GenX and the Midlife Crisis

I rarely just post other people’s articles here – there’s plenty of that elsewhere. But in our continuing conversation about generational dynamics, and particularly the recent talks we’ve been having about the forgotten GenXers, I want to highlight this article from Salon, entitled “Generation X gets really old: How Do Slackers Have a Midlife Crisis?”

Sara Scribner’s entire article is a must-read, especially as we consider what Xers bring into our congregations in terms of how they view life and what they’re experiencing. Consider the following:

The economic reality for most Xers is much harsher. According to this year’s Pew study, Xers lost 45 percent of their wealth during the Great Recession. More than a few experts suggest that Xers – finally buying their starter homes in their 30s — unwittingly helped inflate the real estate bubble. They certainly bore the brunt of the collapse.

So just around the time that we were on schedule to settle down, our midlife economic peak became the worst market failure since 1929. “Our entire life has been punctuated by economic disasters from the time we were born,” says Gregory Thomas. “At every major milestone there’s been an economic collapse. There is no rest for Generation X. There’s no time to sit back and think ‘Am I happy or not?’”

For many of us, who waited to prepare things just so before we started a family, the idea of waking up to family-and-career complacency and wondering how we lost track of our youthful dreams sounds like the luxury of a more secure generation.  David Byrne’s suburban lament “How did I get here?” has become the more practical “How can I pay my rent?” John Lennon’s love-struck refrain “It’s just like starting over” is, for many of us, not a romantic lark. It’s real life. And it’s a lot less fun.

“If anything,” says Wendy Fonarow, a social anthropologist and the author of the indie-rock chronicle ”Empire of Dirt,” “our generation is characterized by not hitting a wall of midlife crisis but having crises throughout.”

Yes… life HAS been a struggle. This article identifies these issues quite clearly. Sadly, of course, there’s still some negative commentary in the piece – by no less than generational expert Neil Howe himself:

 It’s about time, [Howe] says, for Xers to acknowledge limits and step up to the plate. “These Xers spending their lives with this sardonic view, never taking anything that’s happening in public at face value, but always to find the failing, that expresses a bigger problem with X — they are always outsiders,” he says. “These boomer CEOs say that they are maturing to the extent that they should be heading into leadership roles, but they simply don’t want to accept responsibility to the bigger community.“

What Howe misses here is that we WANT to step up. We WANT responsibility. We CARE DEEPLY about the bigger community. But we keep finding there’s no room from the Boomers above and we’re being pushed from the Millennials below. We are the Prince Charles of generations.

But…on the whole, this is a good article. No matter our generation, we should read it – and then consider how we minister to the GenXers in our congregations and encourage their roles as leaders (and make room for them too.)

And to GenX specifically, I say, Sara Scribner is right: “If we’re going to make the country a better place, more suited to our values, we need to do it ourselves.”

 

3 Comments

  1. Well, as a boomer, I remember graduating from college and setting up house, on minimum wage, just when the oil embargo hit, and gas and hamburger both went from about 39 cents to over a dollar. Then there was the second energy crisis, the savings and loan crisis, and when my first born was a year old, we bought a house and within months the mortgage was under water, as they say now (I described it as “we sold as soon as we could without giving someone a check), for seven years. The “greatest generation” didn’t exactly all retire early, and it was well into the 90s before the boomers had a (brief) generational majority in Congress. Bill Clinton was barely a boomer, on one end, Obama is barely on the other – in between we got W. Great. Our parents were kids in the Depression, draft age in WWI and Korea. Boomers were draft age for Vietnam. Shit happens for every generation, and every generation steps up.

  2. Pingback: The Adaptive Generation | Growing Vital Leaders

  3. Very valuable piece. As a boomer (God, I hate that word), I am curious about the assertion that “there’s no room from the boomers above.” What would that room look like, and how could boomers go about creating it?

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