The right – and wrong way – of determining which generation you belong to

By Vivek | Generations

Nov 19

If you ever wondered what generation you belong to, you probably googled to find out the answer.  And you probably saw a result like this and came to a conclusion   Because it looks pretty simple, right? Identify which bracket you fall under and find out which generation you belong to WRONGGGGG You see, the thing about generational science is that, it’s not just about the numbers.  And it’s not your fault, because no one actually goes around telling people how to identify their generation. And it’s so much easier to look up the numbers and find where you fit in. It’s just heuristics.  We tend to take the shortcut when it is available, even if it may not be the best choice.  Just like a personality test that comes with questions that make you reflect, you need to ask yourself some questions to understand which generation you really belong to. Each generation has a set of common attributes and qualities.  Just like the Pareto principle, 80% of the generation will have similar attributes and 20% won’t. That’s social science for you – nothing is fixed in stone. It’s also the same reason why researchers can’t quite agree on the fixed years for each generation. How to identify my generation the PROPER way According to generational grandfathers Strauss and Howe, there are three central pieces to consider when defining a generation 

  • Age location in history

 Did you experience the same big historical events, conditions and trends during the same life stage? Y/N For example, Baby Boomers can remember the feeling when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Millennials can remember the time and feeling when the planes hit the Twin Towers on 9/11. Each generation faced its respective event in the same phase of life, and it is an important factor in determining your generation 

  • Common beliefs and behaviours

 Thanks to the common experiences, each cohort typically tends to share similar beliefs, behaviours, traits, values and motivations. Baby Boomers grew up during amazing social change and tend to be optimistic and positive. Gen Xers tend to be skeptical as they saw institutions crumble and Leaders fumble. Millennials were encouraged to speak up at home and work in groups on projects as a team which made them highly collaborative.  Do you find that you have the same beliefs and behaviours typical of your generation? Y/N 

  • Perceived Membership

 There’s a scene in the Harry Potter movie when the sorting hat is put on Harry’s head. And Harry keeps muttering, “Not Slytherin, not Slytherin” as if he had a choice. Turns out, he did.    And so do you. Which group do you feel you belong to? Be it an Employee Resource Group or a Meetup Group, everyone belonged to a group and bonded over their similarities. Baby Boomers may feel a sense of belonging when others in the same generation recognise their preference for professionalism in the workplace . Millennials remember AOL and MSN chat rooms and laugh about their embarrassing screen name choices. The nostalgia further strengthens the feeling of belonging.  Do you have the feeling that you belong into the group as categorised by the years?Y/N There have been many cases where I have had participants come up to me and say,  “Technically, I am a Gen X, but I feel more like a Millennial”  or  “I know I’m a Millennial, but I relate better with friends who are from Gen X and I feel I should be Gen X instead” or “I feel like I’m both. Is that possible?” It happens – and that’s why researchers introduced a mini-generation – from 1979 to 1984 – for those who feel they had a mix of Gen X and Millennial traits and behaviours. They are called the Xennials. So do your diligence and ask yourself these 3 questions. Do some reflections before you decide which generation you really belong to.  Know someone who feels generationally lost? Send them this article. They’ll thank you for it.   

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