What do we do with all this age
The part of being an old millennial that this didn’t capture was the feeling I have of being older yet still not in charge. I want to do more to change the world around me but from bosses to politicians, the boomers won’t retire and leave the world to the millennials. They’re literally dying out of jobs now. Maybe that’s why we’re hoping that Gen Z will save us. Not that we’re abdicating responsibility but recognizing the waiting game. I’d love to leave this place better for the next generation. Will we ever have our chance?
I'm so fascinated with how this all intersects with the concept of a "midlife crisis". I always joke that millennials can't afford sports cars and mistresses so we just all went to therapy and got a little spiritual instead. But like, I haven't been owning a house and raising children as long as many people in past generations had by the time they were 40, will it just happen later? There's also a weird tension between having less stability and opportunity in the world but also more freedom to question work culture, to be real about the challenges of parenting and to want a partner who you actually like and respect and who wants equality in your partnership. I sense these are mitigating factors in the whole midlife crisis thing. But also I feel like I've been living in one crisis or another my whole adult life (and my job is related to climate work, so...) and maybe I just don't want to manufacture another crisis?
Solidly Gen X, born in 1975, and I’m so fascinated by the way people just a few years younger than me have such a different relationship to adulthood and aging. That meme about Gen X being 30 at age 10 and 30 at age 50 is funny because it’s so spot on--my childhood wasn’t warm and safe, it took 3+ decades for me to find my stride, and I’m grateful as hell to have made it this far. I am aging into myself, not away from myself.
I'm a Xennial (b. 1980) and I'm just going to focus on the changing political verve because I've been in the thick of it my entire career (nonprofit fundraising/volunteer management/advocacy) and am really feeling the exhaustion and burnout lately. Most of the time it seems that there's just not enough funding/resources/time/political will available to actually make the changes needed under our current capitalist system, and the current funding structure forces us all to compete with each other for what is available (which does NOT improve community solidarity) and it sucks.
But I'm also not going to give up because deep down I'm still that stubborn rebellious teen who got a lot of that "har har when you get older you'll go Republican like me" stuff from my dad and EFF THAT.
So how I've been dealing with it so far: 1) focusing more on concrete local goals. I just can't do large rallies anymore, for example, but I can vote for zoning policies that make it easier for houses in our neighborhood to put up solar panels. Or send a comment to the board of ed meetings and say that as a mom, actually, I DO want real sex ed curriculum in my school. Seeing tangible results, no matter how small, is highly motivational!
2) Being OK with giving to causes that make me happy even if they aren't top priority for saving the world. Which also totally shows how Gen X I really am, because those causes happen to be a handful of community-supported FM radio stations that partner with local high schools to broadcast tons of excellent music. If we DO survive the oncoming catastrophes we need to make sure the world is actually worth living in, and for me, that means ensuring that everyone has free access and exposure to good music of all genres without having to go through the awful corporate radio/streaming algorithms.
I appreciate you mentioning those of us who feel like we’ll never be able to own a house, but to me the bigger issue is: we’ll never be able to retire. We’ll be working ourselves to death till the day we die.
I can make peace with never owning a house. But knowing that I most likely won’t ever be able to retire? That scares me.
First I want to say I love this piece. It’s what made me finally become a paying subscriber this morning. 🙀
I’m the tail end of Gen-X. I definitely think there are different generations defined by certain events we all lived through (fall of Soviet Union, 9/11, etc) and I also think getting old is just natural. When I started reading the article my first thought was “Ha! Welcome to my world”
As I got deeper into the article my thoughts grew more complex.
First, I think the old adage of people getting more conservative as they get older may not be true anymore. I definitely became more liberal as I saw more of the world for what it really is. As I gained more life experience I became more aware of why things are the way they are (it’s always more complex than you think when you are young), but also a greater sense of injustice that we haven’t fixed these things. I hope that later generations coming of age will similarly become more liberal with age.
Second, I think the big part you are missing is that the Baby Boom generation really is unprecedented and is still in charge of everything. People live longer than they used to. At almost 50 I would expect most of the centers of power would be in X-er hands by now, but that’s not reality. Every president since 1992 has been a boomer (or at least someone whose youth was shaped by the Vietnam War. Obama and Biden bookend this group).
Think about that for a second. The reins of power have been with the Baby Boom generation for an exceedingly long time. Of course we feel like we don’t have power. Because we don’t.
Of course this generation can’t live forever, and as they begin to leave I expect politics to rapidly change (as we have already started to witness).
Old man rant done.
Thank you for the article.
This feels timely to me; one of the most distinct phenomena in my internal weather this past year has been understanding that I’ve moved into another phase of life and being unsure of what to do with it. The clothing and music examples are relatable but feel more surface-level- I think I am most drawn to thinking about aging in a way that isn’t about other age groups, maybe?
One thing that I am grappling with in a way I never had to before is the loss of the feeling that I can start anew at any time. The pandemic caught me on a career and personal upswing and slammed all of it to the ground, and three years later I find myself lacking the.. energy? optimism? will? that I really took for granted in a phase of life that is all about possibility and the future, and having done a fair amount of volunteer work with 20-somethings in the past year, I also feel keenly aware that my social location is different now. The window on joining something new/starting a new job/etc. and being folded into the group as another youngish person is no longer wide open. I also have family commitments now that mean I can’t move for a fresh start (and the place I am bound to is not one that has the kinds of opportunities or draws the kinds of people I find invigorating). So even knowing that people start things at all ages and I am still relatively young and only just beginning to see what getting older is like, the transition from “this is what it could be like” into “this is what my life is” is a little rough right now.
I do suspect there is something about the somewhat-but-not-entirely visible changes brought on by the pandemic that is shaping this in unique ways for us (and simultaneously that plenty of this is shared with those that were here before us). It’s comforting to know it’s not just me, and I hope to see more from people our age on this.
I'm squarely GenX, but haven't associated my age (and aging) with things like home ownership and retirement/rainy-day funds, because all those things were delayed for me because of my career, and then digging out from under financial precarity. I'm fifty-two, and only two years into actually feeling some kind of stability. Aging, for me, has crept up on me in two ways - the rise in the number of annual medical tests I need, and the softening of my grip upon the world. More often than not, I think things are going to be okay *without* me trying to control the shit out of them, and that is very much a marker of having lived through some stuff. (And therapy.) But here is the delightful thing - this week I was waiting for one of my many medical tests, and overheard a group of three het couples, all over 80 (they said so proudly), waiting for *their* tests. And they were cheerfully observing just HOW many more medical tests they had to have since they turned eighty. So many more than when they turned seventy! And I was sitting there thinking about aging and *fifty*, and it pulled me up short and made me laugh. I appreciated the perspective so much.
A marketing guy I met at a party told me that the more your taste and preferences solidify the less you’ll be chased by the “new.” Crudely put, once you’ve selected a laundry detergent, the other brands will stop working to gain your attention.
I think something similar happens in other realms of life. Being older means having more experience and how to accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish. The feeling of being washed, should be a feeling of triumph, because it means you know how to do things now.
Because I was the elder caregiver for my mother, who died at 102, and my aunt, who lived to 94, I have a different perspective on what it is like to be old. I completely understand why millennials would feel “old,” since every day means you are older than the day before, but inside, I want to say, “Bless your hearts, you are not anywhere near old. Buck up, kiddos.”
The line "the first generation to end up poorer than our parents" really hit me hard. My partner and I make more than twice as much as my parents did before retiring (we also studied for way longer) and we could not afford the house I grew up in. I teach in college level, and in a way it makes me in a sort of limbo where I feel incredibly older every day when talking to students (cultural references, mostly), but also feel like they are helping me stay young in terms of ideas
This really resonated with me as a "young" GenX member (last third of "official" years). Culturally, I very much represented GenX ( wanting to do something non-corporate, music, movies, tv, etc. - maybe because those were my touchstones/shaped my ideas as a small kid in the 1980s?). At the same time, due to career (coughgradschoolcough), finishing the PhD in 2010 right as the bottom had dropped out of the academic job market, job hunting with a partner who is also an academic, life things (marriage and baby and housing and student loans), everthing felt delayed and I often felt like things being written and said about Millennials also applied to us. To be clear, we were privileged - we immediately qualified for PSLF once it was fixed in 2020, we had generational wealth (my Boomer parents) who helped with a house downpayment in 2015 - moving out of the city into suburbia - and urged and guided us to refinance in 2021, etc. All of those milestones did make me suddenly feel older and more "done". So I will say that while I feel "washed" - and shout-out to my college students and friend's kids who try to help me understand their cultural moment - I am okay with that. I love my garden, my quiet evenings at home with my husband and likeminded friends, and not feeling so busy with the process of figuring out who I am. BUT, I also am troubled that we (and I mean both Xers and Millennials) are using the "GenZ will save us" rhetoric. While I'm washed in terms of culture and the intensity of work, going out, etc., I've still left space to be mad: about the climate; economic inequity; racism; politics. About all the things. And I feel like we owe it to GenZ and to my hopefully-soon-to-have-a-different-generation-name 8-year-old kid's generation to stay engaged and reamin active in trying to find solutions by using our votes, our money (when we have it), our educations, etc. to contribute to the good, rather than complaining about kids or leaving it to them to solve.
I'm an elder millennial at 42, and life isn't quite what I expected. I studied hard, I work a public service job (just qualified last month for forgiveness), and have a spouse who works full time. I'm quite honestly happy, but cant forget that hurricane Katrina destroyed my early and mid 20s, and ate though meager savings. I feel like I have been struggling to catch up ever since.
I was born in 1989. For me, honestly, it's a lot of things: my work situation is precarious and I still only make about 35k a year. I grew up middle to upper middle class and I know I'll never reach my parents' level of wealth. My partner grew up working class and was elated to reach middle-class status, but works in the trades, which in this case has major health impacts in the long run (inconsistent hours resulting in sleep problems,occasional contact with hazardous chemicals, work conditions that could always theoretically result in injury or death on the job site). We are both ethnic minorities (and he is also a racial minority), which has health impacts. I also feel I have physically aged significantly in the last few years due to chronic stress and anxiety. I am medicated and in therapy and it still isn't enough, and it's expensive on top of it all. I am truly exhausted.
One of the things that makes me (a millennial) feel old and powerless is climate change. We spent our school years being told what would happen if we didn’t change our behaviour and now it’s happening exactly as predicted. So even if you’ve been lucky enough to buy a house or find a good job or whatever, chances are you’ve dealt with at least one extreme weather event in the last couple of years. I feel like we’re the climate crossover generation that still remembers when natural disasters were rare, seasons were mostly ‘normal’ but now we’re staring down the barrel of having to still live for decades with this global warming shitshow.
YES thank you! I can't stand "the kids will save us narratives"-- it's always felt like such a cop-out (to use millennial vernacular), both when we were the saviors and now that the focus is shifting onto Gen Z. Surely different generations can learn from each other and we can work together to build the society we want to live in.