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My life in a time machine

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

Boomers to the left of me, Millennials to the right - here I am - Stuck in the middle is a fantastic place to be.

When Nirvana released Smells Like Teen Spirit in 1991, the shaggy-permed and faded blue drainpipe-wearing rockers of the 1980s must have instantly known that the days of soft rock and big hair were over. The World had changed swiftly from Soft Rock to Hard Rock to Heavy Metal... then Glitter, jip juice*, defined lines, and clean living were out, and grunge most definitely in.

To prove that tectonic shift, Kylie left Jason behind and hooked up with Michael Hutchence and then Nick Cave - swapping big hair for short hair - the exact opposite of the movement in her trouser wear, where she went from full-on big dungarees to incredibly short hotpants.

*patchouli oil or 'Jip Juice' was the scent of choice for 'heavy rockers' around South Yorkshire in the 1980s

As a less hairy Gen X-er, I know the feeling. My favorite rock bands started to run out of fuel at the end of the eighties. The Smiths had split up in 87, Jon Bon Jovi cut his hair in 89 and Freddie Mercury died in 91... I knew the World was changing once Kurt Cobain entered the scene

It was comparable to the experience at work — circa 2010 — when I lost my corner office with a conference table, andy warhol prints, and a rubber plant. That was the moment, I realized that I would always live in the shadow of the Baby Boomers — my parents’ generation — and that a new generation was coming to town. The workplace started to get filled with long hair - on men with ironic beards, and short hair - on women with tattoos and facial piercing. I began to feel like the gen-x bubble was popping. I began to feel judged, not for my skills but for my opinions and what I thought was my immense sense of style.

I was beginning to feel left behind by history and questioning whether what I was reading in the media was true — did I belong to a lost and frustrated middle generation?

Sod that — I was so misguided and they were so so wrong.

Being sandwiched between the Baby Boomers who enjoyed the economic security of post-war reconstruction and the younger generations of Millennials and Generation Z — who “enjoy” the new freedoms of growing up as digital natives, is the best place to be right now.

Stuck in the middle with you

One of the things that define us is the year we were born. I was born in 1969. So that makes me Generation Xer. No one likes labels, but now I am happy to call myself a Gen X-er — a proud 'sixty niner' born in an era of free love and member of the sandwich generation. Everyone of my age can probably tell a story of being squeezed in the middle — a story of a series of professional frustrations in which the job we started has been slowly transformed beyond recognition.

In the early nineties, I was caught in the middle of making some difficult life decisions. Should I study technology or social sciences? I did a bit of both, eventually studying Marketing and International financial management at Teesside University. Graduating in 1994, and starting in high street retailing, at a time when we didn't possess email, fax machines were cutting edge and mobile phones were as rare as rocking horse shit, was amazing. Life was so much more relaxed and demanded on time so much less. As technology rapidly advanced I was thrust into a World of excel and spreadsheets, and eventually, I ended up working as a leader in a multinational hospitality company. With the combination of the evolving technology needed to survive in a devastated yet fiercely competitive late-night industry, an open mind, and my pure retailing pedigree - it appeared to be a great choice. I was good at it, I felt I had successfully followed the corporate career path.

So by 2007, I reached one of my goals — an executive position and a large office. I bet my Baby Boomer for-fathers had occupied this office before retiring with a well-deserved and healthy pension pot. The “rush” of having my own private kingdom with a conference table, art, and plants was however short-lived. After a few months, office space became premium, technology advances meant less space required, and head offices across the retail industry downsized quite rapidly to fit new commercial modeling in a tight economic 'credit crunch' reality. I found myself sharing a much smaller office working from a hot desk, with one and sometimes two colleagues. My generation found itself caught in the middle. Gen X-ers working in a fading corporate world that had long been dominated by self-centered and wealthy Baby Boomers, and trying to manage a generation that we accused of being entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy. Entitled is the big one here though - because this confounded leadership so much, we began asking the Millennial: “What do you want?”. Life was moving fast - bearing in mind this was only 16 years since my ambition was a nice office, in a secure job with a good pension - the Millennials were now telling us they wanted to work in a place with "purpose”; they wanted to make an "impact”

- whatever that means; and they wanted free food, and bean bags to sit on. Rapidly advancing technology has changed the way the World is viewed, Social media has created a World of instant gratification and expectation, washed down with a large glass of entitlement.

I mean fuck me, Old Frank, my baby boomer predecessor in that office, who provided 3 breaks a day and a manned canteen would be lost with this.

So why am I so happy now?

I'm just a little bit caught in the middle, life is a maze and love is a riddle

Being “caught in the middle” has become a fantastic place to be. Gen X-ers have one foot in the analog world and the other foot in the digital world, experiencing the best of both. They are generally more digital-savvy than the Boomers, yet we do know what it is to live in a non-digital era, something the Millennials or Gen Zers will unfortunately never have the privilege to experience or appreciate. This position — straddling generations — means that Gen X-ers can more easily escape the twenty-first-century digital world. As non-digital natives, they aren’t hooked to their screens and don’t feel guilty when they ignore social media. This take-it-or-leave-it attitude and the compass that comes from growing up in a pre-digital world is an advantage, not a burden. For instance, Gen X-ers can enjoy their dinner without the urge to take a picture and share it with an online community. They understand that life isn’t about gathering as many likes as you possibly can, just liking actual life as much as you possibly can. They know that fulfillment mostly comes from the real World, not the digital World. Yes, there is a significant crossover, but as my Dad, a classic 'boomer' would say "3rd class doing is better than 1st class viewing".

Gen-Xers may not always realise it, but they have an opportunity to make the world a better place and bring together generations.

The roller-coaster ride I found myself on for so many years — with business travel, commutes, suits, and full calendars with meetings all over the place — has now completely gone. Instead, I live in this amazing time machine that offers tons of choices. Where once a meeting of my team happened in a room, taking logistical effort and planning - I can now hold a meeting of my team with 5 minutes notice, on a 15-inch screen, from my desk. You know what though, there is still nothing better than human interaction in a room for truly understanding your team.

I am only in my 50s, so of course, work still dominates my life. Though I now appreciate far more the times we go for days out, weekends away and holidays - the opportunity, when we want it, to be completely disconnected from the digital world, without fear of missing out. These really wonderful feelings have somehow been lost in translation in new generations, a symptom of real-world parenting by us replaced by instant gratification experienced in the digital world.

And therefore, I sometimes feel like going back in time, to my lifestyle from the eighties. As a Gen X-er, I feel so lucky to be able to switch easily between the digital world of today and the analog world of my youth.

This feeling of living in a time machine enables me to enjoy life to the fullest, whatever the generation of the company I hold.

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