November, 2007

Good morning!

I recently came across the article below by David Brooks of the New York Times. It speaks to something that I have been pondering for some time, the challenge of the 20-somethings to settle down and 'be normal.' Don't get me wrong, my life journey has been anything but normal. It has truly truly been a blast! But I have been curious as to what motivates and challenges those in their 20s. Having three boys, two in their 20s, has provided me with a window into this wonderful yet quite confusing period of life. Happily, the elder two, who went to school in Manhattan, continue to pursue their passion for music. Their rock band the Epochs, well, rocks. www.theepochs.com They bring to their music great creativity, an amazing work ethic, immense talent, and a team orientation that is very impressive indeed. Our one consistent prayer for our three was that they would find a passion, something that excites and motivates them. This seems to be happening not just with the band but with our youngest as well who loves golf and plays NCAA D-1 in college. Quite a different area of interest, but a similar intensity in the passion department! I love and celebrate their respective paths, full of life and questions.

Life is a journey. Whether you read Hesse's Siddhartha, Homer's Odyssey or Jack Kerouac's On the Road, you notice that we human beings are always in search of something, of a place, an idea, an experience, a relationship. Something that will complete us and help us to understand who we are and for what we were created. Part of what keeps us alive and growing is this desire to go deeper, to be better, and to find things which make us come alive. My observation is that when we stop questing, we die.

I picked up an 86-year-old friend from England yesterday at Dulles Airport in Washington. Dr. Donald Drew, a confirmed bachelor and lover of great literature and music, spends almost a month with us each year. I met this accomplished mountain climber in Switzerland in the 70s, and he has enriched our lives ever since. His faith is robust, meaning that he loves God but also appreciates the mystery and the questions as well. He is a grateful man, feeling that his journey has been full of great opportunity and challenge, needed ingredients for the rich salad of life! One of the many things I love about this friend is his forward-looking approach to life. He is hardly waiting to die. The first question he asked as we road back to our home was whether he should write another book. Donald has already written several, including one on film and another, a unique compilation of exchanges between him and university students concerning the life issues of college existence.

Whether you would describe your life as a journey or as a story, it is quite unique. In fact, I would say that if you look closely at your story, you might see the fingerprints of God, quietly urging and directing your quite original journey. As G.K. Chesterton, the English literary giant, once observed: I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.

People today are too busy to hear the stories of others. How very sad. We are missing something big if we fail to listen to the stories of those important to us. Thanksgiving offers a special moment to change that pattern and to listen. Part of what I love about Jesus as I read about him in the Gospel narrative is that he took the time to hear the stories of others. He was less about transmitting and more about listening. Less is more when you are discussing things of the heart.

Stay curious, keep a vivid imagination, and delight in the stories of others and of your own.

"I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into?" J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Happy Thanksgiving, may it be a great time to discover the richness of those around your table.

Gratefully, Doug


The Odyssey Years
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: October 9, 2007
David Brooks
The Way We Live Now

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. During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.

Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there's bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don't even detect a clear sense of direction in their children's lives. They look at them and see the things that are being delayed. They see that people in this age bracket are delaying marriage. They're delaying having children. They're delaying permanent employment. People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments: moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family. In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.

Yet with a little imagination it's possible even for baby boomers to understand what it's like to be in the middle of the odyssey years. It's possible to see that this period of improvisation is a sensible response to modern conditions. Two of the country's best social scientists have been trying to understand this new life phase. William Galston of the Brookings Institution has recently completed a research project for the Hewlett Foundation. Robert Wuthnow of Princeton has just published a tremendously valuable book, "After the Baby Boomers" that looks at young adulthood through the prism of religious practice.

Through their work, you can see the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage. Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods, Wuthnow observes, but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. 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.

Dating gives way to Facebook and hooking up. Marriage gives way to cohabitation. Church attendance gives way to spiritual longing. Newspaper reading gives way to blogging. (In 1970, 49 percent of adults in their 20s read a daily paper; now it's at 21 percent.)

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.

This has fundamentally scrambled the courtship rituals and decreased the pressure to get married. Educated women can get many of the things they want (income, status, identity) without marriage, while they find it harder (or, if they're working-class, next to impossible) to find a suitably accomplished mate.

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. Moreover, surveys show that people living through these years have highly traditional aspirations (they rate parenthood more highly than their own parents did) even as they lead improvising lives.

Rather, what we're seeing is the creation of a new life phase, just as adolescence came into being a century ago. It's a phase in which some social institutions flourish -- knitting circles, Teach for America -- while others -- churches, political parties -- have trouble establishing ties.

But there is every reason to think this phase will grow more pronounced in the coming years. European nations are traveling this route ahead of us, Galston notes. Europeans delay marriage even longer than we do and spend even more years shifting between the job market and higher education.

And as the new generational structure solidifies, social and economic entrepreneurs will create new rites and institutions. Someday people will look back and wonder at the vast social changes wrought by the emerging social group that saw their situations first captured by "Friends" and later by "Knocked Up."

 

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