The Ladder Generation

I am of the first generation to do worse-off financially than its parents’ generation.

I’m okay with that. There are other things that we can give to our children and the succeeding generations, hard-fought bits of wisdom that will help them avoid the same mistakes we made, and some advice regarding things they can do now to make the future easier.

This will be short and sweet, and is meant to elaborate upon a tweet thread from a few days ago that got a halfway-decent response.

Becoming an adult is a good thing. Reject the youth-worship that’s engulfed American culture for the past 50 years. It will stultify you more than nearly anything. Learn. Grow. Progress. Improve.

And sometimes . . . sometimes, listen to old guys.

Alright my friends, here we go:

  • Avoid Expectation Inflation: We are living in an anomalous time of unprecedented material abundance and physical security. Our parents likely never faced hardship, and they–maybe even our grandparents–grew up in a post-World War II world where (1) prosperity seemed to happen without even trying and (2) the older generations wanted to make sure that the younger generations never experience similar hardship. This led to many of us thinking that if we just followed The Rules, we’d be similarly successful–a house bigger than our parents’, more cars, better vacations–just because! This is not the case. It seems self-evident now, but when you’re in the sea, you don’t really notice the water. It’s okay to not have exactly the same lifestyle your parents had. Or even better, if you want that lifestyle, get serious about what it takes to achieve it. The rules have changed. It’s different than when your parents were younger. That world is over. I had the misfortune to be in my teens and twenties during this transition. The transition is over. You are aware of it now. Realize that the future is what you make of it, and not a given.
  • Be Serious: Don’t just think about what you want out of life and where you’d like to be. Make a plan. Bring it to life by writing it down. Make a list of where you’d like to be one year from now, five years from now, and ten years from now. Add some concrete steps you can take, or systems you can put into place, in order to get to where you want to be. Put it away for a few months and then revisit it to see where you are. The time and relative lack of responsibility that you have now won’t last forever. Lay the foundation in your 20s so you have something solid to build upon in your 30s. This ties into the next bit of advice. Continue reading “The Ladder Generation”

On Boomer Hate

It’s trendy to hate Boomers. Literally, everyone is doing it. I did as well.

But when something is trendy, it’s usually garbage.

But a funny thing happened on the way to critical thinking: I’ve changed my opinion.

The more I thought about generational struggles, the more I realized that generational warfare hurts us all:

What I’m getting at is that I think generational warfare is stupid and counterproductive. And I’m not just talking about the young. Us older folks do it too and we should to stop it.

The more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes that the righteous Gen X indignation against Boomers is pretty hypocritical, especially since many of us express the same sentiments towards Millennials.

Does repeating the same mistakes you decry really make anything better?

So back to Boomers. I had these thoughts, and then I read Generations, by William Strauss and Neil Howe. One of the most important thing I gleaned from this book is that while generations have some commonalities, they are hardly monolithic. Even Boomers.

Continue reading “On Boomer Hate”

Book Review: Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe

Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, by William Strauss and Neil Howe

Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. I don’t think I fully buy their theory just yet . . . but get back to me when I’m in my nineties and I might have a different opinion.

Strauss and Howe posit that, throughout America’s history things occur in cycles, including people. The big breakthrough in this book was Strauss and Howe’s description of recurring generational archetypes that shape, and are in turn shaped by, events. They are not the first social scientists to put forth a generational theory, but they are the first, as far as I can tell, to have a four-stroke generational cycle, as well as clearly defining the generational types.

The authors of Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, William Strauss and Neil Howe

Each generational cycle, as observed by Strauss and Howe, consists of the following generational types:

  • Idealist (dominant)
  • Reactive (recessive)
  • Civic (dominant)
  • Adaptive (recessive)

I’ll explain dominant and recessive generations later, but suffice it to say that each generational archetype has its own personality and tendencies.

Still alive today, we see the following generational breakdown:

  • G.I. (“The Greatest Generation”) (Civic) (born 1901-1924)
  • Silent (Adaptive) (born 1925-1942) (end of the prior “Great Power Cycle”)
  • Boomers (Idealist) (born 1943-1960) (beginning of the current “Millennial Cycle”)
  • 13er (“Gen X”) (Reactive) (born 1961-1981)
  • Millennial (Civic) (born 1982-2003)

The book was published in 1991, so this is where the analysis ends, but it’s easy to see that what is sometimes called “Generation Z” (those born in or around 2004) would be considered an Adaptive generation by Strauss and Howe, more similar to the Silent generation than to their parents and grandparents.

Each generation lasts approximately 22 years, and is split into two waves. While there may be some differences between, say, first-wave Adaptives and their second-wave counterparts, these are nothing close to the differences between those second-wavers born on the cusp of the next generation–in Strauss and Howe’s analysis, these tend to have far more in common with their first-wave generational cohort than the succeeding generation. As one born in 1981–the last birth year for 13ers–I find this particularly fascinating.

But there’s even more groundwork needed to understand this hypothesis. It sounds complicated, but the pieces fit together quite nicely. Continue reading “Book Review: Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe”