I have always been on high alert for self-fulfilling prophecies. My position is that as soon as someone accepts any kind of label, they immediately start living up to it. You mark me as the “crazy neighbor,” and I start feeding that image. Some morning, you come out to go to work and find your car in a cocoon of Saran Wrap.
So, I don’t tend to trust the broad categorizations that we sometimes throw on groups of people, and I’m talking about even the generally innocuous kinds—like characteristics of generations. I am skeptical of all labels (which I think is a Gen-X trait 😊). Still, when I hear people describe our generation, often the descriptions ring true for me. And, I know there is a body of research behind it. I have now read several articles and posts and watched a handful of presentations about generations, and I can’t say that any of them seemed to be terribly off the mark.
Here are some paraphrased assertions I have heard about Gen X that speak to me:
- Growing up, we were disengaged—in our own heads too much.
- We are self-determined and self-reliant. We aren’t looking for handouts.
- We work hard and play hard.
- We resist the status quo and see through BS. Authenticity is important to us.
- We pay attention to the past, learn from it and resolve to make things better.
- We know halcyon days were a myth, but there is enough good here to make it worth saving.
And, when I think about what happened in our lives, some of these characteristics seem to be not only explained, but to a certain extent, pre-destined.
Some have called us the latch-key generation, due to the new prevalence of households with two working parents or single parents that happened during our generation. It makes sense that we would have become self-determinant; we had to fend for ourselves before and after school. Large chunks of our lives were unsupervised. Character is what you do when no one is watching.
Hardworking? Look at our models (Boomers). We didn’t know it was an option. I’ve continuously had a job since I was about 12. If I wanted some spending money, that is what I had to do. To put this in perspective, consider that teen employment is 35-50% lower than it was in 1989, the second peak after 1978 (pewresearch.org). My children are too busy with sports and school to have jobs.
Watergate, MLK, RFK, and the worst parts of Vietnam are all events associated with our parents, the Boomers. However, all of this happened during our lifetimes, which means these events galvanized into a world view during our childhood. Have no illusions. Accept the real. Be real.
Nuclear weapons might have been a threat, but we were told our government was building lasers to shoot them out of the sky. The line between all-out catastrophe and being okay felt fairly thin. Go back and listen to the lyrics of some Fixx songs or Planet P Project’s Pink World and be reminded about how much people were thinking about the real threat of nuclear war. Yet, rather than freak out, we were grooving to tunes about this subject matter. We are vulnerable, and this shit is scary, but we have to live anyway.
We are realists, with a sense of possibility, but we are also majorly circumspect. The space shuttle made space travel seem like casual transportation, but then it blew up in front of our eyes. Don’t take things for granted.
But, the seventies and eighties were, relatively speaking, a time of peace. We had Mr. Microphone, MTV, Atari, the ’84 Olympics, Van Halen, Michael Jordan and The Breakfast Club, so the world wasn’t all bad. There was a lot to enjoy. This was a long time before the culture of outrage, so people could be their clumsy, unenlightened selves without worrying about the world coming down on them.
We didn’t hitchhike nor get picked up by our parents. We bummed a ride from a friend.
The movies of our youth were not about comic book superheroes fighting in fantastical battles, but were about real people who found a way to dig deep and overcome obstacles. We watched Risky Business, Footloose, the Rocky movies, Rambo, Karate Kid and Vision Quest and thought, “Life is hard. Things aren’t going to be handed to us. We gotta go get them.” There is glory, but we have to earn it.
We enjoyed a proliferation of music genres and then contributed our own—grunge—but for me, the connection of music and video was the most significant cultural touchpoint of my youth. Fragments of music videos will forever float around my mind. And the soundtracks of ‘80s movies were the best.
It’s all there. There was never anything simple about this generation. I think the more I accept the moniker, the prouder I am to be a Gen Xer.
Desilver, D. (2019, June 27). In the U.S., teen summer jobs aren’t what they used to be. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/27/teen-summer-jobs-in-us/