Odyssey or Arc

David_brooks In the Times today, David Brooks describes a new life stage, the one that stands, he says, between adolescence and adulthood.  Odyssey, he calls it.

Odyssey is a time of upheaval and uncertainty, a transition phase. Patterns do not form.  A sense of direction is hard to come by.  Things seem suspended.

Most of all, the Odyssians experience a kind of fluidity. 

Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.


The job market is fluid. Graduating seniors don’t find corporations offering them jobs that will guide them all the way to retirement. Instead they find a vast menu of information economy options, few of which they have heard of or prepared for.

Social life is fluid. There’s been a shift in the balance of power between the genders. Thirty-six percent of female workers in their 20s now have a college degree, compared with 23 percent of male workers. Male wages have stagnated over the past decades, while female wages have risen.

I don’t doubt that Mr. Brooks is on to something.  But I do wonder whether the things he attributes to the Odyssey phase of life, the uncertainty, indeterminacy, and fluidity, are not true of all the stages of life thereafter.  Isn’t this just another way of talking about the dynamism that has descended on us all?

Mr. Brooks says it is "possible even for baby boomers to understand what it’s like to be in the middle of the odyssey years."  But exactly.  Living in a cultural and political regime that turn on a time, occupying industries and corporations that may or may not be around in 5 years from now, vulnerable by international politics and globalized economies that can intrude at any moment, boomers don’t need to be paragons of empathy to know what it’s like to be an Odyssian. They live this condition most all the time. 

I have great respect for Mr. Brooks, but on this assignment I couldn’t help wondering, "Where is Virginia Postrel when you need her."


Brooks, David.  2007.  The Odyssey Years.  The New York Times.  October 9, 2007. here

1 thought on “Odyssey or Arc

  1. SusanA

    “the dynamism that has descended on us all?” — this really resonates for me. It’s a feeling almost like vertigo, or having had waaaayyy too many cups of coffee. it’s almost impossible to move some days because things are just so fluid. There may indeed be a new stage of life, but I think you are right about how adulthood now feels.

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