On Being Generation X

College buds

One of my favorite novels from my 20’s was Douglas Coupland’s ‘Generation X.’ A literary reality show chronicling the lives of 20-somethings in and around LA in the 90’s, he (re-)re-popularized the term Generation X (after Billy Idol did in London’s punk scene), coined the concept McJob and hit the nail on the head with our love/hate relationship to the Yuppie. He created an entire vocabulary to describe the affliction of being Gen-X.

Generation X covers those of us born between the early 60’s and the early 80’s. Having been a 20-something in the early 90’s, this novel resonated down to my core. I was working my McJob until I could advance to the Yuppie set (because that’s what you do). My transition from college to real life was that of waitress to Fund Accountant and a job that had me wondering if I do this grind for the next, say, 45 years, am I going to be Important or just a Headline (‘Woman Found Dead in Her Flat; Cause of Death: Sheer Boredom’)? The book explores the horrors of what comes next (I. Don’t. Want. To. Grow. Up.) compared with the horrors of staying here in post-college, hyperadolescent limbo and those relationships we cultivate in that space… Coupland was writing about me and my friends, just the California versions.

[For the record, now that I have become a Grown-Up, I’m not sure that I actually do want to grow up… Quite sure Coupland has an idiom for this: Generational Nostalgia, perhaps?]

And it occurred to me recently that we hear much about Baby Boomers and (perhaps too much) about those over-coddled Millennials. But we, Gen-X, are this generation that hovers in a realm between Important and somewhat Resigned (to a faceless stature in history, perhaps, ever-dwarfed by the Boomer masses). Sometimes I feel like we’re the very quiet middle child (see Pew Research Study for corroboration), ever-squashed by its oldest sibling and acquiescent to receiving less attention than the needy baby of the family. So while I’m an eldest child in fact, I live within the lines of a generation with a (perhaps not so) mild case of Middle Child Syndrome.

I can’t speak for my entire generation; but really folks, don’t we all just want to Make a Difference here? Our generation is the product of Very Important Boomers (VIB’s?), requiring self-reliance, self-confidence and scrappiness as core strengths. We grew up as the first generation with two working parents as the norm, entered the Real World in a recession, and survived the weird late-80’s and early 90’s with the neon wardrobe to prove it. Supposedly, we’re a generation that’s not expected to do as well financially as our parents. What a legacy to follow!

All these years later, I am fortunate to still be close to a handful of those friends I had as a 20-something, living the Yuppie-in-training (puppy?) life. And so now, as we make our way through our late 40’s and into our 50’s, I see us all stumbling over these bumps that show up in our lives, seemingly put there to make sure we’re still paying attention to the little things.

I’ve been running these questions over in my mind of late… What can I do to Do Good? Does what I’m doing really Matter? How do I leave a positive legacy? And, perhaps: How do I get through a day without throttling a ____________ (fill in the blank: Boomer, politician, yuppie, millennial, pushy salesperson, AARP rep, ex…)

After you’re dead and buried and floating around whatever place we go to, what’s going to be your best memory of earth? What one moment for you defines what it’s like to be alive on this planet. What’s your takeaway…some small moment from your life that proves you’re really alive. (Douglas Coupland, Generation X)

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? How to Make a Difference… Maybe, these 20-odd years later, we are still trying to find our feet in this world, trying to move the needle closer to being Important. Because life gets in the way of Living sometimes, and we’ve spent some time in the land of Resigned, perhaps even spent a holiday in the land of Coupland’s Fame-Induced Apathy (where a thing is not pursued unless we can become Very Famous from it).

And so for now, while we’re immersed in this reality show of a presidential race, I’m voting for making small differences. One hopes that someday, when it’s time, they will string together and add up to Something to be remembered for or by. In the short term, maybe at minimum we’ll have improved the trajectory of someone’s day.