Like it or not, I’m in the “sandwiched” generation. I’m not talking about those who are caring for aging parents and young children. No, I’m talking specifically about the members of Generation X who feel sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Generation Y.
I think many Gen Xers, including myself, are insulted nearly every time the subject of generations comes up, whether it’s in the news, on TV, by a public speaker or even in casual conversation. Gen X seems to be the butt of continual jokes. Some of the infuriating descriptions include saying we’re disloyal and always looking for “what’s in it for me.” Gen X is sometimes depicted to be lazy. They are the first generation predicted to not be as financially stable as their parents.
In the book Generation X, written in 1991 by Douglas Coupland, the Gen X stereotype was created. A stereotype that painted us as “hopeless, frustrated and unmotivated slackers.” Ouch! What’s worse is the tag stuck and the stereotype still exists today.
And here we sit sandwiched between the “me” generation and the next “great” generation. We’re paying the price for the very way that we were raised by Baby Boomers and, at the same time, feeling like we’re just filling space until the next great generation is ready to take over. Seriously?
I don’t think anyone would argue that generations are very much a product of their environment. The adults (a.k.a., the parents, the teachers, the coaches, the executives, the role models) set the stage for the next generation.
The Baby Boomers clearly had a strong work ethic. They deserved the term “workaholics” – a term that was coined in the 60s. As women entered the workforce, more and more households had two working parents. Sadly, this led to some of the traditions and customs that had been the centerpiece of the American home slowly fading into the past. The family dinner is one that first comes to mind. How many people grew up sitting down to a family dinner every night of the week? How about once a week? You see it on Leave it to Beaver, and other TV shows, but for Generation X and the generations that follow, that’s just not reality.
For Gen Xers, the loss of quality family time seemed to be most noticeable and something we wanted to change. What you have now is the pendulum swinging the other way as Gen Xers become the parents and create the life they actually want. Gen Xers put an emphasis on the family first, and career second. Gen X exhibits great loyalty – but that loyalty is to their family. This generation is trying to achieve a work/life balance. Many are willing to forego the corner office and six-figure salary and instead spend time coaching their son’s little league team and taking their kids to the zoo. It doesn’t mean that this generation is any less intelligent or capable. This generation simply has a different set of priorities.
Ultimately, this may be to the detriment of their career and their financial futures. It hasn’t really helped that Gen X is also trying to survive a dot-com bust and the current recession that has produced a jobless rate for Gen Xers at 8.7%.
We all do the best we can with the knowledge and the resources we have at the time. History may well be unkind to the less-than-spectacular financial successes of Gen X. It may be that Generation Y is the next “great” generation. But for my two cents, I’m a proud, card-carrying member of Generation X who is logging off for the day so I can take my kids to the zoo.