Debut of the Mini Column

One of the stranger things about me is that I have a favorite New York Times writer.

Oh yes, I have issues.

My guy’s name is David Brooks. I don’t agree with all of his politics, but he has a sharp eye for social trends. In Tuesday’s paper he wrote a piece about the journey that today’s young people go on from birth to death. Here is the lead paragraph:

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.

Right on, Brooks. (I can call him that. Like I said, we have this serious one-sided relationship.) My generation views life as six phases. Our parents grew up in a world with four. Our grandparents had three. Adolescence is new too.

I know there are parents out there who pressure their kids to have a four-phase life, but I am amazed by how many of my friends’ parents are not guilt-tripping them over their six-phase lives. Thanks to Brooks’ column, I’m starting to understand why.

Childhood, Adolescence, Adulthood and Old Age are life phases where your choices are not altogether yours. Your life options are limited by something – your parents, your education, your spouse, your kids, your mortgage, your health, etc.

The two life phases in which you are free to do what you like are Odyssey and Active Retirement. My generation is on the first mass Odyssey. Our parents are entering the first mass Active Retirement, which we might as well call Second Odyssey. We’re both on a freedom trip together, and both sides respect the other’s choice, because we have made the same one.

What’s more, our parents are the first generation to get two new life phases – Adolescence and Active Retirement – in one life. They have no room to talk. And to their credit, few of them have.

Read Brooks’ column here.