Check out this piece from Forbes.com . The writer spends some time moaning about the state of the GenX midlife crisis, and I think it is interesting. For many years, I grumbled about the unfortunate position GenXers were put into, especially being on the older end of the generation and leaving college into a nasty job market. Moaning about our lot, especially in comparison to the Baby Boomers, is a generational imperative… a result of our apathy, our disaffected disposition. The tone of this piece certainly begins woefully, and like many articles and essays of its ilk, wraps with the silver lining of how many things GenX does have going for it.
This reminds me of something I saw the other day on The Today Show. Al Roker was interviewing a financial expert on the — gasp! — increasing trend of grown children not leaving their parents’ home. Wow! How did this come about?! Al even said something to that effect, feigning (I hope) mild surprise on this odd state of young adulthood. Well, I think Al was around in the early 90s when many of us were still living with mom and dad, post-graduation and then even a few years more. In the news cycle, perhaps enough time has passed to make this new again, but I recall the same topic covered ad nauseam by media when I was not living in my parents’ home but paying a decent portion of my paycheck for a studio apartment the size of my patio in the pre-dot-com 90s. (This says a lot more about the size of my apartment than it does the size of my patio.)
The article certainly calls out the role of circumstance in a generation’s misfortune or good luck. I am not entirely sure that I agree that things are so dismal for GenX. The writer says that GenX has hit its “collective wall,” and I am assuming that is measured only in terms of earning power. True, GenXers have suffered through two horrible economies. And, they are approaching what has been understood to be peak earning years during one of these downturns, but this is all based on assumptions of how things are “supposed” to work. And hasn’t each generation had to suffer through their own challenges and bask in their own advantages based on the circumstances at the time? We can’t continue to measure ourselves by the generation that has come before, precisely because things are different.
My parents are on the initial crest of the Baby Boomers, and they never had a sports car or any of the other trappings of the midlife crisis. When they entered their forties, they had the pleasure of paying for college for three kids. My neighbor who just turned forty has been rolling around town in a new BMW convertible. It’s all situational, and perhaps it doesn’t have as much to do with what generation you are in as it does choices you have made (my parents starting a family in their early 20s), and whether or not you have benefitted from the economy past, present or future.
Did the stock market downtown hit your retirement savings or the income you live off of in retirement now? Did you start your career expecting to stay with the same company forever and have a great retirement pension, or did you know going in that it was completely up to you to save? Do you have a huge environmental mess on your hands? (This, I think, is the worst legacy we’ve received, and it is multi-generational.) These things are generational. But many other factors can influence the outcome of one’s life too. Perhaps the GenX midlife won’t be associated with sports cars, but it might be associated with something else… like launching a second career, entrepreneurialism or re-inventing one’s life. Regardless of what it is, it also a reflection of personal circumstances as it is of birthdate.