One of the most popular posts here is What Generation are You? Take the Test. I’m sure one reason it’s popular is that people like tests. We all want self-knowledge, but we want it handed to us on a silver platter, not thrown at us in clumps of dirt by our families, or served up with Kleenex at therapy.
But the other reason I think that post is so popular is because people are generally indignant that they are pinned into a generation merely because of the date they were born.
People don’t like to be told they are similar to everyone else. But that’s ridiculous, really. Because feeling special and different is a luxury only for those who are very mainstream. I can tell you, as a person who does not fit in that well, I work very hard to fit in. You think the eccentrics are trying to be eccentric, but they are not. It’s not fun to be eccentric if you really are. It’s only fun to be eccentric if you aren’t.
So people don’t like to be told that they are typical of their generation. They don’t like to feel typical. They like to point out how they are different. Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard, has done a lot of research about how we are obsessed about our individuality. For example, most people think we are poor jugglers, but, of course, almost all of us are average jugglers.
So it makes sense that people complain about being grouped by generation. One of the biggest complainers is Ben Cascnocha. Of course. He’s not a normal college kid. He started a business when he was 14, and he is in college thinking that maybe he could learn more out of college, and he generally shows up in places that you would not expect a 21-year-old to be. But even Casnocha is typical for his generation. For example, Gen Y is entrepreneurial, very self-confident, technology-focused, and socially responsible.
So here’s an idea, embrace the generational generalizations, and learn something about yourself. We all want self-knowledge, sure. But there is broad self-knowledge, about where you fit in history. Talking about generations is talking about history, as it happens. The speed of information is allowing us to see ourselves in history as we go.
One great application of this is Baby Name Wizard, where you can see how your name fits in history. When was it popular? When did it tank? There is something about putting ourselves into an historical context that is fascinating. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to click on that link and leave without typing in two or three names. It’s impossible.
So take a step back and look at yourself in historical context of your generation. Instead of bitching about how no one can completely fit into a generalization, fit yourself in, for a bit, and find new context. People ask me why I love writing about generations, and I tell them, all the time, that learning about Gen Y, and how to get along with them, has forced me to be more optimistic and has challenged me to be more self-confident. I am a typical Xer. Sure, I’m eccentric, but I have several Gen X harbingers: Latchkey kid, cynical about stability, passion for grassroots, community action.
By examining how I fit into the generations, I can see the larger context of myself and my community. And the larger a context you can see yourself in, the more varied your self-knowledge will be. When it comes to making choices in your life, you will make better choices with better self-knowledge—understanding how you are the same as other people. If you know how you are the same, you can leverage the knowledge and research what has come before you.
You are probably an average juggler. You are probably part of your generation. You probably hate being told you are regular and typical. But let me tell you something. The best way to solve your career problems is to recognize that you are not the first to have them.