Gen X is cool, Millenials drool.

Yesterday I discovered the masterful, completely engaging and made-for-sharing article, Generation X’s Journey From Jaded to Sated in Salon and haven’t stopped thinking about. Then again, I am squarely in Generation X.

Reality Bites / Gen XJust as author Whitney Collins describes, I do remember what life was like before REM, never slept with a Care Bear, survived high school with craptastic hair products and no pedicure ever save for my Junior Prom, was terrified by AIDS and Ronald Reagan’s finger on The Big Red Button (am I the only one who was traumatized for life by a required viewing of The Day After?), watched Martha Quinn and Nina Blackwood on MTV (not so traumatizing), and sat glued to the first season of The Real World while trying all season long to determine 1) exactly which Soho apartment they were living in and 2) whether maybe Eric Nies might date me.

I also have had pets with people names and yeah, I wanted to be Nancy McKeon in Facts of Life. Guilty as charged.

Also, I remember it all in great detail. Without notes or journals. I’m weird that way.

I have spent a good amount of time in colleague’s offices and in private Facebook streams trying to describe and defend  just why Millenials as a whole are so challenging in the workplace. Not every single teenager of the 90’s is, of course, but a enough that yes, we old Gen X folks (to say nothing of the Boomers) shake our fists behind their backs, wondering why they heck they feel so entitled to shuffle into work around 11 and demand promotions three months out of school.

But, but…I got straight A’s in college! My mom called the dean every semester and made sure I did!

(Oh, I am so teasing. Don’t try to take me on, Gen Y friends; I grew up on Star Wars and know just what to do with a Light Sabre. Also, my knees aren’t what they used to be and I will probably get hurt.)

I think it’s why I’m so struck by the very first premise in the article that describes just why my generation is generally so “Zen” and our mantra less “Me me me” than “Meh meh meh”:

We like work.

I’ve never been able to put it in those terms exactly, but the author nails it in three simple words. And I wonder how this is going to impact the kids we’re raising.

I’ve generally enjoyed my jobs, thanks in part to partners like Kristen Chase on our website, and bosses like Greg DiNoto in advertising I’ve loved feeling the pride, autonomy, growth, ambition, contentment they brought. Though not often all at once.  It’s also how I feel about blogging and writing–I like to write. I enjoy the process and not just the goals.

We were defined as slackers, but we always knew we weren’t slackers, not really. We were working hard. Really hard. Only we did it in bluejeans and never for the Mercedes or the Gordon Gecko living room suite.

In advertising, there are always some campaigns that get away; the ones that you should totally produce but for whatever reason they never make it past the approved comps in the client’s office where they languish until finally someone in authority (Boomer ahem) tells us to give up and move onto a more lucrative client. One of those that still sticks with me, was a non-profit campaign for City Year I worked on with my partner at the time, the now faaaaaamous Wade Devers (hi Wade!) in the early 90’s. To this day, I still remember one of my favorite headlines:

The MTV Generation has the ability to become so much more. For one, going down as something more than the MTV generation. 

It was prescient.

And dammit, that ad should have run.

Of course I can’t help but think which of our values we’re passing onto our kids, and (aha) which will stick, for better or for worse. What will the next generation be like? Will they, find the joy of working as we do, be satisfied with satisfaction, or, as the Salon author describes, continue with the current zeitgeist marked by an insatiable quest for fame at sometimes steep costs?

Thanks for nothing, reality TV.

As for my people, fame was a different thing. Models were on the covers of magazines, not TV stars and talk show hosts.  “We fantasized about becoming Flash Gordon or Pat Benatar,” Collins writes, ” but adults told us, and rightfully so, that our fantasies were nothing more than pipe dreams. Thus, we never clamored for a spot on a Nickelodeon show; we just hung our posters of Bo Derek and Larry Bird and wished them well in their alternate realities.”

The thing that differs for our kids however, the HUGE massive, undeniably permanent thing: The age of the Internet.

We can talk about what values we want to instill but we could inadvertently be counteracting them by digital age necessities. Parents already have created a lot of our kids’ choices for them, in terms of privacy versus public personas. Raise your hand if you shared your sonogram photos on Facebook.

Now raise your hand if you shared them every week.

How about their first steps? First teeth? First words First crushes? First public humiliations, medical diagnoses, social challenges? It’s not that it’s wrong. I think in many ways it just is these days. But how will it impact them?

Will our children retreat into privacy, rebelling against the overshares and tagged photos and Google-able everything in the world about them? What will it mean when they are growing up with their personal URL, Pinterest board, Facebook account and Instagram feed already saved in their name by their forward-thinking parents?

It’s also crossed my mind which generational mantra the babies of the early 2000’s will be saddled with, since “me me me” and “more more more” and “meh meh meh” are all now officially taken.

“May may may?” 

(Hey, they could grow up really polite. It’s possible.)

I  freely admit that I hope that my kids become inoculated from the fame-at-all-costs bug  before they are old enough to discover Snapchat and the seedier side of Vine videos. I hope that even if they do like seeing their childhood photos online,  as adults they can still find satisfaction in their work and accomplishments unto themselves.  I hope they don’t think they are all special, or that everyone is entitled to a trophy just for showing up. I hope they don’t expect me to write a scathing letter to the teacher when they are the only kids in Glee club who didn’t get a solo. But I hope they do know I will love them unconditionally, even if they bring home a B-. (Not that we won’t talk about it first.) And I especially hope that they will more to offer the world than a digital graveyard of regretful selfies and a YouTube channel with 37 subscribers.

I guess, in totally typical and selfish fashion, I hope that our kids are the best of the things we like about ourselves. And yeah, I say that as a totally biased Gen X who is indeed meh meh meh in lots of ways except for two.

And they’re pretty cute right now if I do say so myself.


23 thoughts on “Gen X is cool, Millenials drool.”

  1. I really enjoyed that Gen-X essay, too. The “we like our work” part jumped out at me. I never understood how our generation was being cast as lazy. But then as some things improve and get easier in terms of technology and opportunity I think it’s typical for older people to think younger ones are going soft somehow, which I find ridiculous.

    1. I think with 20 years perspective you realize that her assessment was right; we weren’t lazy, we were just doing it our own way.

      And no doubt 20 years from now we’ll all look at the Millenials and say “OH so that’s what they’re doing!”

      1. Perspective, what a wonderful thing! If only we could apply such insights (20 years in the making) to so many of our decisions that seem so life-or-death in the moment. (I’m looking at you, pre-school application form and also you, baboons in Congress.)

  2. Funny. I was just thinking along these lines yesterday when I asked my 11 y/o to empty the dishwasher to which she rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically because she had to put her iPod down for a few minutes. (Heaven forbid!) I gave her the pat parental comebacks about how she doesn’t know how good she has it, we don’t ask her to do that much, and when I was her age I worked in a grist mill slinging bags of hog feed around (true story). The thing with her and my other stepdaughter is that they are borderline obsessed with fame, and they are constantly trying to be plugged into any device that gives them access to world outside of Fort Wayne. (My boys on the other hand could give a rip–I’m still trying to get them to change their underwear without being reminded.) We’ve had to talk with the girls to temper their expectations about fallacies of online fame. The chances of them becoming the next Justin Bieber or winning American Idol are about as good as me growing a mullet. I guess my rambling point is that the Internet provides kids today with an illusion that fame is attainable which they become so entranced by it distracts them from the real world around them. My plan at the moment is to replace my stepdaughter’s iPod with a toilet brush.

    1. I agree with your Internet assessment. But then, we give them the iPod Touches don’t we? We post photos of our kids. We disdain the fame-obsessed but we live in that world too; we can’t help it. It’s just the world now.

      Lots to think about.

      I wish you luck with the toilet brush plan. I may copy it.

      1. There is SO much validation that goes on online…”fame” from the good, bad and ugly; the mundane, the funny, the confident, the insecure. I feel like the best I can do – for myself, my child, my family – is work out any real insecurities I might have in a healthy way, not air dirty laundry online, respect others’ desires for privacy (thinking of the boomer parents who want nothing to do with being online, let alone me mentioning them in a status), and teach my child to do the same. Respect in the face of online fame/validation. That includes knowing/teaching how to walk away. I think we can find it, do it, teach it.

  3. I was born in 80 and I’m still trying to figure out what that makes me. I recognized myself in much of that article, even though I did sleep with a Care Bear. Ha.

    The want to be famous generation thing, man oh man how I wish it wasn’t true, yet I know it is. I find myself unsure what to do in terms of the Internet. Oh how I wish I could keep my 11 year old (and her younger siblings, although they have yet to care at all) off of it, but it’s just not possible. She’s almost twelve, she’s in seventh grade and super responsible. I hate that she’s on SnapChat and Instagram and all that, even though the truth is I’ve approved it. (I also check her account all the time and she’s private and yeah, it doesn’t really mean shit.) She’s done next to nothing to make me distrust her use of it, yet I know the evils of the internet and I don’t want her involved in any of it. I know this wasn’t the point of this post, yet I wish there were rules in how to parent in this modern Internet age. I feel like I’m behind and know nothing, yet I’ve been online for years and years.

    1. I think a lot of that is the point of this post. I’m wondering how the search for fame (Y) lead to the creation of stuff like snapchat which is now impacting our children, who are be raised by us (X).


      1. We need cliff notes. Or raising kids in the entertainment a mile a minute age. Or whatever it is called right now.

        Question is, who understands it enough to write the dummy book version?

        1. I just started a FB group for parents at my daughter’s middle school so we can share info about technology in the classroom and in their personal lives. I’m hoping that by having a collaboration of parents working together and teaching each other we can guide our kids through the social media app minefield relatively unscathed, and help keep the balance in their media consumption. It’s daunting, and I don’t want any of us to feel alone.

  4. I distinctly remember graduating from college in ’92 and entering the workforce where Boomers were my bosses. I would show up, do the work, and then go home. The pressure to stay and toil and stress was strong. I quit a job as a recruiter because I was *expected* to work overtime as a salaried employee. I never felt like that was necessary to unbalance my life in such a way because I didn’t define myself by my job. If I had a specific task or deadline, yes I would stay. If I didn’t? I’m not reorganizing file drawers for my health.

    “they all talked of things—were defined by things—other than the work before them.”

    VALIDATION. It feels good. And I want to teach my kids that they are not defined by their internet persona. That their internal life is more important than their “public” life – which they all basically have now in this internet age.

    1. You’re so fortunate Karen. I definitely put in the 70-80 hour work weeks in advertising. I remember in about ’97 as an associate creative director, putting in 50 out of the 52 weekends that year. I missed New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl parties, Oscars nights, friends birthday parties. And most painfully, cancelled a trip to see my grandmother in Florida the night before, which I still remember. Though I don’t remember what it was for.

      I think that even those of us who put in those extra hours grew up to realize that balance was better…which brings us to the contentment the author was describing. And I guess, the “meh.”

      You are raising your kids beautifully, Karen. I always love your anecdotes here.

  5. This article has been on my radar to read since last night. Glad I got a preview here.

    Regarding the work-work-work, I did it, too. Of course, I did. 70, 80, 100 hours per week sometimes. And then I was like, um, this is BS. And I stopped. And then I moved into a not-for-profit sector job (healthcare). And then I STILL worked 60-70 hours per week PLUS commuting because… I don’t know another way to be.

    Now that is all behind me, but I wonder what will happen when I go back full-time. Balance is better. Is that a generational learning? Or just growing up in general? I’m not sure.

  6. We like our work. We love our families. We are passionate about creating strong, safe, loving homes for our kids. We’re knowledgable about and interested in good, wholesome food. We’re seeking out spirituality. We’re generally laid-back.
    I think we’re going to raise some awesome kids.

  7. I’m a Millennial raising a 3rd grader amid a lot of Gen Xers. (I’m 30 and I’d guess the average age of other parents in Emma’s class to be 40.)

    It’s interesting because I don’t feel all that removed from what my kids are experiencing or what they have access to. It’s just better, prettier and faster.

    I had my first computer with AOL in my bedroom at age 13. I spent countless hours in chatrooms during my adolescence and was so stoked to get my first webcam at age 15. I grew up on reality TV (Real World, Road Rules, etc.). I had Napster in high school and used it to illegally download music, software and movies – it took FOREVER (as in days) but it worked. My college years included MySpace and Facebook.

    I am under no illusion that my kids won’t be exposed to porn or online bullying or growing up with very little privacy – I know because that’s the world I grew up in. I don’t know how Millennials will compare to Gen Xers as parents – there aren’t many of us with older kids just yet… but I have a feeling we’ll be very direct and honest. At least that’s how I am.

    I disdain helicoptering and see that in spades at her school and on the playground – but I don’t know if that’s a Gen X feature that’s a response to the latch-key kid movement of their time, or if it’s just an urban yuppy thing. 🙂

    1. That’s an awesome perspective Esther. I think there is a huge difference with you growing up with Internet and your kids having it…and those of us who discovered email after college, and Facebook loooong after that. You’re a native-r digital native. And I think that will impact your kids in really positive ways that some of us have to work harder to achieve.

  8. City Year. Now toward the bottom of a giant pile of should have’s.
    Hi Liz. xxx

  9. I loved this…so loved it. I’m very much on the younger end of this generation. In so many ways, I identified with the good parts of what my boomer parents had and wanted for me, and perhaps what any college grad wants (good pay, potential for promotions, benefits, the ability to create/define your American dream); and in so many ways identified with the “I’m not selling my soul” attitude after seeing what it did to my dad (1980s, NYC, DuPont, ’nuff said!). I was laid off three times so early in my career that I was jaded and vulnerable by 25 so I suppose I learned early that my parents hopes for me were dashed with the dot com bomb. All I wanted was to work and have the work be of meaning and maybe, just maybe, have an immediate supervisor that valued me and mentored me. I would be 32, starting my own biz with a toddler, before I started to enter this place of acceptance: Accepting the moment, that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m still crazy ambitious and loving my work…just that now it’s not coming from a vulnerable jaded place.

    Now that I’m in a position to hire these young lads and lasses, I remember my own young ambition and desire to learn and be mentored and my own Reality Bites existential crisis (at 24). I think that real world shock is normal for anyone, no matter the generation. So I try to empathize with that and give these young (good) kids some of what I didn’t have or find until my late 20s. Some, of course, are just too far gone down the me-me-me road 🙂

    Like you, I hope to instill in my child the best of myself and what I love about Gen X, the best of his boomer grandparents, and be open enough to see what new interesting ways of working and living his generation gives our world.

  10. As someone who rides the line between Gen X and Millenial, I identify with both groups in different ways. I love to work, but I also think I’m special. 😉

    But like you, now that I have children (well, one with one on the way) I’m growing more and more concerned about the Internet – both how they’ll use it and how I’m using it now, documenting so much of their lives starting before they were even born.

    Great post, as always.

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