2015 is a golden year. Generation X (b. 1965-1980) is turning the big 5-0. I’m sure we can expect the commensurate celebration, befitting such an august event. The requisite fanfare – news headlines, Today Show features, twitter trends, and blog posts – denoting this epic sociological milestone. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake might even rap about it.
You know Gen X right? Best known for cynicism, grunge, and Monica Lewinsky – now there’s a trifecta to be proud of – Xers are the forgotten souls of the generation lineage overshadowed and overpowered by their Baby Boomer (b. 1946-1964) and Millennial (b. 1981-2000) siblings.
As an elder statesman of my generation (soon to be 50 myself) and a guy who studies generations for a living, I can’t help but notice the raw deal we get. In many ways, Generation X is the middle child of generations – struggling to get noticed, fighting for some type of identity, and wishing for something other than hand-me-down Jordache Jeans.
Well the modern-day Lost Generation is here to finally claim its due. As we hit our economic, cultural, and even political prime, Gen X has become a force to be reckoned with. No longer can we be cast aside as inconsequential generational misfits. In other words, we will no longer play Jan to the Baby Boomer’s Marsha.
When it comes to generational philosophy, we are the yin to their yang. Most Millennials were raised by Boomers. They share an abundance of similar attributes many of which are none too flattering. To wit; in 1976 New York magazine ran a cover story about Boomers titled, “The Me Decade” lamenting the newest generation’s focus on self-aggrandizement. Fast forward to Time magazine’s 2013 cover story about Millennials titled, “The Me, Me, Me Generation.” You can probably guess what that article was all about. As they say, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.
And while Gen X certainly wasn’t exempt from coming of age scorn, we never counted arrogance, entitlement, and self-promotion among our vices. In fact, just the opposite, in a recent study of volunteer rates, Gen X ranked higher than our flashier generational siblings.
Actually, one could say Gen X has inherited the mantle of the Greatest Generation. And here’s why. Just like a middle child, we’ve had to fight harder, with less attention, and withstand the constant neglect of those around us. As a result, you will find Gen X simply goes about its business and gets stuff done. Image is not as important; it’s all about results. We have no generational reputation, so we have to prove ourselves every day.
The world of technology is emblematic of the dynamic. Let’s free associate. When I say tech giants, what names do I typically get? Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg. Boomer. Boomer. Millennial. Rarely do I hear Larry Page and Sergy Brin, but they did start a little company you may have heard of. (If you don’t know them, Google their names). Boomers and Millennials seem to attract attention like moths to a light, but Gen X is right there making it happen. What’s fascinating is to learn where much of this dynamic came from.
Raised by the heroes of WWII, our older sibling Baby Boomers were pre-ordained to change the world. Growing up, primarily in the 50s, life was idyllic, family-focused and captured perfectly in shows like Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. Aw shucks.
When they hit their stride, Boomers did change the world – Woodstock, Vietnam protests, and Counter-Culture were all Boomer-backed movements. Even at their now advanced 50+ age, their sheer size and influence are affecting health care, social security, and more.
Our kid siblings – the Millennials – get all the attention. Raised in a world where every child was “special,” they have entered adulthood expecting the same type of ubiquitous recognition. And whether you love them or hate them, they are everywhere. From how we are shopping, to how we are working, to how we are living, much of life now has to be “Millennialized” to fit America’s spotlight-stealing generation.
So here we are, stuck in the middle. Born and raised in the late 60s and 70s when the focus was not on children but on the massive social, political, and cultural upheaval of the day, nobody paid much attention to Gen X. We were latch key kids in both practice and spirit. Mom was working, Dad was protesting; we ate Twinkies and watched Speed Racer all alone.
We grew up believing the expression that children should be “seen but not heard” and that sentiment stuck with us beyond our youth. Whether through happenstance, coincidence, or benign neglect, we always seemed to be on the outside looking in. Too young for Vietnam and too old for Iraq, most of us are not defined by a war we may have fought in. Bill Clinton was a Boomer icon, and the Millennials helped sweep Obama into office, but we don’t identify any of our Presidents as products of Gen X.
So what’s it all mean? What we lack in flash, we make up for in action. It’s the proverbial story of Goldilocks and the three bears; our generation may be “just right.” Neither too bold, overly confident, nor conspicuously consumptive like the Boomers, or too naïve, inexperienced, and brash like the Millennials, Gen X is the perfect balance. Like that quiet guy sitting in the corner, taking it all in, and then dropping some serious knowledge on the group, we speak softly and carry a big stick. We are built on character and resilience and fierce independence. Every day, more Xers are becoming CEOs, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and visionaries. We’ll have our day as President in the next election or two.
And I can tell you this: if you’re looking for someone who can get the job done, someone who can put their nose to the grindstone and take care of business, a generation that counts grit, determination, and common sense among its values, look no further than Generation X. You just may have to look pretty hard to find us. But we’re there, sandwiched between that old dude who longs for his big hair and the young lady taking a selfie – right in the middle – holding it all together. Happy 50th dear friend. Now get back to work.