What Gen X Can Learn from Millennials

Lessons for the burnout generation.

Matilda Fairholm
Apr 13, 2020 · 5 min read
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Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

It’s Friday evening in Australia. I have worked at least 50 hours this week with a few more to come tomorrow morning. It’s how it is in the legal profession, and many others. Office hours are merely a guide, you do what you need to do to keep on top of your work, make sure you don’t lose your clients, and hopefully not get sued.

Early starts, late finishes and non-existent lunch breaks are just part of the deal. Many of us use coffee and donuts to get going and Pino Grigio to slow down, whatever time that may be.

It’s just how it is. And as much as we bleat and complain, we are comfortable that way.

We are Generation X. We remember when computer monitors had black screens and green text, when television first burst into color and when divorce became no-fault. We came home from school to an empty house as our mothers worked part-time. We barely saw our fathers.

Now in our forties we are run down, overworked, sick and resentful. Well that’s us on a bad day.

On a bad day we don’t want to know about your avocado toast or early morning yoga class. On a bad day we just wish you would work half as hard as we do.

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Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

My colleague arrives at the office an hour or more after me. I’ve been hard at it since sometime before 7am, making the most of the peace and quiet to keep my assistant busy when she gets in at 9.

Meanwhile, Mr 23 got up at the same time as me, a little before 5am. He has meditated, been for a run and we are about to cross paths when I head to the kitchen for my second coffee of the morning. There I’ll find him assembling his breakfast of berries, yogurt and some kind of seeds I don’t recognize.

Like me he will work hard for the next nine hours or so. However by 5.30, he will be nowhere to be found.

Actually that’s not strictly true, I’d probably find him down the beach with his dog, or in a wine bar with a friend, or perhaps at the gym.

Mr 23 is vibrant, fit and a picture of health. But didn’t we all look that good in our twenties?

If you chat to him in the lunchroom it will be about anything but work. His topics of interest include sport, travel, music and where the best spots are for an after-work catch up.

But were we not all like that at his age?

Actually no, I was a workaholic in my twenties, and nothing has changed.

Millennials. For forty something people like me, they have become the universal scapegoat. We look at them and lament at how much things have changed. We see them as more self-focused and less hardworking than us.

Then we get cranky because we realize we sound just like our parents.

Because we do.

We’ve all heard it, whether from our parents, or other adults when we were growing up. They constantly reminded us how much tougher they did it, how far they had to walk to school in the heat and how the teacher would hit them over the fingers with a ruler if they put a foot wrong in class.

We have it so much easier than them, so they said.

I’m not so sure.

Those of us who fall into Generation X find ourselves navigating a life full of opportunities and expectations. We are a generation of people pleasers, with one foot in the career camp and the other in the family, desperately trying to keep all our plates in the air without the flexibility to cope when we inevitably fall into the splits.

We resent how put upon we feel, between trying to parent well, while feeling the weight of the responsibility of aging parents whilst still in the throws of a career that consumes at least 50 hours of our week.

We strive for work-life balance but never find it.

Instead we find ourselves constantly blown about, crushed under the weight of all this excess. Too much stuff, too many commitments, too much debt, too many people. Too many things competing for our time and attention.

But we do nothing about it. Instead we lament our lack. Too little time, too little money, too little space, not enough rest or energy. We resent a life that is seriously lacking in fun.

And if we are honest, we resent millennials for prioritizing their physical and mental health, over what they do for money.

It isn’t easy to admit that what we have always done isn’t working for us. It’s hard to look at the younger colleague and realize that they are simply doing it better. I struggle to admit that I both admire and begrudge millennials, that I desperately want to change the way I do things, but don’t want to do so at the expense of productivity, be that mine or those who I’m paying.

But there are few things more hypocritical than resenting those who refuse to make the same mistakes I did.

We need young people with their energy and fresh ideas. It’s time to embrace our differences and learn from each other. The answer to the Gen X’ers search for the holy grail is in the office down the hall.

Millennials are breaking the mold and us employers have no choice but to work with their balanced work and life. And if that’s the case don’t just make changes for them, make them for you. Make them for your colleagues, the ones who have burnt out, the memory of the ones lost to mental illness or worse.

I won’t be joining you for 5am yoga, but I agree that a ten hour work day should be a maximum for everyone, and that includes me.

I admit that some days I still wish you’d take the occasional leaf out of my workaholic book.

But to be honest I’m turning over a new leaf, and that involves taking a chapter or two out of yours.

Just don’t ask me to admit that out loud.

Change Becomes You

Life advice that will (actually) change your life.

Matilda Fairholm

Written by

Survivor, Believer, Writer, Lawyer. From Australia, a country of beautiful contrasts (and also of odd spelling, so I’m told .....)

Change Becomes You

Life advice that will (actually) change your life. Curated stories from The Good Men Project.

Matilda Fairholm

Written by

Survivor, Believer, Writer, Lawyer. From Australia, a country of beautiful contrasts (and also of odd spelling, so I’m told .....)

Change Becomes You

Life advice that will (actually) change your life. Curated stories from The Good Men Project.

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