Please note this post is just me exploring some ideas and could very well be rambling, bordering on incoherent at times. Your patience and indulgence is appreciated. You have been warned 😉
Locating one’s self in space and time is important. As humans we are social creatures driven to connect with others and understand ourselves.
One way of doing that is looking for generational distinctions. I’m a member of Generation X (GenX). I am going to define GenX as people born between 1961 and 1981 (for the record, I was born in 1970, pretty much right in the middle… ).
I’ve long held that humans are meaning-seeking and meaning-creating creatures. It is not enough for us to just process our stimuli, to merely observe. We must understand everything about our existence.
So, being a member of a generation is meaningful and useful for us. Placing ourselves in a generational context has real utility for us. From mere affinity (“I”m a GenXer!”), to deeper questions of roles and responsibilities as citizens, spouses, sons and daughters, parents and inhabitants, when we’re born matters – and matters to us.
My primary interest here is to better understand how what I do as coach interacts with generational dynamics. At the risk of creating something that people can hang “things” on – most critically, avoiding any sort of generational victim narrative – I want to better understand how the times we live in impact how we see ourselves and what that means for how we create our lives and legacies.
One way of thinking about this is imagining the difference between being in a pool and not. If one is in the pool and wants to move, then some form of swimming is in order; not being being in the pool necessitates a different sort of locomotion. My point here is that wherever you find yourself, movement is possible, but ignoring key conditions is folly.
In every challenge there is opportunity. One thing I read from reliable sources is that as Baby Boomers retire (as they will start to soon) that there will be a “talent shortage.” If this is indeed accurate, then there will be real opportunities for GenXers to step up and into roles with greater responsibility – and greater compensation.
But only if they are prepared, and savvy. This is an instance where generational understanding can serve. An extreme reading suggests that being clueless to generational trends would mean that a GenXer would be blind to these coming opportunities. They simply wouldn’t know or care about what was happening with the Baby Boomers and what a large of amount of the workforce retiring en masse (relatively speaking) could mean for them.
Other things matter to us here: chief among them the changing nature of the American social contract (to the extent that one believes in such… ). What I am speaking of here are things like:
- the end of 30-years-and-a-gold-watch employment
- the end of using one’s house as a “saving” instrument
- the likely end, or significant reduction, of governmental retirement support (i.e. the end of Social Security and MediCare as we know it, by the time GenX gets to retirement age)
- the likely impossibility of “retiring” at age 65
- a loss of trust in institutions and increased cynicism (beginning with Watergate all the way to Iraq and “Yellowcake”)
- the elation and hope contained within the end of the Cold War, and the subsequent sadness and resignation that came with 9/11 and the so-called “War on Terror”
- the stratospheric rise in education costs and the concurrent rise of student loan debt (which recently surpassed credit card debt… )
- globalization and increased competition in many key areas
How one makes plans and conceives of their life path relies on factors like the above, and more.
In addition to being meaning seekers and creators, we crave safety and certainty. Our limbic brains are always looking for threats and seeking out the familiar. Therefore we are planners, and in a grand sense, we’re conservative. Or put another way, few of us (humans, that is) are truly reckless.
So we make plans. We seek to create our lives, and worlds, and to be safe.
But GenXers are making their plans in a context. A context of greater uncertainty, and opportunity. A context of rapid change, but under-girded by timeless principles and imperatives.
A key question for me is how do I best understand the needs of my clients and provide the absolute best coaching services possible?
Answering this question – I believe – requires that I take generational trends and realities into consideration.
I look forward to exploring this, and related questions, in upcoming posts.