Sep 172007

I’m Generation X. If you were born between 1964 and 1979 (inclusive), you are too, though from 1975 on you can instead claim “MTV Generation,” if you like that better.

I heard a lot in the media about how little direction I had, right around the time I was graduating from high school. That fit at the time, in some ways. I pursued a high ACT score, meaningful research on colleges and universities, and scholarships with insufficient vigor. I earned my degree on time, then didn’t use it for 20 months, thereby invalidating any perceived time benefits obtained by three summer classes. It also meant I gave back the year I “gained” when I started first grade at 5 instead of 6.

But it all worked out, both for me and my generation at large. We’re the last generation who’s really going to remember what it was like before the Internet was ubiquitous. I’ve talked about that before; it’s our generation’s “walked to school uphill both ways” sort of story. We’ve bred by now, mostly, and we’re conscientious and protective moms and dads. We bring an entrepreneurial spirit and technical savvy to the business world. We’ve exceeded initial low expectations, as every generation seems to.

Marge Simpson once advised Lisa to “push all the bad things deep down inside of yourself and put a big smile on so everyone knows what a good mommy you have.” Indeed, that seems to have been the M.O. for many of our parents’ parents. Why, there were never any bumps in the glorious road of life. Everyone communicated well. No child or spouse was ever struck in anger. No one ever drank too much. Marriages were sacred, and that trust was never violated. No one ever didn’t know what to do: work harder, pray harder, or both, and that will take care of it. Of course everything is lovely! See this white picket fence? See the apple pie cooling in the kitchen window?

Perhaps in an effort to correct this abject denial, too many of our parents yanked the steering wheel violently the other way. Ever known anyone who was happiest miserable? I’ll bet you a frosty A&W that person’s a ‘Boomer. The best thing to do with a problem is to marinate in it. Let’s study and discuss this problem endlessly.

More importantly, it may not even be my problem. What is my inner child saying? Maybe I have repressed memories that would demonstrate that it really is creepy old Uncle Bob’s fault after all. My misery is not because of a mistake I have made; I have a disease. I’m OK, you’re OK. My happiness is important above all else, and its unwavering pursuit is always justified. I am special (just like everyone else).

It seems like we GenXers ought to be ideally placed to cherry-pick the best of both. We can balance the individual strength from our grandparents and a healthy level of emotional awareness from our parents to be “just right.” But do we?

I expected for a long time to see our divorce rate drop from that of our parents’ generation. I thought that because we were the largest generation of children to ever experience it, we might be motivated by desire to avoid inflicting it on our children. We would take extra care in choosing our mates, as well as display increased resistance to the idea of giving up on a marriage that is merely difficult (as opposed to destroyed). Sadly, that hasn’t happened.

Somewhere, too many of us dropped the self-reliance ball too. I have no problems that government cannot solve. I have a right not to be offended. Somebody should do something. I’m suing.

On bad days—say, rainy cold February Tuesdays—I have little faith we’ll ever sufficiently repair that trait. I think that my ultimate financial goal should be to afford total isolation, and I begin to seriously consider measuring my success based on how discretionary I can make my interplay with the eternally whining world. Did you ever consider just how much your lack of total financial independence controls your interactions?

Conversely, on cool fall evenings surrounded by a beautiful family, sipping a little Single Barrel, and with Alabama 3-0, I think that maybe we’ll find that golden spot yet. The oldest GenXers are only 43. The preceding 100 years have been, by an order of magnitude, the most rigorously recorded in history. Most of us have an innocuous little box sitting somewhere at home that can access what is essentially the sum total of human knowledge.

We should be perfectly positioned to grab the gems and leave the rocks.

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