Two cents from the “sandwiched” generation

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.

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3 Responses to Two cents from the “sandwiched” generation

  1. hedt2045 says:

    Interesting blog and post, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term.

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978

    Here is a recent op-ed about GenJones as the new generation of leadership in USA TODAY:
    http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20090127/column27_st.art.htm

    And here is a recent interview with the guy who coined the term “Generation Jones”:

  2. Well said. It is true that Gen X gets the short end of the stick in both perception and reality. But that is part of the cycle of generations, as we are most similar to the Lost generation born between 1883 and 1900. Just like the Lost, we grew up amid social chaos (early 1900’s for the lost and the 1960’s for X) and were called the wild useless young adults (roaring 20’s kids and slacker youths in 90’s). And in midlife we are practical and focused on the welfare of our kids (just like parents in the 1930’s). This cycle of generations goes back hundreds of years. Although there is much we can do to help our current crisis, it is unlikely that Gen X will ever be seen as heroic or prophetic. Those qualities are for the generations we are sandwiched between.

    To read more about generational cycles, check out my blog: http://www.thegenxfiles.com. I would love to hear your take.

  3. Denise says:

    I agree that there is a distinct generation that was “sandwiched” between the baby boomers and genX. I find myself hanging on to the tail end of the baby boomers being born in 1961. This has left me in a precarious situation because I identify with neither group as my own.

    Sometimes this is a gift. My ability to observe the ramifications of the baby booners choices, (i.e. scratch and claw your way to the top of the corporate ladder at any cost.) These costs can leave a debt that is unpayable. The impact of parents working 60+ hours a week and rarely seeing their children, the dual income couples who decided that kids would hamper their pursuit of hedonism. They choose a life with no strings attached, no encombrances.

    So what was it all worth? A big house, killer cars, fantasy vacations – yes. But what have those values taught the generation behind them who looked up to them for guidance and direction. We ended up with a majority of workers who had no desire or knowledge to raise a child. These “unparented” children were given every material thing that their heart desired. How can we fault these children for believing their motto “It’s All About Me!”.

    A generation cannot be guided toward things that are timeless and truly have meaning in life unless they have someone in their life who takes the time to train them up in the way they should go. Television and videos make poor role models and have no ability to hug a child, listen to their thoughts, and calm their fears and wipe their tears. These childrn have been deprived of the opportunity to create and dream.

    True connections with other human beings cannot be obtained without someone taking the time to be their “family”. Sitting around at the dinner table even once a week has a profound impact on a child’s socialization. It also gives parents and caregivers the joy of getting to know the children. The pure laughter of a child is worth more than any new cappucino maker. That extra hour or two at the office and the Starbucks stops could be better spent teaching your children how to tell time and how to boil a kettle of water for tea.

    My plight and delight of being one who hangs on to the tail of the baby boomer tiger means that I have been able to look at life from both sides. When I graduated from college my dream was to more to the “big city” and rule the world. I am so lucky that it didn’t work out that way. A wondrful man of integrity found me and love and marriage followed. Soon after that we had two daughters and everything that I thought was success – material goods, and lots of them – changed. Success for me has been knowing that my life has been devoted to making a differnce in individual lives, which then impacts others, and the chain goes on.

    My passion is to always be teaching people to honor, respect and treat other human beings as precious and important members of this generation and the generations to come. Basically, pay it forward. Sometimes looking at life from the inside of the sandwich provides one with the best part of the whole meal.

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