel, and join knitting circles. Brooks lacks insight into my generation, but he has, once again, coined a term that I fear will stick. He has a narrow and dated outlook on what it means to be a young adult in the 21st century.
After having grown up an Organization Kid, I have now entered my odyssey years, which means I’m a Gen Xer who works too hard. In fact, if you erased one paragraph and replaced a pop culture reference here and there, the column could be from over a decade ago. I also suspect that people have been talking about the new fluidity in categories of thought of young people since at least the late sixties.
I think it’s also important to note Brooks’s formulation of the twenty-something American envisions a population of highly motivated, white, upper- and upper-middle-class young adults. As is often the case in his column, he is not talking about the general population, but rather a tiny slice of overachievers. He’s talking about me and my friends.
But he’s not shedding light on what it means to be a motivated millenial. In the article, I am endowed with contradictory personality traits. On the one hand, I desire the traditional, but I also avoid the old-fashioned recipes for success. The only way for this not to be contradictory is to interpret it so vaguely that it could apply to almost any twenty-something in the last thirty-five years.
Brooks says that people my age are traveling more after college, and are taking longer to get settled. Well, duh. For Brooks though, this means we’re not adults. After all, being an adult means having a stable job, getting married, and having kids. It’s his concept of adulthood that should be questioned. Settling down is not maturity.
Adults, even in Brooks definition of the word, aren’t equating their selves with their jobs anymore. When asked, “Who are you?” even the middle-aged self-identify with the activities they do rather than with their jobs. People are no longer teachers or bankers; they are poets and rock-climbers. When (or if) I get married I will be a husband; when (or if) I have a kid I will be a father. These categories do not make me more of an adult just something new.
What Brooks needs is a more fluid definition of what it means to be an adult. But maybe that’s just “the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage” in my life