Clearly, I struck a nerve.
Last month, I blogged about turning 50 next year
, asking if we members of Generation X are ready for the milestone with respect to our health, finances and personal goals.
My intention was to start a discussion about readiness for a new phase of life. But instead, I seem to have revived a long-simmering boomer vs. X'er rivalry that reminded me a lot of siblings fighting over what to watch on TV. I also ticked off some people who did not appreciate my use of the term "slackers" as shorthand for Gen X — or being labeled as part of any generation, for that matter.
What's With the Generational Labels?
“This Gen X/Baby Boom/Millennial generation analysis is complete bunk,” Adam Wellstead wrote. “Other than an arbitrarily made-up time period that a certain group of people were born in, these people really share no other common behavioral characteristics.”
David Stillman, author of When Generations Collide
, and co-founder of the BridgeWorks
generational consulting firm, acknowledges the limitations of defining individual traits according to birth year. “Does the lens work for everyone? No," he says. ”But it can help people understand others’ perspective and avoid misunderstandings."
In the spirit of fostering inter-generational peace and understanding, take our Gen X or Boomer Quiz to find out where you fall. The quiz was designed for those born between 1946 and 1981. To the Millennials and members of the Silent Generation reading this, it may help you understand someone you know who is a boomer or Gen X'er.
(MORE: Generational Training: What's In It for Boomers?)
Help, I’m in the Wrong Generation!
Many who responded to my blog post were born in the 60s and 70s but did not self-identify as members of Gen X. Several said they felt more like boomers; others took exception with the definition of Gen X as those born between 1965 and 1981. (Note: Some demographers put the start year at 1961).
Reader Dale Hoppert wrote, “I was born in 1965 and am in no way of the slacker or Gen X generation. In fact, I have always considered myself and my contemporaries a sort of lost half-generation between the much-lauded baby boomers and the so-called Generation X.”
What is Generation X?
Looking for a better understanding of Generation X, I called Neil Howe
, a historian, demographer and co-author with William Strauss of 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail
about Gen X. Howe said it's not surprising that many people do not want to be associated with Gen X even if they were born well within the generally-accepted timeframe for the generation.
“They absolutely don't want to be part of this generation. It's a horrible thing," he said. That's because, Howe noted, the generation is marked by a sense of "darkness and damage."
Jeff Gordinier took up the debate in his 2008 book X Saves the World. There’s no use fighting the Gen X label because, he wrote: “(1) It’s too late to try to orchestrate a brand relaunch and (2) as the shorthand goes, we could do a lot worse.”
In fact, Howe says there actually were worse names that didn’t stick, including the “New Lost Generation” and the “Busters,” so-called because their arrival signaled the end of the baby boom.
A Slacker Backlash
As much as readers seemed to object to being put in a generational box, several were more incensed over the use of the term "slacker" as shorthand for members of Generation X.
“'The ‘slackers,’ really?” wrote Susan Reynolds. “All I recall is working my ass off for minimum wage through high school, through college, working 60 hours a week most of my professional life … and still earning barely enough to scrape by.”
Diane La'Ree Peagler concurred. “My generation isn't the slackers. Who came up with this?” she asked.
That would be Gen X filmmaker Richard Linklater, whose 1991 film Slacker followed a series of aimless but intriguing, mostly 20-something characters through Austin, Texas for a hot, summer day.
Gen X'ers who complain about the slacker name are missing the point, Howe said. "It was invented by X'ers to make fun of boomers. 'You think we don't work hard? Sure, we're ‘slackers,’” he said. “The spirit in which it was meant was, ‘Yuppie, get out of here!'”
Boomers v. Gen X
That nuance may have been lost in the 23 years since the title of Linklater’s film captured the spirit of a generation very different from the boomers. Responding to my post, Gen X readers defended their work ethic and boomers defended their own.
She got this response from boomer Andrea Tollesfrund: “You must be confusing Baby Boomers (lazy?) with some other label born after 1980. We and my predecessors were and are the hardest working lot of all the labels from boomers to present. Get a clue what you're talking about before you accuse boomers of being 'carried’ by you and yours. Shame on you. I was working at age 12."
(MORE: How to Get Along With Younger Co-Workers)
Backbiting between the two generations is nothing new, according to Howe. “We wrote about that 20 years ago," he said. “The hardscrabble (Gen X'ers) doing these incredible things to make ends meet versus the boomers who have it all — that hasn’t changed.”
Can We All Get Along?
But perhaps the war between the X'ers and boomers can dissipate. Maybe we can combine the idealism of the boomers with the pragmatism of Gen X and draw strength from one another. We Gen X’ers may not have led a peace movement, but we can learn from those who did.
To that end, boomer-reader Nena Hurley offered this advice for those of us approaching age 50: “You'd better get ready, cause it happens whether you're ready or not! It's just a number. Stay in shape, eat right, make a great network of friends (your kids are probably ready to be out the door), pick some good hobbies and develop a great sense of humor — you're gonna need it!”
Take our 11-question quiz to gauge how much of a Gen X'er or Boomer you are!