The Odyssey of Gomer

My good friend Fergus from the North of England sent me a link to this David Brooks column in the NYTimes.

In it, Brooks observes:

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.

Brooks’ observations ring true for me. And although he says this phenomenon primarily exists among those born after 1964, my experience lines up perfectly with what he describes. The only difference is that my “Odyssey” phase lasted only five years (1982-1986) rather than a full decade.

In those years I broke off an engagement, dropped out of college (twice), bought and sold a red corvette, tried a variety of disparate jobs, a moved frequently (which wasn’t difficult because you could fit pretty much everything I owned in my little, post-corvette car.)

The emergence of this “odyssey” phase is easy to understand in the light of the explosion of choice our freedom and prosperity has delivered to the typical 21 year old. Never in history have 20-somethings had so many life-path options from which to choose. And as the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less pointed out, increased choice doesn’t lead to corresponding increases in happiness.

This “Gomer” from rural Oklahoma found his way through his odyssey, in no small part due to a praying mother and the gracious hand of Providence. And in an era of predicted increasing lifespans, perhaps a 10 year odyssey for most people isn’t such a bad thing.