There are milestone, and there are MILESTONES. I been told I passed one of the latter today. You see, this afternoon, my sixteen year-old daughter passed her driving test. Yes, world, watch out! She’s licensed and poised for mischief! Give it another 18 months and both my spawn will be driving. When did I get so old…..?
Oh, please….I’m not old! Don’t let the silver strands that sneak out on the nape of my neck when I go too long between haircuts fool you. I’m as spry and lively as I was at age 25. And more than once I’ve been mistaken for my kids’ “older brother,” and only once as my oldest’s “boyfriend” (UGH!). I don’t mind, though, for as I tell those who lament my youthful appearance, “No worries…I’m very immature for my age, so it works out well.”
In all seriousness, while many of my friends exclaim in horror my passing this milestone of my child on the road to adult independence, I don’t really get it. The reality is that I’m living a younger, more energetic, and infinitely happier lifestyle now than ever. I’m still running miles each week. I have yet to pause at the thought of hockey pucks being shot at my head, and I throw myself (willingly) out the open doors of perfectly good airplanes.
And yet, there is a reason to pause in my gleeful exultations of youthfulness (See, if I truly believed I was that young, I would have stated “youth,” but instead chose the “likeness of youth” descriptor). Because there IS a problem in the workforce for those my age, and it’s growing more and more potentially ominous by the year.
You see, I’m a Gen-Xer, and as such, there is a rapidly shrinking window of leadership opportunity in today’s workforce. Five years ago, we, who came to age in the 1970s and 1980s, in the heyday of hairbands and leg warmers, were poised for greatness as the next generation of organizational leaders. It had been promised, and we were chomping at the bit. But something happened on the way to that “promised land.” The economy collapsed, and with it, many of the chances for Gen-Xers to stake our “rightful” claim at the thrones of the corporate giants.
So, what happened to the expected rush of Baby Boomers from the workplace, sucking Gen-Xers poised as High Potential future execs-in-waiting? Quite frankly, the Boomers couldn’t afford to (or simply chose not to) take that walk into the workplace sunset. In fact, many still haven’t made that transition. So, here we wait, the aging next generation, growing rusty in our pre-positioned posts, while the up-and-coming Millenials chomp at our heels.
Well, how does this all play out? Well, let’s look at this logically. In many organizations, Millenials (the oldest of whom is not about 30 years old) are coming up on their 10th anniversaries in the professional world. They’ve been around the block once or twice. They’ve also received mentoring from many of the more seasoned Boomer leaders, and in many cases, they’ve been better equipped to adapt quickly to the ever increasing speed of change in the workplace. In fact, they’re organizationally almost exactly where most of us Gen-Xers were five years ago, ready to take the reins as middle and upper level executives.
And what does this mean for Generation X? Well, given the choice between two differently aged high-potentials with virtually the same amount of leadership experience and where one possesses a slightly higher adaptability factor, in many cases, I believe the Millenial will “win” the right of ascension once the Boomers begin their exodus from our organizations. After all, they’ll give companies and additional decade of leadership before they, too, head into retirement.
It’s a quandary many organizations are facing, and for which much attention is beginning to be paid. My suggestion to fellow Gen-Xers, prepare yourself for the reality that is to come, my friends. Don’t sit idly expecting to be handed something, only to be devastated and ill-prepared when or if it doesn’t occur. Explore all the options in front of you…further education, entrepreneurial opportunities, the worlds of consulting and a completely new start. For if you do prepare, and are yet offered the leadership dream of your youth, you’ll thrive. But if you’re not, and if you instead are passed over by a talented and ambitious Millenial for that prized position, you’ll have choices. And ultimately, choices are good. Trust me….I’ve already made mine.