There a myths and misconceptions about every generation, and Generation X (born 1961-1981) is certainly no exception. From our early life growing up amid the social chaos of the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, we were the original “latch key kids” who had to learn survival skills early. Now entering midlife we have seen a lot of difficult times and they don’t seem to be getting much better. One of our greatest challenges is the negative reputation our generation has gotten over the years, much of it undeserved. Here are the top misconceptions about Generation X:
- We are slackers
- We are selfish
- We have no ideals
- We are cynical
- We only care about money
- We hate our parents
- We don’t like Millennials (Gen Y)
Although many of us may aspire to be slackers, most of us really never had that choice (or at least not for long). Most Gen X’ers had to make their own way very early with little help from parents or society, so yes, we had lots of dead-end jobs and 7 year University terms. But “slacking” is equal parts not giving a damn AND not working hard. We are excellent when it comes to effectiveness: we know how to focus on the most important tasks to get things done. I heard this joke in reference to the difference between Boomers and Generation X: A Boomer says “You are lazy, I put in over 60 hours a week at my job”, X’er replies, “Yeah, that’s a shame that you work so slowly”.
The size of the tribe that we care about may be smaller than for previous generations, but we definitely don’t care only about ourselves. For many Gen X’ers we put our families and close friends above our own personal needs. This can have it’s own negative side effects, like our over-protective nature as parents. Selfish is better than self-indulgent (Boomers), IMHO.
We grew up surrounded by talk about ideals, so yeah, we are a bit tired of talking about them. Our generation wants to know how we can realistically change society for the better. We don’t see missing the ideal state as a failure and are willing to compromise ideology for practicality. But that does not mean we don’t have ideals.
Pragmatic is a better description, although we can be jaded at times. The biting cynical sarcasm of our generation’s comedians is one way we let off steam, but it does not mean we think the world is doomed. Boomers have a lock on pessimism, Millennials on optimism, so we just go with realism instead.
Again this is about our pragmatism. Maslow’s heirarchy of needs includes a bunch of things that require (at least in our society) some degree of financial stability. Much of our generation has never achieved that financial stability and so we do tend to focus on money. Some of us do forget that past a certain point that money is not going to bring more happiness, but after so many years of scrambling to make it on our own, it’s hard to find fault with that.
Our parents are mostly Silents (born 1925-1942) and Boomers (born 1943-1960) and we do have a rocky relationship with both generations. But many of our parents were quite loving and caring, although they were focused on other things during our childhood. Most of us have no problem seeing our parents as equals and are willing to forgive them for their failings. There are plenty of examples of Boomers harshly judging their X’er children which, given how we were treated growing up, is particularly ironic.
Yeah, we are the middle managers having to deal with these somewhat spoiled kids entering the workforce, but many of our children are Millennials (born 1982-200?) as well. It may take us a while to adjust to the style of Millennials, but we are more likely to understand what they are about than the Boomers who see them as the next Hero’s that will save our society (or the generation that will ruin it). Again our pragmatism is going to see us through: give us a little time with Millennials and we will figure out the way to get the best performance out of them. Barack Obama (a Gen X’er) certainly has.