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Look Out, Labor Force. Generation X is coming…right after their hip replacements

By on September 28, 2017

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

“I’m a Millennial in a Gen Xer’s body,” he said.

I was interviewing the former VP of concept and design for McDonald’s for an alumni magazine article. In recent years, his career trajectory had shifted from corporate to the social and public sector, which included a stint in Kenya helping a start-up provide sustainable sanitation to the urban slums of Nairobi.  

I understood what he meant. Depending on what research you reference, Millennials are entrepreneurial and given to volunteerism. Supposedly, so are Gen Xers.

And as much as I was tempted to title the article, “This Is What Gen Xers Are Capable of…So, Nyah,” I knew it wouldn’t do anything to convince the world.

I was coming to understand this more and more as, at 50, I began searching for work that was creative and flexible and fit my recent entrepreneurial venture of starting my own business.

How Millennial of me.

But honestly, I’m tired of generational segmentation. It’s a marketing thing that has less to do with understanding groups of people and more to do with sales.

My former 20-something co-worker used to roll his eyes (nasty Millennial habit) every time our Baby Boomer boss checked one of his behaviors off the Millennial trait list.

I don’t want to be segmented either. (It conjures this horrible memory of 4th grade boys pulling the legs off of flies.)

Despite my own “Millennial in a Gen Xer body” traits, I wasn’t getting responses from the (mostly start-up) businesses I approached. When I saw the About Us team photo of a mobile photography company I applied to, I defaulted to believing they might only hire me to bake cookies each week and not expect me to contribute to the craft beer supply in the office mini-fridge.

Nonetheless, I submitted a cool resume I created on Canva (a free online design program) that I was confident communicated my creativity, my personality, and the possibility that I might be under 40.

I figured they’d be impressed that not only did I love mobile photography, but that I took my very first photo ever with a Polaroid camera. And not the retro kind. The 1970s kind. What could be cooler?

Polaroid-Cleary

I imagined hanging out with my future (and younger) co-workers around the office water cooler-smoothie machine and regaling them with memories of my first job experience of designing magazines on a typesetter and light table because only the government had computers.

Ahhh, those were the days, I would say, then smile knowingly over the rim of my blended matcha pomegranate.

I didn’t get the job. Not even a note on a handmade card reading “great vintage Polaroid shot! Thanks, but we’ve hired someone your daughter’s age.”

I fought the temptation to tweet a follow-up video (wait, can you tweet a video?) of [my feet only] hiking the Appalachian Trail and [voiceover] expressing my passion for nature and for the position of Creative Word Engineer. I would explain to them that my kids are grown, and I have more time and energy–I mean, I have more time to pour into their company. That I will never retire because I believe we were created to work and only rest when our unlimited vacation benefit allows or I happen to snooze while working remotely from my couch. That they don’t understand there are NO SUCH THINGS as pensions anymore! And that kombucha is expensive!!

Also, I promise to bake cookies. Oatmeal stout cookies.

I could just accept that I’m a Gen Xer in a cusp Baby Boomer body. And that we tend to be invisible–to our children, to the opposite sex, to employers, and even to marketers. Do you know how nearly impossible it is for me to find artsy photos of people 45-60 for The Perennial Gen website? Stock photo subjects are either sitting in bathtubs on beaches or in the lobbies of retirement communities with their smiling adult children.

In a spot-on article addressed to marketers titled “I’m a Gen Xer–Here’s Why You Should Stop Ignoring Me,” Jarrod Walpert writes:

“No question, today’s brands have a myopic focus on millennials. I don’t dispute their importance or that they’re changing how we must communicate to grow our brands. Couple that with a renewed interest in boomers, and where does that leave Gen X? In the proverbial corner (yes, my fellow Xers, that was a purposeful reference to Dirty Dancing).

The truth is we have become an ignored generation when it comes to target segmentation. But, here’s fair warning: If you keep ignoring us, you’re probably going to regret it.”

Yep. Right after my 2 p.m. nap.

Companies should take note, too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of the labor force is rising and will be over 42 by 2024.

city-train

Photo by Callum Chapman on Unsplash

A U.S. News article with the best title EVER–Pretty Soon, Old People Will Have All the Jobs–explains why the country’s workforce isn’t getting younger even as millennials, the largest generation segment, enter the workplace.

Part of the reason is that a greater share of older Americans are bucking traditional retirement and staying in the labor force longer than has historically been the case.”

Bucking anything sounds so rebellious! I’m in.

Right after my left hip replacement.

Again, who can retire? We’ve been trying to help our millennial kids pay for college and all the food they eat because they still live with us.

If I’m here to buck anything, it’s the world’s stupid generational segmentation labels. Although, if I were a Starbucks drink, I’d be a venti Gen Xer with an extra shot of Millennial and 2% senile worries a latte.

I will, however, retain and reclaim the name Gen X, because it is arguably the coolest of all the labels. There’s something mysterious, forbidden, and dangerous about anything with an X. There’s the X-files, the X-Men, and hello? Racer-X from Speed Racer.

I will continue to dye my hair indigo and rock the gray. I will watch 300 episodes of Japanese anime and appreciate the values taught by Andy Griffith. I will become adept at tweeting videos (wait, can you tweet videos?) and contribute decades of career experience to my workplace. I will understand most of the terms in the Cards Against Humanity deck (how disgustingly close was that guess about a Polish pastry?) and be too dang old to play games.

Mostly, I will not judge the younger generation based on stereotypes, and I will kindly request the same. I will look back on all that I’ve learned and continue to challenge myself, knowing that part of overcoming ageism is to not perpetrate it against myself.

Do you think your generational label fits? What effects of ageism or of age stereotypes do you see/experience in your job, in advertising, or in daily life?

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Would love to be Joan of Arc–without the burning alive part

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