Why Gen-Xers Have Sympathy For Millennials

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Rachel Burger’s excellent post last week regarding a viral piece critical of the Millennial generation made me want to share some of my own reflections about differing generational perspectives.

When it comes to these types of “generation gap” discussions, I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of a crowded family dinner table. As a Generation X’er, I can relate to my Baby Boomer “siblings” because I do (vaguely) remember the prosperity that marked the particular era in American history that defined their generation. On the other hand, I can relate to what my Millennial “siblings” are going through now, because I came of age during a place and time when the economic landscape changed dramatically.

In the early 1980s it was just as difficult to get a job as it is now. Many people I know who graduated from college ended up going back to local trade schools to learn “skills” to make them more marketable for the new economy that started to emerge back then. Sure, I didn’t have as much debt when graduated from college, but many of my peers borrowed money to pay for school. In fact, a scary and significant number of friends my age are still paying for their post-graduate professional degrees, and have no money saved for retirement.

What made the experience unique to my generation was how much of a shock it was to start out college in a time where my expectations were similar to the Boomers. They were starting to shed their hippie personas and “me” generation tendencies, as noted elsewhere, and I thought the same would be true for me, only to graduate in one of the worst recessions in US history, and have to cope suddenly with radically “diminished expectations.”

The movie Dazed and Confused, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release this week, is painful for someone like me to watch and remember just how different things were in the 1970s.

Dazed follows the adventures of a group of white, middle-class high school students and their exploits on the last day of school before the summer of 1976 begins. Looking at some clips from the movie this week, I was reminded of the Rolling Stones song which states “I am free to do whatever I want any old time.” As far as I’m concerned, there was a lot less restriction on human behavior then than there is now, and that is amply evident in the movie.

Although I can relate to other generations’ experiences of something like economic adversity, it is simply not the same experience as someone who is half my age, or someone who is older.

Nor should it be. We’re all different individuals experiencing life differently.

Today is different from yesterday. In order to grow and evolve as human beings, we should all be willing to change along with the times, no matter what our age.