You guys, we’ve been sold a line, for our entire lives. Told something about ourselves that wasn’t true then and isn’t true now.
For the most part, the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers have been lying to themselves about us and to us for 50 years. From the time we were born we were told we couldn’t do anything important. That we were too spoiled and unambitious and wan to be trusted. We’d be lucky if we could manage to get jobs or finish college, and we should be grateful for anything they let us have. We were told this by our Boomer parents, who seemed to be chronically annoyed that we weren’t them, so they gaslighted us about not having “lived,” like they did, through Vietnam and Woodstock and LSD (and then selling out and settling down, but they never talked about that).
They expected nothing from us, and told us not to expect anything from ourselves. The most we could hope for was cleverness and rebellion, a la Ferris Bueller. But real leadership was for them, not us.
Despite that, we’ve lived. We got jobs and finished school, and even though we’ll never have the same standard of living our parents did (because their racist labor and tax policies gutted the middle class) we’ve become responsible adults, good parents, engaged community members, experts in our fields. We just don’t talk about it, because we don’t know we’re good at any of this. We think we’re just getting by, slinking through and holding everything together. Reality still bites, in our minds, even though we are doing things our parents and grandparents never could have imagined doing.
And that internalized gaslighting has overflowed onto the Milennials behind us. While the Boomers were telling us we couldn’t do shit, Milennials were growing up being handed participation trophies just for showing up (talk about confusing) and left to their own devices (talk about lonely). They grew up without a horizon. So they formed communities of friends and learned not to trust what adults told them about themselves. Where we learned helplessness, they checked out of the system. Now they’re a powerful combination of capable and cynical, and we’re unnerved by the fact that they aren’t afraid to speak up. We were trained to be afraid to stick our heads up, and we’re freaked out that Milennials weren’t monitored closely enough to learn to shut up and bow their heads. Boomers just woke up to the fact that they hadn’t criticized them enough, so they’re spreading the myth that Milennials are spoiled and difficult to work with and unrealistic. And since we’re perplexed by Milennials’ lack of fear, we’re buying into this negative hype about Milennials, too.
We can’t. We shouldn’t. They didn’t do anything but play the hands they were dealt, just as we did. What we have to do is realize that the entire game has changed. Those two generations ahead of us have screwed all of us over so completely that the only people who can save the world are us and the Milennials. We can. But we have to do what no one ever did for us, which is give ourselves permission to lead.
Gen X, I’m asking you for a few things. Here they are:
1. Know your strengths. We are the generation who has been kicked every day in the same spot and then called weak if we cry. We are bruised and raw but we wake up every day and do this thing, over and over and over. We’re the cockroaches of humanity. We’re always here. Four years is going to be a piece of cake for us.
2. Stick your head up. What do you know? What are you really good at? Do those things, unapologetically. Do those things, publicly. Step out into leadership, wherever you are. You do not need permission. Take it. Once you start leading, we will follow.
3. Protect and support Milennials. We have a lot of overlapping stresses but they were trained by default to turn outward to heal, while it was really only safe for us to curl into little balls so we wouldn’t be noticed. Not our fault, and not their faults. This optimism and faith in each other that they still have is precious, and we need to nurture it and put ourselves between them and harm. Protect their enthusiasm and creativity and lack of fear.
4. Think about roles. We are really good at adapting to flawed systems. Milennials are really good at ignoring systems and creating alterate paths. We’re huge knowledge and skill repositories. Milennials are aces at execution. We’ve been playing the long game since we were born. Milennials get things done now. Together we have everything we need.
5. Realize that there is no permanent record, and you’re the grownup. There’s no penalty for failure. There is no one you have to answer to except your children. Do what you want to do, big and loud and out in public. And bring everyone else with you, because none of us need to hide anymore. Our moral and spiritual and creative leaders died last year. The incoming President of the United States of America is an overgrown toddler none of us would trust to catsit. That means that you have all the authority in the world.
6. We need you. Step in.
All my love,