I originally had this published at The Episcopal Cafe last fall, but I have a lot of new readers coming in from the blogosphere who aren’t of my faith persuasion, and, sensitive to their range of spiritual beliefs, I’ve recast it for the secular audience.
I was talking to a friend about the challenges we face by virtue of being born after 1970–well, of being gen-xers in general, and being caught between the “Boomers” and the “Millennials,” and how this affects us in our professional and vocational lives. It came up last week on an email group, and I passed it along to several of my friends who are doing their part, in my humble opinion, to attract people like me to organizations that share a concern that their membership may be overly grey-haired.
Not to put too fine a point on my own grey hair, mind.
On Sept. 20, that group, which I can loosely describe as a group of 20/30-something peers approaching spirituality with a bit of a noncomformist edge, met over margaritas to discuss, as one friend put it, “the theological / ecclesiological / missiological / tequiliological implications” of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; indeed, the Harry Potter series as a whole. Decidedly not what my parents would call a church, by any stretch of the imagination, but it suits me better to “practice” than to “worship.” And I got to thinking about it: why was this something I could be so down with, especially knowing that somewhere out there, another focus group was emerging to study my generation. Yawn.
The more I see things with top-down architectures being applied to us youngish people, the more I realize it doesn’t work. I’ve seen great ideas committee-ed to death all because people older and wiser than me must control every outcome of every plan of every initiative. And the more input I got from friends of mine, the more I realized:
Your invitation to me to participate doesn’t mean much if you don’t let my input—and leadership—count. And that’s what I’m hearing from frustrated 30-somethings who want to take on leadership positions but still get flak for being slackers, which we really are not anymore and we’d like some credit. I originally wrote this about being a member of the Episcopal Church, but it’s true of many other organizations. I worked at a financial services magazine that refused every pitch I made about Gen-X prospects because we’re not buyers. I work for an association that’s trying to figure out how to attract people under 40 because we’re not joiners. One friend of mine added to the conversation that she’d like to see “‘young adult’ stricken from the cultural lexicon–for reasons that resonate with me: mortgage, career, family. Heck, my son is almost 15, and pretty soon I’ll be the young adult parent of a young adult.
So, if we’re not young adults anymore, and nowhere near middle aged (if 50 is new the 30, we’re actually teenagers), what are we? How do you address the wide demographic of a narrow slice of the population that’s holding an awful lot of cards and generating absolutely no buzz? Sure, skip us. Move on to the millennials.
Here’s my take on things, though. Generation X is the bridge between the Boomers and the Millenials. We were raised with enough technology that we’re conversant in the ways that today’s teenagers interact on social networks. But we also know how to dial a phone. We’re all wired in varying ways, but each succeeding generation is increasingly plugged in. Let me put it another way. Historically, many immigrants have come to America speaking only their native language. Their children, however, speak both languages fluently. But I know many cases where the grandchildren don’t speak anything but English, and the middle generation must help the bookending generations understand one another–literally. So what happens if you skip the middle generation?
Here’s an example I ran across recently. Blogs are a publishing platform that were adopted quickly by compulsive writers with varying degrees of web-savvy. I’ve had so many that it’s a wonder I can populate them all with random Helen/Gallycat brain noise on a regular basis, so I wax and wane with all of them. They’re a great way to distribute content, to self-publish (no, really, I’m more prolific than Stephen King!), to bypass censorious editors, to think aloud, to take the podium, to brainstorm in community. So of course, many organizations, seeing the value of being able to share content with one another, decided to barrel full speed ahead with a blog. Occasionally, some would enlist me to help get the blog off the ground, since I know the technology. One, in particular, was group that was looking forward to getting some ideas out there.
But they didn’t listen to my input on certain key issues that ultimately doomed the blog. The problem was that every post had to be approved by a committee. I felt like Cassandra, trying to explain to them why it would inhibit participation on the blog. It died a few months later, neglected and forgotten.
So how is this an example of why we, Gen X, are the translators? We are well equipped to understand social media, which is going to be the communications medium of choice for today’s young people. How is this changing the face of communications? My connections in the news media say it’s as revolutionary as Gutenberg and the moveable type printing press. Ignore this opinion at your peril. Blogs are just a part of what that next generation is coming online with. We can speak their language. We can speak the Boomers’, too, though. Did I mention my teenage son? Yes? What about my aging parents? How’s your retirement portfolio?
So anyway, back to the matter at hand. Don’t skip Generation X. We’ve seen it more than once. We’ve heard you ask how to reach us, and seen you form committees hoping to find the magic pill that will get us back in to your idea of an organization. To be honest, you might not. At least, not through the means you’ve traditionally reached out to people. In the new world, you don’t just program and broadcast; you invite, share and participate. I understand that it’s difficult to turn a ship around, and for an organization of any size to embrace change quickly is a frightening prospect. But by the time you bust out your magnifying glass and whittle down to the details of the new media environment and position yourselves in the emerging economy and get all that together in a strategic plan for the new millennium that started when folks my age actually WERE still under 30…
It’s not enough to study us. Listen to us, yes, hire us, absolutely. But most importantly—
The original, published Oct. 9, 2007, is here.