On a recent Saturday, I found myself sitting across a classroom desk from a woman who was pouring her heart out to me about her life, her kids, and her marriage. We were volunteering at our children’s school and on this brief reprieve from our duties, I listened to this very familiar tale of many forty-something women who after going to college, working, getting their groove, had their children, and find themselves feeling somewhat lost and overwhelmed. I confessed to her that I had been party to at least five similar conversations that past week; she was not alone and in fact is part of a little discussed demographic – Gen X women (born in the mid-sixties to the late seventies).
Facebook CEO and Gen X’er, Cheryl Sandberg, has suggested we lean in and uber journalist, Gen X’er, and author of Settle for More, Megyn Kelly, has written that we have to remember who we are. The truth is that as Gen X women, with kids still at home, and perhaps elderly parents to care for, working or not, we have a tremendous number of responsibilities and these can be daunting to say the least. Some are handling it well whereas others are not. According the American Psychological Association, Generation X is currently the highest stressed generation.
As a Gen X woman, who had her first child at age twenty-four, I am the parent of a Generation Z daughter and learning a great deal from that era. Generation Z was born after 1995 and were in their developing years during the great recession. They understand economic strife and have also been raised with technology for their entire lives. My daughter is perfectly fine with bargain hunting at H and M, recycles her outfits, and is more concerned with having the perfect Instagram photo than purchasing something new. She is smart, ambitious, and highly conscious. She has no problem quoting back to me some of the things I say on stage, or in my books, during moments of challenge.
Recently, I was privileged to sit in an intimate meeting with seventeen-year-old, Connor Blakley – a Gen Z influencer who is being sought out to consult some of the hottest brands on the planet. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes, and Inc. to name a few. Blakely explained that Gen Z operates at the speed of instantaneous; they are the ultimate multi-taskers. Furthermore, they are not interested in fake and prefer to keep it real. Gen Z wants authentic and does not have time for nonsense. They understand clearly the difference between a celebrity and an influencer.
Where Gen X agonizes about who to delete as a Facebook friend – you know someone has been trash talking you but you still don’t want to upset them, Gen Z is unapologetic – if someone isn’t aligned with their point of view, one swipe and they are gone.
Gen Z is going after their goals and willing to ask for mentorship. Gen X women try to figure everything out on their own which only leads to more distress. If Gen Z has to figure something out, they do it. Problems get solved right away thanks to Google or whatever search engine they are on. Gen X women don’t want to let the façade of perfection be toppled whereas Gen Z doesn’t believe in perfect.
In Gen X we are supposed to be fit, have our own money, be a badass, have perfect kids, respond to one hundred text messages and two hundred emails every day, volunteer, make time for book club, and the millennia of other ‘responsibilities’ that we are told are vitally important. On top of this we are expected to somehow navigate everything with less and less sleep and a society that has somehow declared it to be ‘okay’ to be openly critical of others due to gender, race, culture, and political opinions. Gen Z on the other hand is less about the material and more about the experiences. According to Blakley, they would rather see the NBA game than own the $400 Nike shoes. They are also detached about opinions and prefer to create their own.
Although we can never put entire generations into sweeping generalities, I will say to the stressed-out women who are overthinking things – there is a lot we can learn from Generation Z. These kids are smart, intuitive, have a high nonsense meter, work hard, and frankly have their priorities straight.
I recently gave a talk to a group of mostly Gen X business women who either owned their own businesses or worked for large corporations. My talk on productivity was infused with balance, hormones, cortisol spikes, and yes – we are not holding it together. One woman came up to me after the event and said, ‘you were describing me. On the outside, it looks like I have everything and on the inside, I am in turmoil. I am not sleeping, I feel like garbage, and I am exhausted.’ I wasn’t surprised. As women, it is so easy to look at another woman and conclude that she somehow has it all whereas the truth is that more than likely she is just making it look that way.
When I wrote my book, The Have It All Woman, I declared that we can have it all and we can have it all at once however a few criteria would have to fall into place:
- Having it all is a personal definition.
- We could not compare with other women.
- We would have to make some tough decisions.
Generation Z seems to do this intuitively. Not so long ago, Gen X women were teenagers in the eighties and early nineties. We crimped our hair, we knew how to moon walk, and were very familiar with watching the likes of Gordon Gekko while wearing our stacked Polo Ralph Lauren shirts. Generation Z takes more cred in how many YouTube views they get and living an Instagram worthy life. One of the most important things we can learn from Generation Z is that their version of having it all means the power to choose. In Generation X we have somehow forgotten that we do get to choose. It is our decision to stay on the crazy train, not ask for help, and try to perfect. No one is forcing us to do those things; we are doing them because we somehow think that is what we are supposed to do.
To Mr. Blakley, and his fellow Gen Z influencers – I commend you. To my Gen X sisters I say this – girls, get off the crazy train, remember who you are, stop with the nonsense, and remember that this is your life, not anyone else’s. You can have it all and you can do it on your own terms.
PS – if you are feeling stressed out and having a tough time holding it together – you are not alone. Let’s have the conversation. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please share your comments below.
Susan Sly is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, certified NLP practitioner, coach, and trauma recovery specialist. Susan specializes in helping people become more productive so they can lead ridiculously fulfilling lives. She is the mother of five and has been working in human potential for over two decades.