i’ve been seeing a lot of theory and discussion in the news and at professional events about dealing with “the Millenials,” the incorrigible, impatient, job-hopping, gadget wielding, full-grown children that make up something like 14% of the American work force. i saw a hilarious speaker at a conference in Denver and then saw him again, along with some other millenials and the consultants who explain them to the rest of us, on a re-run of 60 minutes last night in the witching hour of my insomnia. Jason Dorsey is a millenial himself, belly-laughing funny and fairly self-actualized among his peers. i think he and his ilk have a bit to learn about how life busts through our convenient constructs and post-adolescent worldviews to sharpen and hone our “insight.” and while he very well nails the characteristics of many generations, his focus is largely on bending our world to fit Gen Y’s sense of adventure and entitlement. i’m sure great things will come (have come) from the positive they bring to the grown up table….but right now, they’d still like us to cut their meat into bite sized pieces and congratulate them for proper use of their flintstones forks. and i say that with all due respect (they also believe they are due tremendous amounts of respect). these aren’t my bitter observations, i take this from their own descriptions of themselves.
i’m not here to write an indictment of the generation behind me…that would be so Gen X of me, according to mr. dorsey. i’m writing this morning as a gen x-er wondering what the hell happened to all of us? there are hardly any of us to begin with…we fall under a golf umbrella full of baby boomers, and float above a burgeoning bubble packed with as many Gen Y-ers. we are representatives of a baby bust that right now, has us (me) pouting like a middle child, feeling ignored, being ignored. even marketing tactics and campaign ads skip right over us…is it because we are such a small demographic? or because we are harder to reach and convince as a flock? because tapping into our individualism is harder than selling to sheep?
ok, to clarify, i’m not bitter enough (yet) to call everyone above and below me “sheeple.” (which would also very Gen X of me). i’m just ruminating on what “they’ve” named as the salient characteristics of my generation. my anecdotal experience as one of us among us relates back to many a crappy-east-village-apartment conversation, fueled by discontent, the birth of the latte and a boom and bust economy booming and busting every few years while we postured and positioned ourselves to change the world, or at least survive into our 30’s. most notably…we are resourceful, individualistic and mistrusting of authority. most of us came home from school to empty houses and two-income parents, or two homes with single income parents. we watched our politicians lie about arms sales and political maneuvers, and then wiggle themselves out of trouble with nothing but speeches full of plausible deniability. we heard them hawk some doublespeak called “trickle down economics” and watched rock ‘n’ roll bring down authoritarianism in Berlin and the Soviet Union.
we know how to work hard but we are judicious in our application of effort. we are the generation that coined the aphorism, “we work to live, we don’t live to work,” which has been and still is a mantra for me. we like flexibility and freedom, especially from micromanagement. we explore a lot of ideas, are very diverse and tolerant of different lifestyles. that all sounds great to me…i like us! except that we’ve been lost in a loud milieu of baby boomers and baby-faced millenials clamoring to secure what they feel are entitlements. as Gen X-ers, that means footing the Social Security bill for our boomers, on the backs of few laborers, and coddling the fragile egos and short attention spans of a huge wave of young adults ready to become our bosses…tomorrow. we are the last generation to believe we would have Social Security as part of a retirement deal, and the first generation to watch that promise fall apart. the millenials behind us have assumed all along that it won’t be there, and that they might not even pay into it very long as adults, while we’ve watched the cut come out of our paychecks since our first job at the mall. the Feds even sent us very official looking statements every year, tracking every dollar, and telling us how inadequate but helpful a sum we would garner from uncle sam in our lifetime of career-building and tax-paying.
how did we get here? i remember, way back in my dim apartment, as i went to and fro from a 9-5 job and most of my friends worked the social scene at Tower Records for their paychecks, i used to be accused of “going to work for the man.” later when i landed in civil service, i’d really crossed over to the darkside. i was frustrated, caught between the post-depression era, authority loving, well-ordered upbringing i experienced as the last of seven in a huge irish-catholic family, and my Gen-X urge to tell the boomers and above to bugger off. still, there was one concept that stuck in my craw…i preached about it then and see what i think are the unfortunate ramifications today…i’d say “don’t you want someone on the inside? if we refuse to deal with ‘the man’ won’t we just abdicate all of our control.” our disaffected affectations, our free-spirited wanderings have left us with little but our signature under-breath grumbling and a dearth of peers to admire. we spent the first 15 years of our careers waiting for the boomers’ 401ks to send them into well-funded retirements, leaving us a few of the reigns to take without much fight. we spend our time now still listening to indie music and wondering if they will ever retire and how we will fund them and their arthritis treatments when they do.
so are we going to die grumbling under our breaths in defiant support of our individuality? will we ever coalesce into a group loud enough to claim our position in a world of the boisterously entitled? will we languish as the middle children of a 20th century brood of pundits and lobbyists? i wish i knew how to move us, get us together, make us loud. we didn’t practice community, though we appreciate it. we were never promised wholeness…and we certainly eschew the herd mentality. so how do we make ourselves whole and he(a)rd? someone told me there is a revolution coming. i’ve been hearing that since before my first piercing. my generation substituted individual rebellion for revolution, found The White Album on vinyl and got tattoos accepted in the workplace. we rocked…but we rolled no heads. if there is one legacy i know i will live and leave, it’s that i will keep rockin’…right into my rockin’ chair…the one the millenials design for me.