A 24-year old reporter quits a prestigous job with a national television network and blogs his “cri de coeur.” Within 24 hours, his post — Why I Quit My Job – goes viral. Most commentators line up for or against his views on politics and the media. Some of us want to vote for him or hire him. Others vilify him. Many offer to play Thelma to his Louise on his cross-country sojourn. His former media colleagues retort with articles on why they haven’t quit their jobs (like this one) and a string of tweets attacking his critique of their profession.
But he’s not looking for a debate or a fight. He isn’t seeking approval and doesn’t see himself as a desperado. He’s taking a stand. At this time in his life, he’s simply looking for greater congruence — a tighter connection between who he is and what he does. He suspects he’s not a journalist but is likely a storyteller of a different kind. “I need to better myself spiritually, physically, and intellectually to effect meaningful change in the world around me,” he writes. He’s ready for an epic road trip — to return to the place where he is most himself and to be with the people who know him best. To go home.
The odyssey years
There is an important piece of this story missing from the commentary. Kai Nagata is in his odyssey years. Odyssey is to young adulthood what play is to childhood: necessary work. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about this emergent developmental stage in this classic column from 2007: “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.”
Brooks observes that the older generation interprets the actions of young adults differently. Some as a rejection of their values and choices. Others see their behaviour as evidence of a failure to launch and accept responsibilities. Still others blame themselves (and each other) for encouraging their children to follow their bliss instead of providing more practical advice about living as an adult in the real world.
A time of improvisation
But it is possible, Brooks writes, to see that this period of improvisation as a sensible response to modern conditions — economic, political, social and environmental challenges that call us to continuous reflection and reinvention.
This is a time unlike any other in human history, demanding that we listen carefully to what is needed most and how each of us is best equipped to respond individually and collectively. It is also a time like all others. Young people have always had the greatest capacity to see what’s wrong with society and to agitate for social change. They can be counted on to provide fuel and oxygen for the fires of reform.
A different example
Many who are twice Kai’s age live in denial of this fact or in fear of being unmasked as imposters in their workplaces. At midlife, a painful realization can set in that sparks a crisis in identity often experienced as deep dissatisfaction with work and relationships.
Kai sets a different example. He writes of an undeniable impulse pulling him toward work focused on real problems and a collegial community that asks him to act on — not hide – his real opinions. He also has a mature homing instinct. He already knows the value of stepping back, relocating himself in the bigger picture, and moving forward from that new place. He intuitively understands what’s involved in renewal and is not shying away from the hard work of beginnings and endings, developing skills that will help him avoid a midlife crash or spring back more quickly in a period of vocational drift.
Choosing a track
Kai is an adult, albeit younger than many of us, and he is leading like one — by speaking in his own voice, practicing reflection, engaging in respectful dialogue, and acting from a place of principle. He’s writing and rewriting his own story, crafting a narrative that packs a punch powered by truth and sincerity. As one veteran reporter tweeted, “You know how political consultants are keen on crafting a ‘narrative’ for candidates? Would be hard to top this one.”
Kai’s recent performance in the public arena proves he doesn’t need a consultant to write a storyline for him. He’s authoring his own life. This ambitious young man is not on the fast track to political office. He’s on the right track to change the world.