Thursday, November 1, 2007

Arrested Development

The media has been dedicating alot of copy lately to some macro-level observations on Gen X and Gen Y. I've also noticed this in discussions on the Planning side at work, where we're convinced that the next big insight is going to arise out of the researched differences between Gen X and Gen Y - and I'm sure that we're not the only ones having that conversation. One frequent discussion has been about how Gen X and Gen Y have delayed the process of "growing up" and reaching adulthood - or how we've found a way to redefine it.

I understand questioning what "responsible adulthood" means, and concluding that conforming to certain standards - a conservative attitude dressed in a button-down shirt, accompanied by a traditional office or managerial job, a wife/husband and a mortgage - are not the only ways to validate adulthood. I'm a big proponent for delaying certain decisions - like marriage, or committing to a city for more than 2 years - until you're good and ready. Some of us might ultimately decide that we don't ever want either of those two and would be miserable (and make someone else miserable) succombing to it (marriage and/or a permanent address).

The recent media deluge of Gen Y observations focus on some generalized positive and negative traits. Pundits have waxed rhapsodically about Gen Yers' hypothesized sense of entitlement at work (where the term "paying your dues" or "climbing the ladder" seem to be outdated), their reliance on parents to fund their mistakes and decisions, and their ingrained sense of "I can do no wrong" after being coddled by parents afraid of shattering their self-esteem. Yes, they're generalizations, and I recognize that there's plenty of individuals with these same traits that are not part of Gen Y - they're personality traits, not strictly generational. Despite that, I recognize a grain of truth in those generalizations - and what alarms me most about them is that they imply the absense of a backbone.

Are Gen Y, some of Gen X, and future generations progressively developing weaker spines? Afraid to fall down, pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off (vs. having someone else do the cleaning up for us)? Incapable of recognizing that we're not always going to be right - and accepting responsibility when we're wrong without having it invalidate our self-esteem? Paralyzed at the thought of confronting someone when they did something that irked or hurt us - and instead blogging about it or broadcasting it on MySpace? Hesitant to work for something (like a position at work, or even a person) that might require an investment of time and effort - vs. an immediate pay-off?

Is this generational? Did recessions, weaker economies, World Wars, the absence of social networks/mobile phones/internet, and a world before the women's lib movement make the Baby Boomers and previous generations any more thick-skinned than we've become? Or is my actual experience and view too limited to that of my generation to realize that other generations (which I've only mostly been able to assess through film, literature, and my parents) grappled with the same self-critique?