Known as Gen X, those of us in our forties were supposed to be the troublemakers. The overlooked, under-valued generation. With a mark against us from the start, it’s no wonder one of our favorite super heroes was Underdog.
Growing up in the shadow of the Boomers, somewhere along the line we lost our street cred as Gen Y managed to unite all the generations of old against them in a way we never could. Thanks to social media, Millennials were perhaps the first to call out the practice of stereotyping based on birthdate in a major way. Sure, there are those of us in every generation that never gave much weight to these oddball groupings in the first place.
X-ing out an entire generation’s potential solely based on their birthdate. Well, that’s not exactly a polite way to start a conversation, is it? It’s no wonder those of us in Gen X grew up a touch more bitter and wore the mark of skepticism better then generations before us.
The Millennials get a bad rap but Gen Xers planted the seed of discontent. Think about it; not a day goes by where I don’t see a Twitter post about how to deal with Millennials in the workplace. How to deal with them? Try treating them like individuals and not single-minded demographics. We should have learned our lesson from the way Gen X was treated, but alas. Despite low expectations our generation managed to crank out some of its own music and culture and by extension advertising. Some of it turned out to be pretty good in retrospect.
Gen X seems to be the first generation of marketers that entered the job force who truly had to deal with a catechistic shake-up to the industry itself. Looking at the larger picture, sure, the Boomers and those preceding them had huge external world events to deal with, but for the most part in marketing there remained an accepted way of doing things that stayed largely the same until fairly recently.
Depending on which side of 45 you currently are, you may have entered the field early enough to catch the tail end of the golden days and, if lucky, had established yourself early enough that your career was insulated or you moved on to a related field. Maybe you're on the younger side and took the brunt of the changes head on and developed a healthy attitude towards change as a result.
More than anything else, regardless of which camp you fall into, most in Gen X share in common a bit of a hybrid spirit. We were the guinea pig generation. We caught the fumes of work ethic and can apply it to this day but are dually caught in the headlights of bright and shiny objects, unable to criticize Millennials too harshly for fear of sounding like our parents, who are now likely to point out such things on Facebook.
If you find yourself somewhere in this mix you probably dealt with the early Web and are familiar with the grating sound of an old modem and can look back and laugh fondly. We witnessed the end of the Cold War and the beginning of globalization. We felt the effects of the dot-com bust, 9/11, and the real estate bubble and its burst.
When you entered the job force has a lot to do with how you may look at things, but I contend it could also be your unique personality and not your birth year that determines your attitude. Maybe you like technology and adapted to the end of the flash era, and you were an early adopter in helping to invent Twittiquette. Maybe you came to the party late.
In my case, the changing landscape has both tested my ablity to react to change and taught me to look at the bigger picture. An interesting ride is how I’d describe it. Caught somewhere between the end of the Golden Age of Marketing, the paste-up era, and the beginning of the computer and Internet. Surviving the analog to digital transition, we’ve continued to be the test case.
We’re no longer in the 18–34 demographic, which had traditionally been what most brands concerned themselves with, but we know that’s an old way of looking at things. This brings to mind something I said earlier. Once, early in my career, I asked a supervisor what he thought about the Web. He replied that we’d all be retired by the time the Web was a viable marketing tool. Luckily for me, I was a skeptical Gen Xer that knew better than to blindly follow.
Which brings us to perhaps the most interesting part of this article. The “crescendo” where you, the reader, wonder why you should listen to anything further I have to say. First of all, I’m not going to pretend to know your situation. I would encourage you, when faced with uncharted territory, to always listen to the advice of others but to use that advice to draw your own map.
The Map of My Career
My career map has been an interesting ride and very much not a straight line. I’ve always found writing about myself rather challenging. Being a self-conscious creative type with a tough internal meter, it would be easy to fall down the rabbit hole and psych myself out — so as entertaining to you as that may be, I’ve decided instead to share a story.
Picture the scene. It’s the mid-nineties and print magazines have lost some shine but are still a powerhouse. I flip across an ad for Macintosh that talks about using their tools to achieve your creative goals. This was before the focus on phones and watches, mind you.
Instead of flipping the page, I hung it on my wall and did as the ad challenged. I filled in my goals as I thought of them over the next day or two. Once satisfied that I had a complete list of impossible dreams/goals to attain I hung it back on my wall. Yes, I admit I was a little bit of an ad geek at the time.
I wish I still had it so I could compare what I had written to where I am now, but by my loose calculation I’ve gotten about half of them done. A few have not happened or morphed as a result of a changed market environment. My roomates at the time thought my answers were amusingly unattainable — but that, of course, was the brilliance of the ad. I believe it was the follow up to the “Think Different” campaign, but don’t quote me. [Editor’s note: He’s right.]
I wrote goals bigger than I honestly thought I could attain with the corny idea that if you aim for the stars you’ll fall upon greatness. The interesting part is that surprisingly, due to changes in technology and the field itself, most of the things I wrote down at the time no longer look so impossible.
For example, unlikely as it may seem for a visual artist, I always had an interest in writing. The goal I had written on that day was to write to a large audience. At the time the go-to method would have been to write a book or magazine article. With all the self-publishing options available today that is certainly more doable than it ever was in the past.
Writing for Talent Zoo is proof positive that although I certainly have room to grow, I have achieved my primary goal of writing for a large audience.
I hope you enjoyed this perspective and are finding success. Most importantly, remember to find the lesson in the writing you want to take away, but it’s your map, not the writer’s. That said, here are three important things to keep in mind.
- There is still plenty of time.
- You have more tools than ever before.
- Everyone likes an underdog.
Peter Bossio is an Associate Creative Director/Art Director. He graduated from Syracuse University's Advertising Design program and attended intensive film/video production at Tisch School of the Arts. Peter has been a guest speaker at NYU School of Professional Studies and is president of his local Toastmasters Club. Want to connect with him? You'll likely find him on twitter @PeterBossio in a salsa club or at www.peterbossio.com.
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