Friday, January 31, 2020

X outliers unite!

I believe that generational typologies are about as prescriptive as horoscopes, and well, horoscopes take advantage of the Barnum Effect (click the link and look it up, you'll be better for it). As a consequence, I've never worried too much about the Generation X archetype I could be assigned to.

Academics have in turn argued that our generational experience has made us everything from apathetic slackers with tortured latchkey childhoods to silent and brilliant entrepreneurs who could save the world from braggadocious Boomers and credit-eager Millenials. The truth is all of that. In every generation, there are slackers and hard workers, apathy and action, hope and cynicism.

The only outlier about being among those born between 1965 and 1980, the only truly unique experience of our generation is that we have never at any point in our lifetime been the majority. There was always a generational population running society bigger than ours (either older or younger or both at once). Because of aging effects, we have also never yet been the minority generation (the oldest generation has always been the minority so far).

If there is anything unique about Gen X, it is that we don't know what it is like to be the majority or the minority. 

We know what it is like to perpetually be the middle kid--always in training, never in power, but responsible for everyone younger still. Middle management.  Not a hero, but not a victim either. All of the work, none of the credit, and none of the celebrated potential that goes along with being the young prodigies.

X marks the middle spot, an outlier by it's sheer perpetual, stuck in the middleness. 

My advice? (And you know I have some or I wouldn't be writing this.) Live it up, Gen X. No one really gives a shit what we think--let's use our outlier middleness to make that more a blessing of absolute freedom than a curse of our generational existence. As the middle kid, we can probably get away with some pretty outrageous peace deals. Let the Boomers borrow our Chuck Taylors, teach them how great it is to not wear pants to work and convince them it was their great idea all along. Mentor those millennials through having a meaningful career and finding work-life balance while knowing most of them will never be promoted or convincingly rewarded for their hard work. Remind Gen Z that reality TV started out as a documentary called "The Real World" and involved artists who couldn't make a living having to tolerate each other's cereal habits...every freaking morning, without a smartphone for distraction. We can show everyone what the middle is like...not knowing who you are or what you want, but usually knowing this isn't it. Whatever. Shrug. No one gives a shit!

Vive le milieu! It isn't mediocre, it's the only living extreme in generational existence right now. 

A reunion of X outliers.

US Census Bureau. (June 4, 2019). Resident population in the United States in 2017, by generation (in millions) [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved January 31, 2020, from 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Do and hope?

One of my matriarchal family lines (Caldwell-Tatum) has a centuries-old family motto:
Do and hope. Fac Et Spera. 
A lot can be read into these three simple words, even without the fancy armored arm waving a sword through a crown crest that goes along with them. As a kid and then a young woman I was drawn to the words hope and do individually, and in that order. I pictured noble ancestors hoping for a better life for themselves, their family, their country and doing the work, adventuring, rebelling, immigrating, bootlegging, and learning to make those hopes happen. I took heart in my naive hopes of saving the world and dared to tilt at windmills and bang my head into brick walls of bureaucracy and apathy. I even rallied others at times vicariously with my off-gassing of hope and determination. Hoping and doing was initially a very satisfying mantra or motto, and then I discovered I had it backward.

I'm now arguably middle-aged and have suffered through obtaining three degrees and a host of traumatic experiences in extreme environments where I could literally do nothing and the worst outcome was hopelessly inevitable. As a consequence of my jobs, I necessarily do a lot of observing only (e.g. job analysis, teamwork assessment, organizational research, executive coaching). There was nothing I could do to prevent a detective from being shot to death during my ride-along or to put life back into the many broken and defeated bodies I followed first-responders to, or to bring back an astronaut or faculty member I had worked with after a tragic incident, or to help a healthcare professional or veteran actually get past the repeating memory of a gruesome trauma. There was nothing I could do that had any hope of saving two of my best friends from a boat fire or my dog from drowning or my in-laws from a long, slow, scary cognitive decline or young family members from being exploited and disparaged into self-destructive behaviors. There is certainly nothing I can do that has any obvious or immediate hope of stopping deadly wars, natural disasters, famines, greed, or ignorance. Living has made it abundantly clear that waiting on hope to inspire me to do is completely hopeless.

Hope feeds on the fumes of doing, not the other way around. Sitting in the bullet-proof back of that police cruiser while one detective struggled to drag his partner out of the line of fire, I thought of things I could do to better select and train officers to survive and to support their families and colleagues when they did not. When the horror was over, I set about doing those things as much as possible and convincing others to pay attention to doing them too; and I found the hope to do more from there. I've learned that the doing must come first or my hope will die out as soon as the doing doesn't accomplish what it should. For me, hope survives as long as I stubbornly persist in doing. I must do in order to feed my future hope.

I still read a lot into those three words. I cling to them in their exact order now, do and hope. They save me from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They remind me that if I wait to hope, I may never do what is really necessary or actually helpful again. I do the best I can to change what I can for the better while I can with what I have and hope that makes my own or someone else's adventure living a little easier or better from that point on. I do, and I make mistakes or sometimes I just end up doing the wrong thing, but then I do something else or something differently next time, knowing that I will probably learn something that has an even better hope of influencing lives. I write and hope it will speak to what someone else needs at some point in time when they most need it, but I do not wait until I feel hopeful someone would like to read it before I write it. I certainly do not wait to write until I have hopes of achieving success (whatever that is). I write and hope I can revise it to be even better later as I learn. I do, then I hope, and that is how my next day always dawns beautiful and clean and full of purpose now.

Do and hope.

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