I’m a Gen Xer. And I’m guessing a lot of people out there reading this are Gen Xers too. I keep a pretty close eye on my metrics. I’m a data driven blogger.
And here’s what I have to say about it after being a Gen Xer for about five decades or so.
It fucking sucks.
We have the shittiest luck of any generation. I know we didn’t go through a world war or a great depression but at least those people were one-and-done with their generational catastrophes. For us, I feel like each decade has just been one calamitous blunder after another.
The first decade was fucking awesome. 1970 – 1980 was cool as shit. We rode our bikes with no helmets, wherever we fucking wanted until it was too dark to see. We sat in the beds of pick-up trucks as they cruised along the freeway. We went to school with keys around our necks and came home to houses that were empty but afternoons that were filled with unsupervised fun and infinite possibilities.
The only thing we had to worry about was Halloween. Because evidently, in the years between 1970 and 1980, approximately one in three pieces of Halloween candy had a giant fucking razor blade in it. Other than that, the world was our oyster.
The next decade didn’t go so well though. Everything was chugging along fine and then in 1984, when we were all getting our pubes, AIDS came along and suddenly your pubes could kill you.
It fucking sucked. You’re 14 or 15 years old and you’re totally ready to start doing all the things you’re not supposed to do with each other and suddenly the consequences of doing things you’re not supposed to do with each other go from getting crabs and having to buy an embarrassing cream from old man Patterson at the pharmacy to getting AIDS and dying immediately with everyone terrified to even touch you.
So that’s how we spent our teens. It’s fine. We dealt with it. We got into long term, monogamous relationships. We still got to do most of the things you weren’t supposed to do with each other but we just got to do them with a lot less people. It’s okay. It prepared us well for a lifetime of unfulfilling, codependent relationships.
I tried to stay hopeful. Maybe things would get better as we moved into our 20’s? And it did. We got cooler video games and witnessed the golden age of MTV. Music seemed to be one of our bright spots so we leaned into it. You can say what you want about Gen X, but with the exception of the baby boomers, our generation's music can beat up your generation's music. Frankly, if it weren’t for the Beatles, it’d be a toss-up.
We might not have been very good at sex but you put us on a stage with a guitar and some flannel and we showed up strong. We stuck a much needed dagger in the heart of the hair bands that dominated the airwaves and for that alone we deserve some sort of generational thank you.
Music is a powerful thing. It can carry so much weight for you. And in the modern age it becomes the backdrop for places in time. That’s why it’s so important. Especially when you’re young. Something inside of you inherently knows that the music around you will be the eternal soundtrack of your life.
But we were in good hands. We had found our voice. We knew exactly who our main storyteller was going to be. And perhaps never before had an artist so perfectly mirrored the audience that was listening to him. There were no fancy stage clothes. He wasn’t from another planet. Kurt Cobain was just another latch-key kid like all of us. And just when things were looking up, he swallowed a fucking shot-gun and left us all standing there with our dicks in our hands.
That took a little while to process.
A lot of us walked off stage that day and just said fuck it. We set our guitars down in the corner and they’ve been collecting dust ever since.
It’s just as well. Heading into our third decade, it was now time to buckle down. We got jobs and started careers. We had finally gotten a break thanks to Al Gore inventing the internet. There was a whole http://world wide web of information super-highway to be surfed and we were the ones leading the way.
It was an amazing time because there was all this new technology and we were the ones who understood it best because we played video games, had taken computer programming classes since middle school and knew Java Script.
The dot com boom was going to be our gold rush.
And man did we fuck that shit up.
We traded paychecks for equity stakes. We worked for nothing because we had all those shares. Things were going to be fucking awesome. We were an IPO away from being millionaires.
Then the bubble burst. All that equity didn’t mean squat. And we ended up with nothing to show for it. It was like having pubes that could kill you all over again.
But we’re resilient. We picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off. After all, what could we do? We were going into our forties. We were married and had kids.
Though personally, I still felt like a kid. I wore the same Converse One Stars I had all my life. I still had concert t-shirts taking up half of my closet. When I got together with friends, we didn’t play golf— we skateboarded. How do you become a successful adult when you never grew up in the first place?
But like Wooderson says, in Dazed and Confused. “You just gotta keep livin’.”
We were broke and bankrupt and our credit was in the shitter but we soldiered on. Luckily, money was cheap and we were able to borrow our asses off thanks to a little thing someone came up with called sub-prime lending. We were finally able to buy the enormous houses that we would have been able to buy ourselves if every fucking thing we ever touched hadn’t turned to complete shit.
That didn’t go so well either. It’s okay though. We’re used to disappointment. And our baby boomer parents who didn’t fall for any of this nonsense were there to bail us out. Plus, we still had our jobs. We were making about the same money that our bosses made when we started working 25 years ago, but it covered the rent and gave us something constructive to do during the day.
So here we are. Entering our fifth decade. This one is usually pretty good for most generations. Especially when it comes to their careers. By now you’ve got all the experience, connections and wisdom to succeed. You’ve accumulated enough knowledge to be a leader in your field or at your company or wherever/whatever it is you’ve been toiling away at. And just when you think you’re finally going to get called up to the majors and get paid the big bucks, a whole new ism comes out of nowhere to fuck us all up.
All of the sudden we’re too old, too expensive and too needy. We require things like vacation days to spend time with our family, time off to take sick kids to the doctor and at the end of the day we expect to go home.
Thanks to ageism, our job goes to a 35 year old with 10 years of experience, a sleeve of tattoos and a fridge full of Red Bull.
Once again, Gen X gets the shaft. We get passed over. And now we work for a kid with a Tesla and horrible taste in music.
The novelist Gertrude Stein is often credited with naming the first generation when she coined the term Lost Generation. Hemingway ripped it off in The Sun Also Rises. But Gertrude was a hell of a gal so she didn’t make any beef about it.
Since then, we’ve had the G.I. Generation, the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z.
That’s not to mention the Greatest Generation, the Woodstock Generation, the MTV Generation and the Star Trek Next Generation.
It’s silly when you think about it. At any given point in time there are several different generations alive and walking the earth. We’re all going through the same shit. The differences come in the lenses we view the shit through.
As a Gen Xer, I believe our lens is one of romantic skepticism. I think we actually prefer our cup to be half full. That way, when it inevitably gets knocked over, we’re only out half a beer.
We could have had it worse. We didn’t get drafted. We didn’t get saddled with the enormous student loans that every kid seems to have these days. And we were pretty much the last generation who could do all the stupid shit we wanted and not have to worry about it winding up on the internet. I’m particularly grateful for that.
But we’re a gritty bunch. So, don’t count Gen X out just yet. Beneath the apathy, routine disappointment and Halloween candy PTSD we have a uniquely youthful spirit that carries with it a teensy, tiny sliver of optimism.
We always get back up on our boards and go at it again. We came home with a lot of skinned knees over the years. But we’ve always had that key around our neck so that we could let ourselves in, clean ourselves up and nurse our own wounds. Maybe that’s our strength. We seem to be able to take care of ourselves in one way or another no matter what.
If it is, I’ll take it. What am I gonna do? I’m a Gen Xer. I take whatever I can get.