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Open Letter to Millennials From a Gen-X’er

Dear Millennials,

You ARE special.  Your individuality IS a blessing.  You DO have the potential to be the greatest generation ever.  I am personally pulling for you, and thought that I’d offer an apology and some insights that you might consider along your journey to greatness – from one awesome generation to another.

Allow me to briefly introduce myself.  I’m a later model Generation X’er, born in 1978, only 4 years before 1982 which is the year someone decided should be the year to define your generation “Y & Z”, Millennial, or whatever.  I don’t pretend to fully understand all that generational line stuff.  What I do know is we’re all the same in some sense.  We all want to live life to the fullest, with purpose, passion, and prosperity – however we each define those things individually.

My generation boasts of being the best of both Baby Boomers and Millennials with none of the downside.  We boast that we work hard but play hard too, that we created, or least developed, the internet, pioneered cell phones, and  transformed culture in the 80’s and 90’s.  Like the Boomer generation before us and your Millennial generation that is following us, we Gen-X’ers have plenty of reasons to believe we’re awesome world changers.  But among us are people like me who are willing to admit there are some things we totally screwed up.

For years your “Millennial” generation has been under scrutiny for many particular things, but generally speaking for the hard shift in thought process, beliefs, and values that you’re bringing into adulthood.  Some of the differences are pointed out as good things but most of the things being said about your generation are negative.  It’s typical internet.

That leads me to the apology.  I won’t speak for everyone in my generation, lest I instigate a cowardly internet word-lashing on myself, but I will apologize for a few who I believe would agree with what I’m about to say.  Hopefully it comes across as intended and is received well.

You deserve an apology.  One of the most negative things that has been said about your generation is that you have a terrible sense of entitlement.  I have to say that I agree, to some degree, that there is merit in that accusation.  It is unfortunate that the matter hasn’t been approached with more grace, but it is a matter worth addressing.  The one thing you are entitled to, and I believe this firmly, is my generation and the “Boomer” generation owe you a heartfelt and sincere apology.  So on behalf of myself and any others from mine and my parents generation, here it goes.

I apologize that our (older) generations have been so lackadaisical in leading your generation.  That is the over-arching statement of apology.  Allow me to explain in more detail.

The Boomers are your grandparents.  We Gen-X’ers, your parents, should have collectively done a much better job modeling respect for our elders, and instilling that value in you.  Human nature is to be impatient and frustrated when things don’t go as we think they should, or when things don’t change as quickly as we want them to.  Things have changed quite rapidly in recent decades, but for good reasons it is sometimes necessary to pump the brakes to watch and see how we as a society will adapt to change before moving on to more change.  We all should do more to listen to and learn from each other.

Boomers should adapt to new ways of thinking and advancements in technology, etc.  Millennials should accept that some things are the way they are for good reason.  One of the things your generation has been accused of is disregarding hierarchy at work, feeling entitled to jump rank or advance more quickly, or that there should be no rank at all, and it’s been attributed to the fact that you received participation trophies your whole life.

There’s a reason rank and hierarchy exists.  In the adult world there are difficult situations that require someone to make difficult decisions that they have to take responsibility for, and that is why we put people who, through experience, exemplify the ability to make those decisions and then take responsibility for the outcome.  I understand that sometimes the wrong people get put in those positions, sometimes they get put there for the wrong reasons, sometimes their motives are self serving, sometimes they do more harm than good etc etc.  I understand that there have been failures to hold people in those positions accountable and that has enabled some really bad things to happen in the past.  But for the most part people in positions of authority are there and got there for good reasons and they’re capable of doing good things.

As for the participation trophy part, the hard truth is there are real winners and losers in many areas of life.  The participation trophies we (your parents – Gen-X’ers) gave you were intended to teach the value of getting in the game and staying in the game, because the only thing worse than losing is not even participating.  Unfortunately, that idea was not executed well through intentional teaching of the moral behind the method.  Again – poor leadership.

Another area of serious concern, for us older generations, is the massive shift in our culture to a virtual reality that is not real, and it is our fault.  We created it with wonderful intentions and made it a monster in the process.  As this technology developed it became increasingly easy to pacify you with devices and justify it as helping you learn, and it worked, but it did as much harm as it did good.

One of the most consistent claims of every generation, particularly in our younger years, is that the generation before us just doesn’t understand us.  I completely reject that claim for all generations.  From the day iPhone was invented I’ve been saying the greatest difference between our generation and your generation is the devices, having unlimited access in your pocket to too many pitfalls – the same pitfalls every generation deals with in some form or fashion.  Dealing with fear, failure, rejection, comparison, peer pressure, sexual urges, etc – timeless.  Doing it all via a device – still brand new.  The trials and temptations are all the same, only the tools have changed.

Now, Gen-X’ers are as bad as anybody about spending countless hours consuming digital media and engaging in virtual connection.  But many of us still remember the virtues of the pre-digital age that should be carried forward.  There is so much more to the real world and real connection than what the digital world has become, and it has completely altered the way you think – both good and bad.

In many ways, the world, both real and digital, cannot be trusted.  It is wonderful but corrupt, delightful but deceiving.  We threw you into the digital world before we really even knew ourselves what could happen, and we didn’t keep what you were learning and experiencing rooted strongly enough in real world principles and values.  We didn’t prepare you well, and I apologize.

I could go on and on about the negative matters everyone is shouting about that seem to divide your generation from those before you, and I’m willing to apologize for our failure in every one.  But part of the point of this apology is to make it clear that dwelling on negative isn’t productive, and shouting, bickering, and complaining isn’t helping anyone.  The bottom line – we, the Boomers and Gen-X’ers, failed you in many ways.  We failed to parent you well while we were off working and partying so hard.  We failed to lead you well by exemplifying values and virtues that matter most, molding your understanding and belief in those things, and reminding you often how those things are tied to the greater purpose and passion we long to live for.

I also apologize that we older generations once again demonstrated poor leadership in how we have expressed our concerns.  We as a collective group have obviously done a poor job communicating – which involves listening as much or more than talking (or shouting online).  I’m trying to change that.

You Millennials are an interesting bunch, and I’m learning to love our differences more all the time, especially as my own kids get closer and closer to adulthood and I want them to have the best qualities of your generation and our generation and the generation before.   Just as my parents heavily influenced many of my positive characteristics, your parents influenced many of yours.  None of us can take full credit for who we are.  We’re all influenced by someone.  Who, is the question you have to ask yourself.

We older folk might have failed you in some ways, but in so many more positive ways I’d say we’ve succeeded.  Your creativity is amazing and your generosity is inspiring.  Your sense of adventure is exciting and your value of acceptance is encouraging.  We can’t overlook those and many other positive things that you exemplify.

Leading well is something I personally strive to do, even when “leading” only myself.  I personally screw up more than I like, but I hope that more often than not my example to others influences positive change.  So, as part of that effort, I am committed to setting an example of listening, learning, and adapting to change.  I am committed to having open, honest, respectful, and encouraging dialogue.

If we’re going to make significant change that prevents repeating the failures of the past and moves us forward to a brighter future we have to become better leaders together, starting with leading ourselves and letting the positive results of that influence others.  One of the greatest lessons you’ll learn in the years to come is how to TRULY identify a good leader vs a bad one – not by political standards or media narrative or Hollywood glamour – I mean real people who make a real difference in your every day world.  The majority of them are not on a stage with a microphone and a camera in front of them.  They’re in your community, all around you, and I bet they’re willing to listen and learn with you through face to face conversation.   You just have to approach them with respect and humility.  If you need some pointers about how to do that I’m here to help.

I want you crazy Millennials to know I love you.  I’m not shouting at you or condemning you.  I want great things for you.  I believe in you.  My kids are among you or coming along right behind you!  I trust you can sense my sincerity and be willing to follow the example I’m trying to set.  Listen, learn, adapt, and patiently wait for the best and most meaningful changes to happen in proper time as we all find productive ways to work and progress through life’s journey together.

Love,

Mark

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