I started investigating what was being said about Generation X’s status when my own changed dramatically.
In my thirties, I spent seven years learning how to design and implement curriculum to suit the learning needs of three unique individuals: my kids. Along the way, I was creatively inspired. I started a novel series and self-publishing sideline. These efforts drew on my previous education and experience: management, professional mentoring, teaching college English, graduate work in literature. I was building on everything I already knew.
And then, my teenaged daughters decided to go live with their dad. My young son and daughter also told me they would like to go to public school. Together we had built a life, complete with friends and a flurry of activity, but my children were, quite simply, ending it. My daily routines depended completely on the willing participation of others, and they were no longer interested in continuing. Perhaps that’s true of most unexpected life changes, like being fired or enduring divorce.
Fortunately for me, I did find a deeply satisfying project as I returned to work, yet still I felt lost in shock for several months–maybe more. It was only after about two years that I begin to talk about the work I lost, the life I felt I’d lost. When I did reach out, friends reached back with honest stories about their own lives, and something incredible happened.
I learned that in one form or another, they experienced the same thing.
A simple theme emerged from these conversations: slowed momentum. After years of movement and milestones, our own or those of our loved ones, we were slowing, maybe even stopping. And for a generation all about doing and making for ourselves and others, this sudden lack of motion created terrible pain.
“I had something I was doing every day. I got up in the morning and no matter what the challenges were, I felt that I was doing something that made a difference, something that no one else could do. Now, it’s all abruptly over.”
It’s not that we aren’t still busy, even exhausted from busy-ness. When I say “slowed momentum,” I mean that we are overwhelmed by a loss of the meaning we once assigned to that activity. We built expertise in a job, raised kids, invested ourselves in what we thought would be lasting, but in some form those investments outgrow us or let us go. Perhaps more than any generation since the industrial revolution, Generation X experiences life as a continual process of investing and releasing–or not being able to let go and being released ourselves.
The life in which I had fully invested myself, and in which I even saw a future, released me. That event left me with a serious question, perhaps the most important and most scary question of my life. And perhaps even more scary was the fact that many of us were facing the same question together.