Gen Xers Aren’t Underachievers

So stop telling us that we’re the forgotten generation still stuck in the 90s

Photo by ben o'bro on Unsplash

Gen Xers, are you sick of being grouped together? Stereotyped by our high school yearbook pictures with mullets, high hair, flannels, Doc Martens?

We’re told we’re underachievers, the forgotten generation. Studies overlook us, marketers talk around us, focusing much more on the larger Millennial and Baby Boomer generations.

It’s all marketing bullshit, actually.

During this quarantine, we’ve been touted as the generation that takes its role in flattening the curve most seriously. Like we’re a superlative in our high school yearbook, singlehandedly helping the country win a war — while all the non-Gen Xers waffle and flail.

It’s like we're that slacker dude in an 80s high school movie, who’s woken up in class just long enough to steal the limelight away from the overachieving millennials — pointing outstretched arms skyward, trying to earn their As — and the stoic boomers — sitting quietly and statesmanlike, knowing they already have.

I call bullshit. Just because all of us — more than 65.2 million Gen Xers — happen to have been born between 1965 and 1980, that doesn’t make us all the same person. That's like using the horoscope to say that all Scorpios are manipulative and shadowy, or saying that everyone born during the Year of the Rat is timid and short-sighted (sorry, 1972 Xers.)

It's just not true and doesn't make sense.

Not all Gen Xers are great social distancers. Not all Gen Xers exhibit a "casual disdain for authority and structured work hours." What does that even mean anyway? Don't hire us?

Some boomers are probably great social distancers. Some millennials probably don't like 'structured work hours' either.

Not all boomers are Karens. Not all millennials are Jessicas or Ashleys.

And not all Xers are Jennifers — or Heathers.

Marketing: A 'Magic' Mirror

Gen Xers, or the people of any generation, are thrown together by circumstance. Sure, we share living through certain life events. We might even share and agree on a generational moment, like the Challenger Explosion, Rodney King and the LA Riots, the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11. Did any of those moments shape us?


Did they shape us all in the same way?


We all lived through 9/11 when we were somewhere between … 20 and 36. Does that mean we’re all going to approach and react to circumstances, crises, and calls to action in the same way? That we all have the same personality?

Of course not.

Just look at political polls. We don’t all fall on the same side of the red/blue line, or any of the issues that come with it.

Need more?

In a 2017 study that evaluated nearly half a million high school students graduating between 1976 and 2006 — including boomers, Xers, and millennials — researchers found little ‘meaningful change’ in students’ views regarding egotism, happiness, individualism, time spent watching TV, political activity, or the importance they placed on social status.

Gen Xers are just as likely to be happy, individualistic, or involved in politics as any other generation.

Maybe generational differences are just a social construct, made to simplify marketing decks and sell advertising on articles that wax nostalgic about all the TV shows we watched growing up and the fashions we suffered through.

Let's Acknowledge Individuality

Maybe the best way to reach Xers, or any generation, is to acknowledge that we're a generation of individuals, not a homogenous cohort. We've all seen The Breakfast Club. Setting aside the fact that three of the five actors sitting through that long-ago 1984 Saturday detention were actually boomers (another slight?), those five distinct personalities represent a microcosm of our generation, captured in time.

Movie Clip: The Breakfast Club

Their personalities — Claire the Elitist, Andrew the Jock, John the Rebel, Brian the Geek, and Allison the Outcast — were distinct and unique — so much so that they’ve since been memorialized for all eternity in the meme-verse, more than 30 years later.

Those personalities exist in every generation, and across generations. They just happen to exist, also, in one of our generational movies. Asking whether Claire or Allison or John like 'structured work hours' would get you three different answers.

And, that's the way it should be.

Individuals deserve to be treated as individuals and not shoved into boxes that tell them how they should feel about social distancing, work hours, society, or the other generations with whom we share this century.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” says Ferris Bueller in the iconic 1986 movie. Maybe we could experience even more from life if we stop reading messages on how we should feel about it.





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Ryan W Owen

Ryan W Owen

Writer / Photographer / Linguist / MBA