We’re at a bit of a hot spot culturally now. As a leadership coach and consultant, I’ve been watching this play out in the workplace for nearly two decades and now it’s spilling into our political arenas, sporting events and everywhere else.
What was originally low-key frustration with what the established generation (the Baby Boomers, aka Boomers, aka folks born between 1946 and 1964) saw as a sense of entitlement and need of hand-holding has continued to simmer. Those Millennials (you know, the folks born between 1981 and 1996) are such overparented, coddled weaklings. They expect everything to be handed to them. No sense of working their way up the ladder.
Well guess what? Those ‘kids’ are not kids anymore…they’re managers now, and leaders, and parents. And guess what, Boomers? They’ve stopped asking for your help. They’ve experienced too many times your eye-rolling at their requests for mentoring or accommodation for what you think are frivolous requests.
Meanwhile, all us GenXers are off here somewhat to the side, watching the war between the generations heat up. After nearly twenty years of being told that they’re weak, entitled, and participation-trophy-seeking, the Millennials are starting to fight back. Albeit in typically passive aggressive fashion and with predictably hilarious memes, but still…it’s a fight.
And really, can we 100% blame them? After all, the Boomers wrecked, in no particular order; the economy, the 2-parent home, the environment, our faith in anything beyond our own self-actualization, and our ability to trust anybody or anything, and now they’re throwing stones. But I can’t help noticing a silence in the room.
Where are the Gen Xers?
We’re the forgotten generation with everyone being so wrapped up in Boomer/Snowflake thing, but I had this thought today that maybe we hold the key to peace.
Who are we?
We’re the latchkey kids of the 80’s. We were possibly the last generation ever that was allowed to go outside and play all day and ride bikes without helmets. We were the last generation that was allowed to get hurt.
We grew up in a unique time in our culture where there was acknowledgement of institutionalized unfairness, but also a sense that the system was overall pretty decent, in that if you worked hard, you got ahead. Yeah, as a double X chromosome-holder it was a given that I’d have to work harder to be taken seriously in male-dominated arenas, but the possibility was there.
Social awareness was arising as we grew. We had after school specials about being nice to kids with disabilities, and that everyone was the same under their skin, and that it was what was inside that counted. We also had some pretty heavy stuff in our ‘very special episodes’…Arnold and Dudley got molested by the weird bike shop owner, Alex Keaton got briefly addicted to amphetamines, and someone on Facts of Life was regularly doing something that required a ‘very special episode’. So although we weren’t protected from the slightly dark underbelly of life, we also were taught that everything could be resolved by either talking about it or working hard.
Materially. It was a strange time. We were the kids whose parents were all getting divorced and we were always scared it might happen to us. And we were scared of Russians dropping ‘the big one’ on us. And Carl Sagan told us we were nothing but star dust which sounds cool but is kind of scary.
But we also got microwaves and Game Boys, and portable phones, and fax machines, and personal computers.
Most of us were teenagers before the internet (thank God), but we adapted (as best we could) and are fairly comfortable walking both worlds. We hate social media, but we’re on it all the time.
Our generation was told we could have it all, and we believed it. We internalized the work ethic of the Boomers, but rejected the company-man mentality. We adopted the rugged individualism that said we could have a job that paid the bills AND fulfilled us. We didn’t expect to retire from the same company that hired us right out of high school.
I’m convinced that’s why so many of us GenXers have chosen the entrepreneurial road. We have no appetite for corporate America, and no problem putting in the hours that startups require. So I think a lot of us just opted out and left the workplace to our parents and eventually our kids.
Because some of us parented the very Millennials we’re always complaining about. (Others of us are raising kids along with the Millennials and feeling slightly superior that we don’t take to FB to ask the ‘hive mind’ about every rash, sniffle, or sleep trend.)
But I’m wondering if we aren’t needed now more than ever. I’m wondering if our very unique experience isn’t what’s required to bridge that chasm between Boomers and Millennials. I mean, we’re pretty jaded as a group, so we totally see the downfalls each group, and ourselves, but I think we can also see the good in both.
I’ve always appreciated that the younger generation actually wants to be mentored and wants to be freer thinking and build new boxes to think outside of. GenXers don’t see that as threatening. On the other hand, we also still have a very solid belief that to the victor go the spoils, and in competition and working for what we have. We’ve been out of the office using our gifts in our own businesses. Many of the younger generations are also fueling the gig economy, but I see the GenXers as pioneering a lot of it.
Many if not most of my age-mates have started coaching, consulting, or other businesses and many others are on the brink. I think that generational coaching is something we are very uniquely qualified to help with. Actually, I think we may be the only hope, lest our emerging generations trade their autonomy, creativity, work ethic and the fruits of their labor for a false promise of stability and provision that has been missing in their lives for too long.
So if you watched Goonies on the big screen when it first came out, you KNOW not to feed a Mogwai after midnight, you had dayglo plastic bracelets, and loved the Material Girl before she turned British then consider this your call to arms to help bridge the gap.
Coaching and consulting is greatly needed to help the generations communicate more effectively, appreciate each other, and build something worth saving for the generations to follow!
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