Until I hit 40, I was the unhappiest person I’ve ever met.
In the 70’s and 80’s, it wasn’t unusual to be subjected to daily bullying. Bullying in the 80’s was brutal. It meant being surrounded by a group of a dozen or so peers who were pushing and hitting and calling you names – names that pointed out your most embarrassing flaws and cut you to your core. It was teachers who blindly walked past, hoping not to get involved. And parents who pooh-poohed our complaints and told us to stop being so sensitive. It was a never-ending onslaught of crimes against the souls of the human beings we were trying to become.
By seventh grade, I began to find myself. The break I enjoyed during the sixth grade when the bullies left for junior high was not something I would give up lightly.
But the misery didn’t stop.
Now there were boys and cliques and boobs and that time of the month. There was being too old for the bus and too young to drive a car. There were braces and body hair and so many questions we didn’t dare to ask. There were friendships that came and went like the tides, sometimes dependent on something as simple as what we chose to wear or how much makeup we put on.
By high school, the world seemed almost ours. We survived adolescence and thought we were becoming the people we were meant to be.
But the misery still didn’t stop.
Now there were cheerleaders and “Heathers” and social segregation. There were cigarettes and drugs and cruising and pressure to conform to your group. There was sex. There was death. There was AIDS.
There was no one to talk to about any of it.
After high school, we couldn’t wait to get out of the house. Free at last! Free at last!
But the misery didn’t stop.
At $4.35 an hour, the minimum wage made it impossible to get our own apartments. We had roommates, live-in boyfriends or continued to live at home. We quickly learned that rental rates climbed much, much faster than income levels, so moving and downsizing every few years became our norm. This is probably how we earned the ‘nomadic’ tag, and how we learned not to get too sentimental about our stuff.
By the mid 90’s, we were having kids. We loved them in utero and haven’t stopped. We were determined to raise them in a kinder, safer world than the one we grew up in. Determined to give them whatever they needed to feel whole and protect them from the shattered inner existence that defined us, we sheltered them. We flitted about them, preening their psyches in a never ending attempt to make them happy. To make sure they knew they were loved. To be different than the parents who utterly failed us.
And we worked our asses off for employers who told us they cared.
But they didn’t.
By 2009, most of us had either lost our jobs to downsizing, automation or outsourcing, or lost our homes to foreclosure. We had to get creative about our futures or risk forever repeating the cycle of nightmares that had so far defined our lives. We learned that nothing had really changed for us. Generation X still struggled and we, as a group, still didn’t matter.
Now in 2017, we see retirement on the horizon and know we can’t afford it. We’re still stuck behind the Baby Boomers who refuse to pass on industry knowledge, share resources or release the reigns. Who refuse to fucking retire.
We’re starting our midlife crises. We harbor resentment toward the Boomers whose lives were so much easier than ours. Who rarely heard the word ‘no’ and often sculpted the world to meet their needs. Who saw us as nothing more than a hindrance to their own self-absorption. How dare we have needs? How dare we ask for a share of the bounty? They didn’t understand that our dollars didn’t stretch the way theirs did. They failed to grasp that our ratio of income to housing was very different than what they enjoyed. “Jesus, would you stop complaining? It’s not that bad,” they said. But it was.
Now we harbor resentment toward the Millennials who occupy so much of the world’s attention. They don’t for one second appreciate how hard we worked to give them what we didn’t have — all the support, convenience and comfort they have today. “But mom, I didn’t ask to be born. That was your fault.” We don’t question them. We see their point and simply absorb the guilt, and they continue to live on our dime. Why haven’t we kicked them out? Why don’t we respond, “But you’re here now, so what are you going do with that?” Because we know it’s the Lord of the Flies out there. Because we know we coddled them and we know they need more time to get on their feet. We know we could barely hack it when we first left home – and the cliff is steeper now. So, yeah, technically, their lives are our fault.
Plus, we kind of like them.
But it’s time the misery stops.
I’ve always felt guilty about not achieving enough. About job hopping when corporations started dumbing down systems and scaling back staffing. About being a single parent. About what my family thinks of me for letting my Millennial son continue to live at home. About failing not one, not two, but three entrepreneurial pursuits (so far). About soothing myself with shopping and oh, so many self-improvement books. Until I was 40, I thought of myself as a failure.
But then I realized I’m happy.
I’ve lived my life blessed with freedom. I was not afraid to walk away, stand up for what I believed in or protect those more vulnerable than me. I had the strength to survive. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I was single by choice and still managed to buy a great house. When it was time, I moved across the country to better my life. I still say “no” whenever I need to. I know myself and what I can contribute to the world. I know my limitations and how to work around them. I have the power to negotiate the conditions of my life.
I am a badass.
I am Generation X.
And despite the insanity invading far too many aspects of our world, I have everything I need to be happy.