No, I am not talking about the generation that came of age during World War I, although we share many characteristics with that generation. I am talking about my own generation, those of use who came of age in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. Specifically, I am talking about the Xennial microgeneration born roughly between 1977 and 1983 (1980 here). In my opinion, we are indeed a lost generation.
There are efforts to do away with this microgeneration altogether. It is needed. I don’t fully identify with Gen Xers or Millennials. I have characteristics of both and want to be associated with neither. Many people in my age bracket agree.
So much of it has to do with technology and economics. Most Gen Xers didn’t experience much if anything that the internet and cell phones had to offer until adulthood. They largely had an analog childhood. Millennials don’t remember life without either. Xennials, on the other hand, grew up right along with the changes. Millennials, by and large, had a digital experience growing up.
Economically, Gen Xers didn’t have it easy coming on the heels of Baby Boomers. Eventually most were able to take their place at the table, even if they rebelled at first. Millennials were still young enough during the tech boom and bust cycle, as well as the recession that followed September 11th, that they were able to use those experiences, often felt by parents, to make different economic and career choices. We Xennials were caught in the crossfire just as we were preparing for and beginning our careers. Just as we were trying to recover and establish ourselves, the Great Recession of 2008 hit. Many of us have never fully recovered. My story is a great example of this. Unfortunately, I have always known that I am far from alone.
Nothing prepared Xennials for any of it. We grew up in a time of great economic expansion during the 1980s and 1990s. Of course we did! Baby Boomers were just coming into their careers and purchasing power. They were raising young families: the kids that would eventually make up Gen X, Xennials, and even some older Millennials. In the end, it would not last – and our parents, mainly Baby Boomers, often didn’t have the experience to help us.
Baby Boomers are an odd group. I say that with love and affection because my parents, aunts, uncles, and countless friends are all Boomers. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t a quirky bunch, especially when it comes to money. For example, even though most Boomers found some measure of economic and career success, they are thrifty almost to a fault. They think nothing of spending thousands of dollars on vacations, renovations, and more, but quibble over the price of off-brand ketchup.
When it comes down to it, they can’t help it. They were by and large raised by the Greatest Generation, which experienced most if not all the Great Depression and then the sacrifices of World War II. It may seem ridiculous to us Xennials, but those penny-pinching habits of our grandparents became a part of our parents’ DNA, no matter the economic circumstances they experienced themselves.
I often think about how my own parents started their adult lives, and I can’t help but think of how different the times were. I wonder if my generation could replicate it. That’s largely the problem. We haven’t been afforded the opportunity to truly take our place at the economic and career tables. Our careers and economic lives remain on hold, although that is slowly changing.
Instead, retirement for our parents keeps getting pushed back. We faced absurd college tuition costs while being told that a traditional four-year degree (at least) is the only way forward when it isn’t the answer for everyone. The housing and stock markets crashed just as many of us were about to get our careers going and buy our first homes. Instead, we put off marriage and starting families of our own. In some cases, our lives are still on hold.
Younger Millennials and the generation after all had the opportunity to adjust to new circumstances and realities. We Xennials did not. We seemed to be perpetually at the wrong place at the absolute worst time. That is why we continue to struggle. The rules appeared to change just as we adjusted to the last set. I hope we aren’t completely overshadowed by our parents and Millennials, much in the same way the Silent Generation was largely eclipsed by the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.
While I still consider us a “lost” generation, I don’t think we need to wander forever. But oh, how I wish we still had the guidance and wisdom of the Greatest Generation! There were so many lessons yet to be learned.