Talkin 'Bout My Generation
I finally got around to reading some of the articles I've been saving on Facebook. Turns out I saved a lot of articles about Generation X. And also, they all turned out to be about the aging of Gen X. Oy.
I am among the top tier of Gen Xers. I was born in 1966. I was a teenager in the mid-80s, which - let's face it - was the very best time to be a teenager. When I refer to the 80s, I generally mean 1983-88. Post-Commodores, pre-hair band.
(Hair bands are an embarrassment to our generation. Please stop blasting it from your backyard bar-b-ques, pot-bellied manchildren.)
My 80s was Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club. My 80s was Bono with a mullet, the birth of Mtv, and three girls at your high school who have cultivated the Pat Benatar look.
(You were not in my 80s if you don't recognize that I just quoted a movie.)
There will never be a better post about my generation than Mat Honan's Generation X is Sick of Your Bullshit. It's going on seven years old now, but it still holds up. "[Generation X] might still take some ecstasy, if it knew where to get some. But probably not. Generation X has to be up really early tomorrow morning."
Rich Cohen claims in Vanity Fair that Generation X Might Be Our Last, Best Hope because of our irony and sense of dread. And because we're the last generation to have the old-time childhood. The childhood part I know is true, because of all the memes I see about things like riding in cars without seat belts and playing unchaperoned outside until the street lights came on. When he says "old-time childhood," he means crappy video games that you had to go to the arcade to play. I've never been into video games, but I know what he means. Anyway, Xers are sandwiched between two larger, more vocal and more self-absorbed generations. The fact that we cling to irony and dread is supposed to save our American ideals. That's actually kind of depressing.
But it turns out being a depressed, middle-aged Gen X woman is...totally normal! - as The New Mid-Life Crisis points out. Turns out age 50-53 is the lowest point in life when it comes to self-reporting well-being, and in her article, Ada Calhoun wonders, "What if [Gen X] is the first generation in history with no curve at all, just a diagonal line pointed straight to the lower right-hand corner? Generation X has long been an outlier, after all." Oh dear gods...she might be right.
The lengthy article gives as assortment of reasons why Gen X women have to feel exhausted and depressed, including stress about money (we are far less confident in our ability to achieve our financial goals than either Boomers or Millennials); careers (we're sandwiched between Boomers who can't afford to retire and ambitious, "leap-frog" Millennials); health (perimenopause now apparently causes all the same miserable symptoms for 10 YEARS OR MORE all while you're still bleeding); relationships (all of us now facing the prospect of aging alone/a marriage that maybe is never going to be fixed); ourselves (the average age for plastic surgery has dropped so low that if you're not getting anything done, you not only look older than the dewy Millennials on your team, you look older than a lot of people your own age). But these are "first-world problems," we're told. What right do [1 in 5 of] you have to be on antidepressants??
*Sigh* So that was enlightening.
So, being among the oldest of my generation, looking at us from the other side of 50 already, what do I think of Generation X?
We are self-reliant. We were the last un-coddled generation, raised in instability, at the peak of this country's divorce rate, the arms race with Russia and the birth of the latchkey kid. We're the stereotypical middle child between the aforementioned larger, louder, self-absorbed generations. We've had to to independent and resourceful.
We are creative. We didn't have 24-hour Disney channel in our childhood; we made our own fun. In our teen years, we made mixtapes and became the first to share our music (you're welcome, Millennials). As Honan said, "[Gen X] didn't invent hip hop, or punk rock, or even electronica...but it perfected all of them, and made them its own. It didn't invent the Web, but it largely built the damn thing."
We are cynical. Our earliest memory of who's running the country was Watergate. We looked at lost children on the milk carton while we ate breakfast and watched our brain sizzle in a frying pan during commercial breaks from our music videos. We became the first generation predicted to "do worse" than our parents. We valued input and contribution and sharing (there would be no Uber without the groundwork we laid), and in thanks, we were called "slackers."
We are flexible. We're the first generation willing to change jobs and career paths and not feel committed to one employer, because we saw how that worked out for our parents. We were also the first generation open to alternative lifestyles, religions, relationships and work arrangements. We decided we would "work to live, not live to work", and the Boomers chastised us for it. Again with the slackers.
Oldest children are structured, cautious, conscientious, controlling and achieving. The baby of the family is attention-seeking, self-centered, fun-loving and manipulative. Us middle children? We're rebellious, independent and inventive. That's okay...the world needs entrepreneurs as well as CEOs.