While sitting in crowded Edmonton Starbucks writing the first couple of lines for this blog, a man sat down next to me. We struck up a conversation, and I found out that we, a Generation Xer (me) and a Millennial (him), were both using the café as an office. He asked me what I was working on and I told him that it was a piece about how Generation X is always ignored. I had been crafting some arguments about how Gen X is the hardest done by and how Baby Boomers and Millennials are loudmouths. However, talking to my new friend helped me see the one constant that unites all our generations: change.
What first piqued my Gen X ire was an e-mail Business Link sent out last month with the heading: Tired of Millennials Getting All the Breaks? Opening the message, I saw that the content was directed at Baby Boomers. It was as if Gen X didn’t even exist. It was as if we weren’t worth being mentioned. Attention is paid to how Boomers and Millennials function as entrepreneurs, but not Gen X. As one of those oft-ignored Generation Xers, I felt stuck between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, the two supposedly loudest and “me first” demographics.
Stereotypes prevail, and it’s hard to see past the generational stereotypes when we’re pitted against each other. Of course, we are all individuals and have our own stories and experiences, but history will label us and already has. There are six demographic groups in Canada with three main ones in the workforce today: Baby Boomers (aged 53 to 73), Generation X (aged 37 to 52) and Millennials (aged 18 to 36). The popular narratives start with the Baby Boomers waltzing into full-time work and financial success with ease. Millennials are hard workers who don’t focus solely on money but are also concerned with environmental and socioeconomic issues. They don’t want to be stuck in one career, and therefore, they’re struggling financially.
When Gen Xers entered the workforce, the Boomers had the jobs. They told us we were too young and inexperienced and had no ambition. They said we needed to earn a rung on the ladder before climbing up it. The reality was, most of us couldn’t get work. There was a recession when I graduated with two degrees, and I ended up working in retail. It’s important to point out that retail work has value, too—but it wasn’t what I trained for, and the wages weren’t commensurate with paying off the student debt I’d incurred while in school for six years.
Meanwhile, Millennials were right behind us and were a cheaper workforce. When many Gen Xers got laid off before reaching our prime earning years like the Boomers were able to, Millennials got our jobs. Nevertheless, Millennials feel they may never be able to afford a house or retire. These are valid concerns—but these are also issues many Gen Xers are facing. The thing is, no one can hear us over the din of the Boomers and Millennials yelling at each other. The Boomers accuse Millennials of being entitled. Millennials accuse the Boomers of taking all the wealth. Gen X just keeps plugging away, trying to pay the bills.
In the midst of this, I became an entrepreneur. I’m the owner of a memoir writing business. My new Starbucks friend is an engineer who now works in sales. I told him about the stories I’ve been writing for my business and how jobs were a very important part of my Baby Boomer clients’ lives. They were identified by their careers, whether it was as an entrepreneur, financial planner or national park warden. My Gen X subjects were a bit more offhand about their work identities because they never had just one career. They worked as sales clerks, realtors, and a few headed overseas to teach English when the economy tanked in North America in the 1990s. In their stories, jobs were more like experiments used to discover and broaden their employment skills to hopefully secure long-range employment down the road. My new Millennial friend at Starbucks said his contemporaries use jobs as tools.
“Working is not a way of life now,” he added.
That’s true—and it’s true because prior generations made that achievable. Many of us, no matter which generation, strive to work to live rather than live to work. This wasn’t always possible in the past, as I’ve seen through my memoir writing work. For example, try to be a Canadian woman airline pilot in the 1950s. It was rare.
In every era, people have had to adapt to whatever issues the world throws at them. Our values, reactions and behaviours presumably differ across generations, yet we all build on each other’s experiences. Each generation is not an entity onto its own, even if you might use a different marketing tactic for different groups. We are all interconnected, and it’s thanks to my Millennial Starbucks buddy for showing me we all want the same thing: to be able to live a fulfilling life at any age.