Gen X and the Eat, Pray Love Effect

This recent article in the Christian Science Monitor got me to thinking about the way us Gen X’er go about parenting. Back in 2006 our family did just what the article mentioned: we sold a house, our cars, pulled the kids from school and traveled around the world for 6 months (see the stories about our travels here if you are interested). Now I had never heard of Eat, Pray, Love at that time, but I can see why people would make a connection. The thing is that the character in the book was a single woman, not a family. So how do you explain that families (who have a LOT more ties to the ordinary life) are the ones described leaving the rat race? I realize it is just an article is more about anecdotal evidence, but it does seem to be a leap to think that someone with two kids and a house in ‘burbs would be inspired by it and pack their bags.

I think a better explanation is that [X] parents are sigk of running on the treadmill of life (designed by previous generations) and don’t really trust anyone else to educate their kids (as any grade school teacher about this if you don’t believe me). So they decide to do it their own way. Gen X’ers are the ultimate individualists, willing to go it alone and damn the perceptions.

I can’t tell you how many times before, during and after our travels that we got asked, “What did you do for the kids educations?”. My answer depended on my mood at the time. Sometimes I would mention that they went to school in Australia for part of the trip (true, but they both didn’t learn a thing at that particular school). Other times I would answer that they were only in 4th grade and kindergarten respectively, so they really didn’t miss that much. Most of the time I would go with the cheeky answer by stating, “I already mentioned we traveled the World for six months!” After all, Caleb (who was ten at the time) learned a fair bit of Thai and even some Arabic on our travels. When we returned home he was a behind in one subject: violin (which he never really caught up in after that).

I suspect our reasons for dropping everything and traveling were much like our fellow Gen X’ers: We just wanted to do something different and didn’t really care what anyone else thought.

BTW, if you ask our Millennial (born 1982-2004) kids whether they would do the trip again now, they both reply “No Way!”. We hit it at a great age but they are not interesting in doing it again now…

Nomads and Commanders

I just read this very interesting article about generations from the Society for American Archaeology. The author, Lawrence E. Moore does an excellent job of describing [X] role in society at this time. It provides a great overview of the generational cycles and the specifics of Generation X. I also like the “mythical characters” table – a fun way to describe the archetypes.

This paragraph is particularly instructive:

Reactives [Generation X] are best understood as Nomads and Commanders with keen analytical, management, and writing skills. Nomads wander geography, but also the mind, the soul, and the heart. As they have no cultural agenda other than survival they are not wedded to any theory or methodology. Nomads will pursue concepts that are productive toward planned goals; they will even abandon useful concepts in the desire to experiment with others.
Previous reactive scientists include biologists Alfred Wallace, Thomas Huxley, Julian Huxley, and Francis Galton, economists Friedrich Hayek and Karl Polanyi, and geographer Carl Sauer. There is nothing wrong with being classified with these thinkers even as some of them pursued concepts that are generally unacceptable today (Social Darwinism, eugenics). More than other generations, nomads explore all corners of life, its wonderful pleasures (Mae West) and its darkest powers (Adolf Hitler).

Watch out Teachers: Gen X is gunning for you…

Our kids have attended Waldorf Schools since they were kindergarten and because of my involvement at the schools I have been noticing a troubling shift in the parent body. As more [X] parents arrive at the school, replacing Boomer (born 1943-1960) parents, the demands placed on teachers are become more extreme.

I will write something specific to Waldorf schools soon, but for now I want to mention a trend I am seeing at several schools and ask whether this is something going on in other school systems. As Gen X’ers start to make up the majority of the parent body (which is happening in 7th or 8th grade and below right now) they are placing very individualistic demands on teachers. This seems to crop up most in 5th or 6th grade when kids are starting to assert their independence (perhaps this happens earlier in public schools?) and can start complaining to their parents about their school experience. This is when I have seen the Gen X parents getting aggravated with the teacher (and the school administration) if their child’s “needs” are not addressed to their satisfaction. Parents may recruit other parents to their cause and may apply pressure in many ways, ranging from talking in the parking lot to suing the school.

I have written before about Gen X parents, and the reasons for our challenging nature have to do with how we were raised. Generation X were the original “Latchkey kids“, raised during times when the focus was on adult issues (such as civil rights, womens rights, nuclear proliferation, etc…) and we bear the scars of having to fend for ourselves. Many Gen X’ers have promised themselves that this won’t happen to their kids and are over-protective of them as a result. We were also failed by institutions (which were crumbling during much of our youth) and have a deep mistrust of them as a result. That means we hold individuals accountable instead of organizations (which we figure will probably just screw up anyway). So we tend to blame individuals (teachers or administrators in this case) and we expect the institutions to fail in resolving issues.

The results of these actions is that teachers are under intense pressure to perform. In many cases teachers may be forced out of schools by a small band of Gen X parents. This trend has been so consistent in several schools I am associated with that I wondered if it was a larger trend. I want to hear from readers on their experience. Have you seen this sort of pressure placed on elementary school teachers recently? Have teachers in your school district been forced out?

If you are new to generational research, go to my “start here” page for a primer.

Generation X: Badboys to the Last

Remember that cute little kid on Family Ties?


The actor that played him, Brian Bonsall, was born at the end of 1981, putting him right on the cusp of [X]. It appears after his acting career he has lived up to the expectations/stereotype of the generation. Here’s his most recent photo:

Now Brian Bonsall

This is a mugshot from his recent arrest for assault. Looks like he is really living into the badboy image of Gen X.

More Silent Disdain for Gen X’er Palin

Although I think it’s very cool that a gal from the Silent (born 1925-1942) Generation would have their own blog (and a good one, at that), I am amazed at the amount of vitriol that Helen of “Margaret and Helen” has for Sarah Palin. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of Palin, but Helen’s diatribe on Palin is mostly about how she has “no substance” and low morals. Martha Stewart (also a Silent, but younger than Helen) said something similar. The question is whether the massive voting block of conservative [X] really cares about those sorts of things. I often wonder why people have such a hatred of Palin. I get that people don’t like her ideas (I certainly don’t care for them). I get that some are offended by her approach. But could it be because she is an independent-minded woman who doesn’t seem to give a damned what anyone else thinks?

Generation X: Fight Club Revisited

This interesting article from Huffington Post suggests that the movie Fight Club was “prescient” by showing just how cynical our society has become. It’s great to see this movie (one of my favorites of all time) to receive credit for capturing the spirit of [X].

And watching Fight Club, ten years later, with all  that we have available to us, it seems even more prescient. For better and often for worse, we’ve become even more disconnected from ourselves. And even more narcissistic. People text, they twitter, they communicate online instead of talk on the phone or in person.

Fight Club is one of my favorite movies of all time and I think many Gen X’ers (males especially) feel the same way. It captures both the survivalism and nihilism that were the bread and butter of those times. One particularly strong theme is how the young men in the movie are so emasculated that the only way they can feel alive is to beat each other senseless.

The author of the book that the movie was based upon, Chuck Palanhiuk, is the proto-typical Gen X’er himself (he is a Portland native). Check out his wikipedia entry.

He worked as a tech writer (for an old-guard technology company in Portland) for many years, and I think many of the scenes in Fight Club are drawn from that experience. He is a pretty twisted guy, and he definitely goes for shock value. Note this part of the Wikipedia entry:

While on his 2003 tour to promote his novel Diary, Palahniuk read to his audiences a short story titled “Guts”, a tale of accidents involving masturbation, which appears in his book Haunted. It was reported that to that point, 40 people had fainted while listening to the readings.[14] Playboy magazine would later publish the story in their March 2004 issue; Palahniuk offered to let them publish another story along with it, but the publishers found the second work too disturbing. On his tour to promote Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories in the summer of 2004, he read the story to audiences again, bringing the total number of fainters up to 53, and later up to 60, while on tour to promote the softcover edition of Diary. In the fall of that year, he began promoting “Haunted”, and continued to read “Guts”. At his October 4, 2004 reading in Boulder, Colorado, Palahniuk noted that, after that day, his number of fainters was up to 68. The last fainting occurred on May 28, 2007, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where 5 people fainted, one of which occurred when a man was trying to leave the auditorium, which resulted in him falling and hitting his head on the door. Palahniuk is apparently not bothered by these incidents, which have not stopped fans from reading “Guts” or his other works. Audio recordings of his readings of the story have since circulated on the Internet. In the afterword of the latest edition of “Haunted”, Palahniuk reports that “Guts” is now responsible for 73 faintings.

David Fincer did an amazing job directing the adaptation of Fight Club. If you read the book you would swear there is no way they could make a movie out of it. But I wonder if Fincer can capture the Millennial (born 1982-2004) theme with The Social Network. The author of this article seems to think that the Millennials are the ones living out the Fight Club nihilism, when it is in fact the X’ers heading into middle age.

Martha Stewart Grumpy about Generation X’ers

Martha Stewart (born 1941, making her part of the Silent (born 1925-1942)) seems to be quite judgemental about [X]. Listen to her comments about X’er Rachael Ray:

And next about X’er Sarah Palin:

I suppose the high moral ground that Martha occupies gives her right to judge her juniors. Her attitude seems more Boomer (born 1943-1960) than Silent to me.

Is Generation X Really Disengaged?

This article in City Journal suggests that the characterization of [X] as disengaged politically is not true. They cite a survey from National Conference on Citizenship (download the report in PDF format). It’s an interesting take on the civic attitude of generations. They have stats from their surveys showing that Generation X is just as likely to volunteer or donate as Millennial (born 1982-2004) and even more so than Boomer (born 1943-1960). Their birth years for the generations differ from the ones I use (based on the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss), but they are close enough.

So what is going on here? Are we not the cynical, politically disengaged bunch that people believe we are? Well, I think we are certainly not as extreme as we are often portrayed, but the numbers for cynicism about politics and institutions is highest amongst Gen X’ers in the report. And as for the volunteering and donation rates, we should consider comparing Gen X’ers to Millennials when we were their age. I think the numbers would show that Millennials rate much higher in these civic activities than we did at their age.

Don’t get me wrong: I think a lot of the Millennial volunteer-ism has to do with looking good for colleges and following their parents expectations. And I definitely agree that painting Gen X as a bunch of individualists who don’t care about society is unfair. Be we certainly don’t aspire to be seen as the do-gooders that Millennials seem to be. It’s just not our style.

Corporate America: Ignore Generation X at your Peril

Great article over at Leadership Turn about how corporations are focused on Boomer (born 1943-1960) and Millennial (born 1982-2004) and completely missing the generation most capable of helping in tough times: [X]. I love this quote:

Let me spell this out.
The economy will turn around.
The Boomers may stay in the workforce for now, but they will retire.
Gen Y is being held back because of the economy and may never catch up, certainly not fast enough to run American enterprise when the Boomers retire.
That leaves Gen X, which is being ignored.

I totally agree that this is the sort of thing that will come back to bite them in the future.

Generation X: Lost Once Again

I think it was George Bernard Shaw that said that the Lost Generation (born 1883-1900) had the unique disadvantage of being young at a time when elders were revered and old at a time when youth was idolized. [X] are arguably in the same situation, being young when the G.I. (born 1901-1924) were running the show and eventually we will become elders when the Millennial (born 1982-2004) are taking over the game. In between we get the leftovers, as pointed out in this Washington Post article that has been making the rounds on Twitter.

The Deloitte study warns of a “resume’ tsunami” once economic recovery begins, especially among Gen Xers, and notes that many executives were largely unaware of employee complaints unrelated to money.

Such findings don’t surprise Rich Yudhishthu, a 37-year-old Gen Xer who’s a business development consultant from Minneapolis.

“The lack of promotional opportunities has pretty much killed job loyalty within a generation,” he says.

Of course the problem here is that the “recovery” may be a good 10-15 years off, so shining up the resume for Gen X may be pointless.  The good news is, as always, we can take it. Just like the Lost Generation before us we are tough survivalists. That’s our gift and our curse.