I was at a networking meeting this morning and I got offended. The more I think about it, the more offended I become. It wasn't a personal attack on me or my business or even a client. It was an attack on my generation. I belong to "Gen X." I was born in the early 70s and grew up in the 80s. You've seen the "Child of the 80s" email that went around via email for years and I'm sure you've heard the characterizations and generalizations of our generation. We followed the Baby Boomers and the Hippies and they weren't quite sure what to do with us and our technology, our computers and the "dot com" era. We became "X" simply because no one knew quite how to describe us or handle us. We didn't go to college yearning to get that 9 to 5 job and wear a suit and tie to work everyday, although many of us are there now. We wanted more and we weren't afraid to ask for and search for something else, something different, something better. We went to class in flannel shirts and torn jeans and many of us still have those flannel shirts hanging in our closets.
To the older generations, it seemed like we just didn't care. The boys let their hair grow long and the girls let their skirts and shorts go shorter. We wore "Daisy Dukes" before they were Daisy Dukes. We didn't protest the war in Vietnam but we did watch the Challenger Shuttle explode on its flight. We remember "Tear Down that Wall!" We weren't around when Kennedy was shot, but we do remember when Reagan was and we remember our parents reactions to Elvis and Lennin's deaths.
But that is all our childhood. These days, many of us are married and have kids. Many of us have been in the work force for close to twenty years. We have responsibilities, employees, underlings and many of us own our own businesses. We employ the younger generation, Gen "Y" and the ones that follow. So what was it that someone said that could have offended me? Well, I will tell you.
An older woman, who admits that she has a daughter who is 30 was commenting on her practice. (I will assume, for the purposes of this blog, that she is at least 50, assuming that she had a child when she was 20.) Her practice area is employment law and she was commenting on the part of her practice that includes counseling employers on how to handle employees and also on counseling employees on how to fit into the work place and to really evaluate themselves (to see why they got fired from 4 straight jobs, for example.) In making her point, she said something about "generation X-ers" and lumped us into the group of "kids" who don't know how to conduct themselves in various employment settings. Now, I'm sure she didn't mean to offend me. In fact, she probably didn't even think about what she had said, at the time it was said. But I think it raises an interesting point. We, as Gen-X are now in a tough spot. We are still young-ish, but we are also now successful in our businesses, raising families and becoming *gasp* adults. I think it is time that society stop using the term "Gen X" to mean the kids, those just coming out of high school or college or graduate school, those without a clue (some of them) of how to live, work and survive in polite society.
I think it's easy for Baby Boomers to say "Gen X" and lump those who are younger together - but stop and think for a moment what that would mean. I graduated from college 15 years ago - that means I'm 15 years removed from what the new work force is thinking. I would certainly not put myself into a generation with them. (Generally speaking, a generation is considered to be 10 years, I think.) If we use the Baby Boomers thinking (or at least, this woman's thinking) then we could possibly lump the Hippies or Flower Children in with the Boomers and I don't think anyone would like that. Boomers were born in the mid to late 40s, a by-product of World War II. So add 15 years to that, you are in ... 1960. So let's lump them all together too. And by that same thinking, us "X"-ers could then be lumped in with the Flower Children of the late 50s. yikes!
But of course we won't. But I use that example to illustrate the interesting mindset of Boomers, even today. 20 years ago, it was easy to pick on us. We were finishing high school and going off to college, acting as if we had no cares and as if we didn't care about anyone or anything. It was easy to blame us for malaise and for taking advantage of our parents good graces. But those days are gone. Our parents are older and some need to be taken care of. We've grown up. We are no longer the "slacker generation." We have passed that mantle, but not our moniker.
So to the Boomers, I say get with it. Take notice of the fact that some of your most trusted employees might be Gen X and we've gotten older. You can't lump us in with the "kids" anymore. And to those "kids," I say don't try to be a part of our generation. We were Pepsi's "Next" Generation and Pepsi was the Choice of a New Generation - but those days have passed. You're not Gen X and you've probably missed out on Gen Y at this point to. (Geez! It just occurred to me that someone born in 1990 is now 21 - holy shit!) So I challenge you to come up with a new title, something that will define your generation for years to come. But "X" is taken.