I don't think generational stereotypes are that useful

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 9, 2018, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

I'm a member of Generation X. You know, the slacker generation. I remember the fairly widespread dismissal of my people when I was in college, and in the years after that. It was all the stuff about us being generally disenchanted and never going to amount to anything. At the time it seemed we were supposed to be limited to the "kids" that were in high school and college in the 90's, but the wider definition suggests that we can be a little older than that, and as much as a decade younger.

It turns out that my generation has a mixed record on moving the world forward, but we are largely responsible for the Internet economy, a significant push in entrepreneurial business and we elected the first African-American president. We had great music. We did OK overall. But let's not forget how we used to be, allegedly.

First, let's talk about Millennials. The stereotypes suggest that they're entitled, narcissistic, lazy and naive. Is there truth to that? I suppose it's true for some of them, but I'd hesitate to paint any group with that broad of a brush. I coached them (volleyball) when they were in high school, and they've grown up to be extraordinary people. The thing is, those of us in GenX weren't all that different. I mean, is it really hard to think about how we were just a decade-ish ago? I know that when I was in my late 20's, I was pretty sure that I knew everything, everyone older than me was dumb, I was important, I had better ideas and how dare you tell me that I just need to gain a little experience before I can reach my goals!

What about all of the studies that insist that Millennials adhere to the stereotypes? Is it not obvious about why they're pointless? They aren't old enough yet to make generalizations about how they roll! As they all enter that late 20's, early 30's range, they don't have the life experience and aren't at the same place in terms of career and personal lives that the previous generation is. But they aren't fundamentally all that different than we were at the same age. The biggest difference is that they're more public about how "older people" are full of shit. Because of Twitter and whatever. We didn't have social media at that age, but it doesn't mean we weren't doing the same thing.

Look, telling the younger generation "get off my lawn" is a time honored American tradition. It's perfectly normal to sigh at the way younger people (or older people) behave. But it's also important to be self-aware about it, at least, when we're older. You don't know what you don't know, but I don't think you know that until you know it, you know? I remember being in the height of the dotcom boom, in 2000, surrounded by Boomers at a corporate off-site meeting, horrified about how these "old dudes" just didn't get it. You could never convince me that I was wrong about that, but I certainly was. (That might be a bad example... there were "old dudes" who "get it," but most went to work elsewhere soon after that meeting.) If you think Millennials are not like looking back in time at ourselves, you don't have a very good memory.

Are there real cultural differences between the generations? Of course there is. I think there's some truth to the idea that participation trophies, helicopter parenting and this "safe space" nonsense where people don't want to be exposed to any ideas that upset them put Millennials at a disadvantage initially. However, I don't think that it takes a decade of life experience to overcome that. Like I said, everyone has idealistic and naive expectations in their 20's, but most adjust because they have to. GenX believed college degrees were a shortcut to success and a corner office too. Sound familiar? How's that working out as we approach midlife?

I'm a little disappointed that GenX hasn't really tackled the big problems, but I think there's still time. We're not that old yet. I'm actually really impressed with what we've done, and how far we've come. Millennials will follow in our footsteps and they'll stereotype the "Z's" or whatever they end up calling them with all of the same attributes we gave them. They're not special, and neither are we.


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