Is Gen X facing a mid-life crisis or getting ready to lead?
A.O. Scott, currently movie critic for The New York Times, wrote a column in the Times' Week in Review (May 9. 2010) titled. "Gen X Has a Midlife Crisis." He used film references such as "The Big Chill" for Baby Boomers and the recent "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "Greenberg" for Gen X (his generation). He also references "The Ask," a novel relating to Gen Xers as fodder for his view.
Scott characterizes Gen X as over-educated, insecure, coming of age in the late 80s and early 90s. He also ascribes to Gen Xers the phrases: "consumerist banality," "the attempt to camouflage sincere confusion with winking insouciance," "the obsession with generalizing a personal experience," "we did what we could: the slogan of the underachiever, the excuse maker, the loser." (Is his
language off-putting to you too?)
I think it is unfair to characterize a whole generation this way, Further, there are big differences between the older and younger halves of the Gen X cohort (1962-1978) as there are with the Boomer generation, and my guess is that Scott is referring mostly to the Xers on the older end.
Yet the arts reflect the culture the artists are observing, so what do the patterns and kernels of truth in the films, books, etc, tell us? What will engage members of that generation to be the leaders and achievers they need to be?
- * More than other generations, Gen X may blame Boomers for blocking their opportunity and their underachieving. Unlike Gen Y/Millennials, they are not typically optimistic about their future at times of economic setbacks, and they don't expect help.
- * Gen Xers don't look to others (older or younger) to explain their confusion or uncertainty.
- * Gen Xers have a harder time trusting than other generations, having seen how the workplace social contract broke down for their parents and has never been particularly welcoming to them. In the workplace, they typically do not and will not place a premium on helping others and "making your fellow players look great" (as stated in the most important rule of improv performance).
- * Materialism is evident. They outdo the Boomers in pursuit of luxury brands and symbols.
- * Gen Xers (and Gen Y too) want freedom as represented by time, rewards in money and time, and to decide how to spend their time. The aspiration is "The Four-Hour Work-Week." They were the first generation to see technology enable that. They work hard to create flexibility at an early age rather than waiting to achieve seniority and retirement. Gen Y is even more adamant about flexibility.
- * Xers are resourceful personally (though not necessarily in groups), yet often feel like losers.
- * Gen Y trusts group consensus or group determined "truth." They expect help and resent Gen Xers who don't specify expectations and don't give them guidance, and call them spoiled, entitled, and over-protected. If not addressed in an enlightened way, this tension doesn't portend well for long-tern engagement and productivity in the workplace as we know it.
Since Gen Xers, for a short time at least, are the next generation of leaders we all must look to, how can they capitalize on the strengths of their generation - which are often overlooked? And how can all the generations support them in using those strengths such as: self-sufficiency, desire for flexibility, results-orientation, entrepreneurial attitude, getting the job done wherever and however they choose, and belief in merit-based rewards to change deficient and debilitating business models for the better in a global context?
This is an important topic for future discussion and needs to start with a sincere expression of respect and candid dialogue in a non-threatening environment.
By Phyllis Weiss Haserot