Thursday, August 02, 2007

It Still Sucks to be an X'er

In my first year of college, in 1990, my guidance counsellor could barely contain herself with ALL the options that were going to - litterly - be falling at my feet upon University graduation. The Boomers where retiring, did I know that? About to retire in droves, she cooed. Wow, I thought, am I in the right place at the right time! And I walked away with a dreamy smile on my face.

That was 17 years ago. Since that time I have earned my degree (2 of them in fact) and graduated. It has been fully 10 years since then, and I still hate the thought of that lying cow.

All through University I heard the same bunch of hooey. It was inescapable. I read about it in magazines, books were published about it, and after the Internet was created, the object that was supposed level the playing field for ambitious X'ers, I saw it on websites.

When I graduated from University in 1997, I knew I wanted to teach. I applied to 200 different school districts. I didn't get one, PFO letter (editor's note: Please F%uck Off). Not one. I had done everything I was told to do. I had volunteered, joined clubs, and networked; anything that would enhance my resume and position me for a job. It still took me another 200 resumes and 6 months to find one. Yet, I was one of the lucky ones, I actually landed a good job in my field and without the help of a family member. Most of my peers were working at Starbucks, and they were damn grateful to have a job. In 1997 you couldn't get a job out of University. For two simple reasons: there weren't many and if you didn't have job experience already you weren't considered. Except, how can you get experience if you can't get a job. Hence why you were told to volunteer or join a club. These things would demonstrate your work ethic and ability to learn. These days, I hear students say things like, 'I won't take a job for less than $40,000 a year.' $40,000 a year! I would have been happy to make $15,000 if it was in my field and kept me out of the fast food industry.

But the challenges didn't stop when you got a job, usually if you got one it was a build a McJob. Meaning it was contract, required that you find the money yearly to continue paying for the position and more likely than not didn't offer any type of benefits. I remember dreaming that one day when I had some experience that - maybe, just maybe - what my guidance counsellor said would come to pass. I would be ready for opportunities because I had the qualifications, and the opportunities would actually exist. Maybe.

Over the past ten years we've moved three time to advance our careers. This usually works great, especially since many businesses have a built in prejudice against hiring locally. For some reason if you live outside the city limits you must be better qualified than Joe down the street. I don't know where this idea comes from, but I have seen it in play many times. So moving can be a good option, except that as you get older you want to put down roots. Packing up and starting over is not nearly as attractive as it once was.

Besides ten years of experience and a proven track record of good work should get you a secure job, right? One that you like, and that has good benefits? Maybe, maybe not. A permanent job is like the holy grail for X'ers. Many have been battered about, unable to find positions in their field for years and some who were forced by necessity to retrain to find something, anything. Then there were those who threw up their hands in despair and decided the outside world was too difficult, so they stayed in school. All my friends fall into one of these categories.

Two years ago I got to have supper with Dr. David Foot, who wrote Boom, Bust & Echo. As I asked about the almost mythical concept, to me, of a market place where X'ers weren't constantly told to wait and pay there dues, he looked at me sadly. Sadly. This is a man who studies demographics for a living. He told me X'ers where the most unlucky demographic ever, even Generation Y would do better. He didn't have much more to say after that. I think he sensed my anger and frustration. But I know what he was thinking. Even when the retirements do start coming fast and furious, the boomers aren't really going to be retiring. Some of them will march off to 6 months of vacation and looking after the grand kids, most will still continue to work. And they will be more likely to command wonderful part-time, contract, and consulting positions that will pay big, which in turn will stifle new job creation, and stunt entry and advancement opportunities. Sure they will hit retirement age, but the great mass of them are going no where.

Lately, I have heard a lot of business owners complaining about how they can't keep staff. They say these Gen Y'ers don't have respect for the work place. They quit on a whim, don't show up if they don't feel like it, and have contempt for the work itself. In fairness, most of these people run service businesses that have in the past had a pretty sweet time exploiting a group that was less likely to speak up for themselves. Those days are gone. Now there is a shortage and these kids know their value. They aren't going to take just anything. In many ways I envy them, they don't wrap up so much of their self worth in work. As an X'er (and I suspect most everyone else) it is hard not to be frustrated with the attitude of entitlement they demonstrate. When you spend years, moving, scratching, scrapping, begging, manoeuvring, networking (a word Y'ers have never heard and have no interest in learning), and plotting it can be frustrating to realize you are still very much blocked from moving forward and that those behind you are advancing faster because they were given the opportunities right out the door it took you years to get.

My greatest desire these days is to be able to divorce myself from my ambition. I see people around me who make personal choices that I have been putting off, in my quest for advancement or security. These things could wait until I achieved my 'dream job'. But what if I never get there? I wonder how these people don't worry about the consequences of their choices. And I wish I could be more like that. Throw caution to the wind. Not have a Plan A, B, and C because I still have no idea if I will need to be looking for something new next year.

After ten years, I am done paying dues. Judgement and rewards should be based on the job done and the credentials earned, if that isn't possible maybe new paths need to be sought. I don't doubt my abilities anymore, not like when I was green. I have finally come to believe I am important enough to expect and deserve loyalty, chances for mentoring and advancement. To tell people to wait or to be patient rings hollow after a certain amount of time. Those are old arguments for a different time when people entered one company and stayed with it for a lifetime. Those days are done. Today people jump jobs to find opportunities or loyalty that they feel aren't being provided for them. Today's employee demands this, or they begin to look else where. And yet. If things were that easy would I have written this post?

I don't often get deep here at CBM, but if you liked this post you might enjoy this one as well.

Picture from Flickr


Anonymous said...

Wow! How does it feel to get that load off your chest? But we can all relate in one way or another.

Rebecca 'Becky' Heaman said...

god, i have been saying for years that we are screwed! it's nice to know someone else feels the same. love ya!