Over a recent weekend I started to think about people my age and just how many of them are struggling today with issues I’m not sure we were prepared to deal with. High rates of divorce, unemployment and the recurring story of starting your life over again in your early-to-mid 40s is something I hear of more and more.
The stories have reassured me I’m not alone in this boat, but it also struck a chord with me because so many people I know are going through these very problems and it made me wonder if maybe my generation — the late Baby Boomers, also called Generation X — came into adult life ill prepared for what lie ahead?
Before anyone jumps up and shakes their fist at me, no I’m not looking to blame anyone else for the bleak picture many my age face. Not everyone my age has these problems — there are obviously many who are happily married and gainfully employed — and I’m not blaming it on parents or educators.
I think everyone did the best they could when we were growing up. I just think thinks were so good for our society in those years after World War II that nobody saw the dark clouds ahead.
When the stock market tanked and people started losing their jobs 6-8 years ago, I think it was a “perfect storm” for Generation X. This generation was on the fast track to having and keeping those big salaries and fat 401ks with the prosperity of the 1990s and we all thought it was smooth sailing ahead.
Many fell into credit and mortgage traps, thinking they’d always have the income to keep themselves afloat. But when the bottom fell out, millions found themselves in a credit crisis and many also lost their homes to foreclosures. It took a harsh toll on everyone in this nation, but it hit my generation hard. Many people I know, myself included, have had to start their lives over. Many are trying to get by making less while others are retraining completely for new careers.
The divorce rate isn’t necessarily tied to the Generation X financial crisis, but it is still another place we are seeing significant increases in numbers. They say nearly half of all marriages end in divorce these days, but I think that number is higher. More and more people I know are divorcing and I think the reasons vary — adultery, lack of communication, abuse, lack of commitment and the inability to work through problems.
It seems many of tend to walk away from our problems. I’m guilty of this myself. I don’t really know where it comes from because my parents
never taught me to be that way. But it seems more and more people are willing to walk away from problems instead of hanging in for the fight to fix them. I can’t put my finger on whether this is a societal issue or something deeper. Maybe we have simply found ourselves looking for the easy path too many times and we’re stuck thinking that way.
The one positive angle to this mess we Gen-Xers have found ourselves in is I think we will turn it around and maybe prepare our own children a little better for the “what ifs” in life. If nothing else they will see our mistakes and our tribulations and they may take the necessary steps in life to avoid the same pitfalls we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Some of the lessons to impart of children — Always be ready for a rainy day. Never keep all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you are in love with someone before you marry and you are not just feeling the excitement of a new love. And learn to be open and communicate better with the one you love.
Hard lessons learned at mid-life that wouldn’t be so hard if practiced from the beginning. But as they say, live and learn.