The Odyssey is an epic poem, probably written by Homer, which describes the adventures of Odysseus on his ten-year journey home after the Trojan War. The Coen Brothers’ movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, is a retelling of The Odyssey, set in the American south in the 1930’s. Another version of the epic is being played out by twenty-somethings in America today.
In an article in the New York Times last fall, David Brooks wrote about a current life phase that follows childhood and adolescence, a period of roughly ten years, which precedes adulthood. This phase, which he calls “odyssey,” is the transition between student life and adult life. It is the time when adult children move in and out of everything: home, relationships, careers and school. It is a time when parents become increasingly anxious because their adult children can’t seem to decide what they want to do with their lives and get on with it. Brooks says,
“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.”
Using Brooks’ figures, fifty years ago some seventy percent of thirty-year-olds had moved away from home, become financially independent, gotten married and started a family. Ten years ago fewer than forty percent of thirty-year olds had done the same things.
There was an odyssey phase in my own life, but the only name we had for it at the time was “early mid-life crisis.” I left a terrific teaching job in my mid-twenties to take advantage of an opportunity in broadcasting. I gave up regular hours with great vacations at a job I knew how to do well for overnight shifts and a decrease in pay at a job for which I wasn’t trained. I’m sure my parents were very anxious.
It wasn’t easy for me either. I loved teaching, but I didn’t love my life. I didn’t want to be stuck in the same position ten or twenty years down the line. I wanted to try something new. When the rare opportunity for a paying gig as a performer fell right into my lap, I ran with it.
Brooks acknowledges that this is not an easy thing to do, “The odyssey years are not about slacking off. There are intense competitive pressures as a result of the vast numbers of people chasing relatively few opportunities.”
My journey into the world of radio and television lasted about six years. It was filled with the notable experiences and hardships that characterize an odyssey. I believe I am a better person for having taken the trip. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is always easy for me to watch my children as they struggle in their own odyssey years. I remember well that it is not an easy time.