David Brooks, the sad but harmless sweater-wearing divorced guy who likes to give your kids advice gleaned from inspirational office posters, is—astonishingly—still employed as a prestigious newspaper columnist.
This, despite the fact that his output over the past year or so has descended into an absolute state of fact-free platitude-spouting about morality that rivals Teen Hour at a “hip” Christian church in its commitment to soft-spoken preachiness. Here is David Brooks’ column today, published in America’s most respected news outlet. “How Adulthood Happens.” Can you find any really useful conclusions (as opposed to “vague ethical prescriptions and impressions based upon the likely useless ponderings of David Brooks”) in it?
Every society has its rites of passage, marking the transition from youth to adulthood. Most of these rites of passage are ritualized and structured, with adult supervision and celebration. But the major rite of passage in our society is unritualized, unstructured and unnamed. Most of the people in the middle of it don’t even know it is going on. It happens between ages 22 and 30.
Meanwhile, colleges have become socially rich, stocked with student centers, student organizations, expensive gyms, concerts and activities. As Arum’s and Roksa’s research demonstrates, academic life is of secondary or tertiary importance to most students. Social life comes first. Students experience college as a place to meet other people and learn to build relationships.
In the meantime, many spend the first few years out of college aspiring but adrift. They are largely unattached to religious institutions. Two-thirds report that they are not politically engaged. Half the students in Arum’s and Roksa’s recent study reported that they lacked clear goals or a sense of direction two years after graduation.
As emerging adults move from job to job, relationship to relationship and city to city, they have to figure out which of their meanderings are productive exploration and which parts are just wastes of time. This question is very confusing from the inside, and it is certainly confusing for their parents.
Yet here is the good news. By age 30, the vast majority are through it. The sheer hardness of the “Odyssey Years” teaches people to hustle. The trials and errors of the decade carve contours onto their hearts, so they learn what they love and what they don’t. They develop their own internal criteria to make their own decisions. They fear what other people think less because they learn that other people are not thinking about them; they are busy thinking about themselves.
Finally, they learn to say no. After a youth dazzled by possibilities and the fear of missing out, they discover that committing to the few things you love is a sort of liberation. They piece together their mosaic.
One thing we can tell young grads and their parents is that this is normal. This phase is a thing. It’s a not a sentence to a life of video games, loneliness and hangovers. It’s a rite of passage that makes people strong.
WHAT IS THIS COLUMN ABOUT? ANYTHING??
Kids, David Brooks went from writing seventh grade “Life Skills” textbooks to being published by the New York Times—and so can you.