How Gen X Can Shine Amongst Boomers & Digital Natives

Alexis Robin
by Alexis Robin 14 Mar, 2017

It's 9:30 a.m. and I'm sitting in The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco five rows back with 2000 like-minded folks, listening to Chip Conley, former CEO and Owner of Joie De Vivre Hotels, turned executive at Airbnb speak at the Wisdom 2.0 conference  and explaining how Boomers and Digital Natives can mentor each other to be more effective.  It's good stuff.  He talks about Boomers being adaptable and open to being a novice again.  


Chip closes, with a quote from Rumi, "We are raw, we are cooked and then we burn," and then adds his own bit "and we are raw again."  The 57ish year-old woman behind me gasps in awe of this wisdom and I know that Chip has nailed his talk.  


I find as he leaves the stage that I'm left feeling a little left out of the equation. As a member of Generation X, there are days when it's easy to feel like we are part of a lost generation.  We were raised to follow the rules and climb the corporate ladder.  In the middle of our climb, the ladder turned into a jungle gym, the economy crashed, we watched our friends foreclose on and short sale their homes and we watched our mentors, parents and neighbors get laid off from companies they spent their lives loyal to.  


We were too far forward in the rule following to start from scratch and too far away from the end to stay the course.  We became a high-centered generation.  


Scrappy Gen-Xers don't like to be stuck as it turns out.  So we became a generation that has been raw, cooked, burned and raw again, multiple times in our lifetime. The unintended consequence of all this rawness is that we have learned to adapt. We speak both Boomer and Digital Native, perhaps not fluently, but definitely conversationally.

We've taught our parents to use iPhones, and social media. We've mentored our young neighbors and direct reports on the savvy of building face-to-face relationships and influencing people. We are not offended by text messages or long phone calls. We are the FleXible generation and a bridge that connects two very different groups, with sometimes, opposing mindsets.  As the Boomers retire at a rapid pace and the Digital Natives find themselves lacking enough road beneath them to navigate the demands of senior management, we are a generation positioned to help bridge the gap.


It is easy to compare and despair when looking at the Boomers who have succeeded by climbing the ladder or the Digital Natives who are CEOs at age 27, but neither have what we do; the experience of living and working in both generations' worlds. In a world where adaptive challenges are exponentially increasing, we'll need to collaborate across all generations to harvest the best adaptive solutions.  Who better to lead that charge than a generation of folks who have been constantly adapting all of our lives?



Tips For Flexing Your X

  • Continue learning both from sage business savvy Boomers and high-tech Digital Natives

  • Stay up with the latest technology. If you hear a word you don't understand, Google it.

  • Grow your-self awareness and ask for feedback so you can stay ahead of what you don't know you don't know.

  • Use your experience to help Boomers and Digital Natives communicate and understand each other. This means managing up, down and sideways.

  • Lead collaboration efforts in your organization.

  • Model resilience during periods of innovation.  

  • Use your well-earned skeptic nature as a gift. Dialed back a bit, skepticism can help you ask hard questions before rushing into a project.

  • Embrace the raw phase.  A lot of Xers have grown a hard shell after years of being burned and raw again.  Allow yourself to be vulnerable as this is where genuine and deep connections flourish, and where learning blooms.

  • Lean into your strengths. Chances are Gen X is going to work a lot longer than Boomers, so do something you enjoy and that comes naturally to you. White-knuckling it like the Boomers is no longer a requirement. Working harder doesn't necessarily equate to better outcomes.  

  • Take good care of yourself. Repetitive renewal requires rest and rejuvenation to create resilience. Sleep, move, laugh and love. Fill those buckets up.