The social critic Michael Barone argues that the US produces moderately impressive twenty-year-olds but very impressive thirty-year-olds. He says that the hard pressures and choices that hit people during their wide-open, unsupervised twenties forge a new and much better kind of person.
In the Social Animal, Brooks tells the story of Harold’s Odyssey years – the decade of wandering that occurs between adolescence and adulthood – and it really resonated with me. Although I’m usually in denial, I’m nearing the end of my twenties. Looking back, a lot of tough choices have been made, and I’m a much, much different person walking out on the other side.
The Odyssey years are crazy because they’re so unstructured. As Brooks says, there are no guardrails. It is completely open-ended. Who will you spend your time with? What is your vocation – your calling in life? If you don’t have an immediate calling, what career will you pursue? Will you settle in one place and integrate yourself in a community or roam about?
Oh, and free time. Over ten years, it might not seem like it when we’re all so busy, but there is a lot of free time. What will you spend it on? Will you invest it in yourself?
If you’re lucky, you exit this time of self-forgery having made choices that will give you the most happiness.
Keys to Happiness
A successful marriage
If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy.
A job or hobby that absorbs all of your abilities
Then he wanted to find some activity, either a job or a hobby, which would absorb all his abilities. He imagined himself working really hard at something, suffering setbacks and frustrations, and then seeing that sweat and toil lead to success and recognition.
Friends and community
Harold had grown up in a culture that, for forty years, had celebrated expressive individualism, self-fulfillment, and personal liberation. But he sensed (and the research backs it up) that what he needed was more community, connection, and interpenetration. He couldn’t bring out his best self alone.