Is it Time for GenX? What The Presidential Election + Their Progeny On The Stump Tell Us
By Heidi Legg
The mere fact we were pressuring our two Presidential candidates to reveal their health records more aggressively than their taxes, and that Trump’s inner circle looks like an act in Shakespeare’s King Lear, are the tipping points in a conversation that has long gone on around dinner parties by my peer group ages 40–55: “When will the Baby Boomers moveon.org?”
In the US, we live in many polarities and one is the mammoth shadow of the baby boomers, whose peers are running for President while their millennial offspring call Chelsea or Ivanka their BFFs. Rather than run, we see these newly minted adults flank the stage next to their parents and groomed in the family business. Given the millennials were coddled more than any generation before, the mommy and daddy complex is expected. They will grow out of it, but in the interim, where is GenX? Are we going to skip them entirely? I mean boomers and millennials have many admirable characters but what will we lose if we skip the natural maturation into leadership by the GenX generation all together? I would argue, a lot.
Wikipedia contributors recognize Canadian Douglas Coupland and his term Generation X that went “viral” in the 1990s this way: Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, published by in 1991, is the first novel published by Douglas Coupland. The novel popularized the term Generation X, is a framed narrative, in which a group of youths exchange heartfelt stories about themselves and fantastical stories of their creation.
If you don’t know that the above was “open sourced” or that “viral” means that a message is accelerated into cultural vernacular and not a germ, you should probably cede some of your power in one of our many institutions: government, banks, universities, media, to name a few. Maybe it’s time to give some of it to a GenXer waiting on the sidelines? In an economy where jobs are scarce, salaries are stagnant and millennial children are still living at home or working on the stump for their parents, it is understandable that anyone with power is gripping onto it. That’s a lot of family to pay for. But I argue that to move forward as a country and solve those issues, we may want to move some of the 40–50 year old grownups to the helm. You see, I predict that unless we discuss this as a family, we may skip GenX all together and make millennials the executors leaving us with either stagnant or wild.
Full disclosure, I was born in 1971, making me the middle of GenX, and I am here to make a case for us.
For starters, most parents of GenXers are from The Last Great Generation. I mean the title alone is an argument that perhaps we have some morale fiber and values that may have skipped the “me” generation and their offspring. If we are making America Great Again or think it still is, we may not want to lose those values. Secondly, most GenXers had mothers who burned bras. So if “I’m With Her” is top of your list, there is some gender equality that could offer modernity to the way we run our institutions, given we were the first generation to have husbands who learned how to pack a school lunch.
What does a mainstream GenXer think about? Mortgage payments, weekend lacrosse, soccer, and the next school potluck. Yeah, not really the glamour stage of life but very insightful when trying to gauge the nation’s pulse. Given most are 40-something, their lives are harried, yet they see the future through teenagers who Snapchat through a virtual reality. In the 90s, they were the promising youth who may not have invented the Apple Computer (boomer) or Intel Chip (boomer), but knew what to do with them. They built the ecommerce, Amazon, Uber and Facebook. I’m betting they are ready to sit at the head of the table. Unless, maybe, these institutions die with their power-handlers?
You see… GenX has quietly been building new platforms for two decades. Integrating them will only push us forward as Pittsburgh has with its bet on rust belt to driverless car. Dreaming big and making stuff: that is the promise of GenX. Poster GenXers like Sheryl Sandberg (1969) and Mark Zuckerberg (1984), Sebastian Thrun (1967), Garrett Camp (1978) and their cohorts you’ve never heard of while listening to Hillary and The Donald on 24-hour- news, have been toiling away in Silicon Valley. Judd Aptow (1967) has helped us define This Is Forty and stay married, while Tina Fey (1970) reminded us how unsexy it is to wear a mouth guard at night as we manage the stress of never being promoted, or the limited onramp for women returning to careers, disparity among public schools and private schools that have gone from 15K to 40K in a time of wage stagnation. Not a problem for though for those with boomer parents who foot the bill with their 14K gift tax exemption each year. As a GenXer, you are likely parented by The Last Great Generation who believe their offspring should earn their own way.
So here’s my suggestion as we embark on these final days of the Presidential election and what it all means. Let’s start adding some GenX names to the roster to transform our institutions and build new ones as we look forward. My guess is that flushing the stagnation through the pipes might actually get things running again in America. It will move Boomers into sages, GenX into leadership with agency and Millennials into apprentice. I mean GenX is the “Accelerated Culture” which loves heartfelt stories and making fantastical stuff. Empathy and creativity, that sounds like optimism we need more than ever right now.
Heidi Legg is an American/Canadian writer and founder of TheEditorial.com where she interviews visionaries around her, young and old, along the Harvard, MIT and Kendall Square corridor in Cambridge, MA.