Generation X’ers — those of you born in the 60’s and 70’s — are in a tough position…Above you are the Baby Boomers; sucking the well and its resources dry for every last drop. Sure, they’re holding on too long but who is kicking them out? Who is applying the professional pressure for them to move on? Look down.
Below you (but quickly rising) is the Future – Generations Millenial and Y (MY, for short) are ready, willing and capable of busting through the corporate door and crossing the finish line ahead of you.
So how can Generation X not get smooshed? Essentially, how can you get noticed in the workplace? Penelope Trunk, the career blogger, talks a great deal on her site about being more likable. In fact, in the past, she’s said it was more important than talent and ability. Most recently, she wrote about how to be likable in regard to personal relationships. I think most of the suggestions transfer to professional relationships — be respectful; learn to negotiate; see things from others’ perspectives; don’t be secretive; be optimistic; respect boundaries.
I think it’s very hard for Gen Xers to step up, because we’ve been in the workplace for so long, and we know experientially that what has long been valued is knowing and keeping our place. We’ve witnessed coworkers sharing brilliant ideas only to tuck tail and run when management and other coworkers shoot down the brilliance. It’s like what Brenda Ueland (b. 1891) wrote about in 1933:
It is very tender and sensitive, and it is usually drummed out of people early in life by criticism (so-called “helpful criticism” is often the worst kind), by teasing, jeering, rules, prissy teachers, critics, and all those unloving people who forget that the letter killeth and the spirit giveth life. Sometimes I think of life as a process where everybody is discouraging and taking everybody else down a peg or two.
Pretty soon, the marketplace of ideas can begin to suffer because people become afraid to speak. This seems especially true of Generation X. I think one reason my generation dominates Twitter and Facebook (social media in general) is because we have been so silent and so lonely for so long. We’re seeking connections that have long eluded us, and being survivors and inventors, we have found a safe refuge for the exchange of all our ideas on the playground of social media. We have gained so much ground, but as Braddock points out, Boomers aren’t going anywhere and Gen Y is nipping at our heels.
I began my career in military public affairs. In that environment, I learned to be a good soldier. I learned to take orders, not break rank and above all, respect the vertical hierarchy. I learned to never go around the system, but to work through it. I learned that there are many talented and smart people competing for the same jobs. Often, the person who gets selected is the one the boss believes will not launch independent missiles.
But, here’s the thing. At some point, Generation X is going to have step up and launch a friendly missile to make a statement: I am here and I have been here a long time. I have collected my strength. I have been forced to preserve it, but I am leading now.
If there was ever a time to shoot across the bow, I think it’s now. It’s push-back or get-smooshed time. That is not to say we have to become Ueland’s great murderers of others’ imaginations. True leaders do not engage in “unceasing, unkind, dinky, prissy criticalness.” Right? It’s like that fortune cookie I got at a public affairs conference at the Corps of Engineers in Tulsa in 1993: “If you want to be successful, help others succeed.” And, of course, before we can help others we first must help ourselves.
Here is a verse to meditate upon: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3). And, this tried-and-true from Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”