Whatever happened to Generation X?

As I take a look around at those in power and the rising stars of the future be it in politics or business, on a national scale or within my own workplace, I see a yawning generational chasm occupied by just a few lonely voices where my age cohort should be out in force.

It feels like my generation has been skipped; late to the party, missed out on all the good bits. We’re absent from the table when the cakes are being handed round. Most of my school friends dropped off the conventional career ladder long ago and I’ll soon be joining them. Where did Generation X go wrong?

For those who don’t already know, Generation X are the kids who were born between the mid 60’s and mid 80’s. We’re currently in our thirties and forties. Those older than us are the Baby-Boomers and those younger are the Millenials.

About now we should have been expecting to see the bulk of power and capital passing into our hands as the Boomers retired but it hasn’t happened. To me it feels like we’ve been by-passed. True enough, politically, all three major party leaders are early X’ers and what a sorry bunch they are in the great scheme of things. I suspect that by this time next year they’ll all be gone and odds are that their replacements will come once more from the older generation, or even the younger; a safe pair of hands or a breath of fresh air.

But why did it come to this? What happened to us and why are we so disorganised and seemingly lost in the world? It all comes down to history.

Generation X grew up during the seventies and eighties. These were our most formative years when the ideas that we absorbed shaped our futures. In childhood we learn our basic lessons and are forever dominated by the things which play on our minds most and for us as a group, that was the bomb.

It may not seem such an obvious thing to those who were over ten years old in 1970; or indeed to ourselves, but we grew up in the era of ‘mutually assured destruction’. We were children safe in the knowledge that we could all be annihilated in the blink of an eye; we were too young to understand the politics, the why’s and wherefores. All we had were adults talking darkly about ‘four minute warnings’ and ‘fallout shelters’, and how if we were lucky we’d be vapourised. We rehearsed for it at primary school and dug play nuclear shelters in the garden. We dutifully read our set English texts: On the beach, Z for Zachariah, Adam’s Ark… but they didn’t prepare us for life; they prepared us for death.

The end of the world was real and imminent from my earliest consciousness, but speaking to older generations now, I know that it didn’t register with them in anything like the same way; they all watched the news of course whereas we just had the fear.

Plenty of us watched Threads though; and those that didn’t heard about it at school the next day.

And this is the problem for Generation X. Most of us didn’t expect to ever be in our thirties and forties; or at least if we did it would be in a world so far removed from that we knew that it was hardly worth preparing for. The survivors were the ones going blind up on Curbar Edge. What good would education and wealth be to us there? We might just as well get drunk.

So we played like there was no tomorrow, enjoying ourselves while we could. We never studied too hard preferring instead a life of binge drinking, drugs, cheap sex and illegal raves.

Then, twenty-five years ago the wall came down and everything changed. We found ourselves wondering what to do with our lives. We were never prepared for that and all of a sudden we were expected to adapt to a new reality. Peace.

We still lived our lives of self-gratification, quick credit and short-termism because that’s what our formative years had taught us to do. We didn’t bother with pensions and have the lowest voting turnout of any generation, ever.

Now most of us have debts up to our eyebrows; mine was the first year to get student loans (albeit modest by today’s standards). Those of us who didn’t end our lives in crack dens finished school and graduated into a ruthless boom and bust economy which sapped our spirits before we even got going.

We mortgaged ourselves up to the hilt to try and get on the housing ladder whilst still being in that dangerous mind-set that tomorrow would never come. Now here we are; tomorrow has come and there’s another long recession partly of our own making. We’re broken and shell-shocked as we lose the lives we’d gained once we belatedly realised we needed to work hard. At the same time we find ourselves as the sandwich generation having to care for both our parents and our children simultaneously. What a mess.

Meanwhile the following generation have come along with their work hard, play hard attitude and wonderful self-assurance. I don’t pretend life is easy for them at the moment but they do seem so much better prepared for it. They take life seriously and care about their future. The first of them are just entering their thirties and yet they’ve already produced social and political commentators, entrepreneurs and thinkers the like of which have rarely been seen before. Generation X are struggling to find our feet; meanwhile the Millenials have already found theirs and started walking.

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