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I’ve been outlining and reading up on better ways to write and plot and trying to absorb as much as I can about voice and sales copy and… I got burnt out. Granted, at the same time I was trying to relearn 5 very long forms for the 2nd degree black belt test (that I’m likely to fail “ass-some-ly” if I can’t keep these damn things in my head) and working afterschool care and spring break camp at the dojo — which turned into a few 13 hour days of kids and kicking and punching and running around.ย 

My other “art” has always been visual. For a while, I was an art student majoring in photography even. I eventually transferred to business because at the time that seemed more prudent. That, I think is the biggest difference between Gen X and the younger generation. Culturally, we were given just enough rope to try to “find ourselves” but if also enough fear to that we regularly chose paths that were supposed to guarantee wages we could live indoors on because we, mostly, had the parents that told us once we had a diploma or a degree we were on our own.

Then, in our memory, the economy had only really ever gotten better. We’d watched new opportunities appear out of nowhere. We were kids (or at least young) when our parents brought home our first microwave oven, our first VCR, magic that transformed the way we cooked and watched movies overnight. (I wonder if migrating to DVDs that could be “ripped” to laptops and taken anywhere to streaming shows on phones had the same impact. I can’t know how it felt to watch that change as a kid because I was already out “adulting” and rarely watched movies or TV.) In essence, though, we remembered never-ending prosperity and our parents, teachers, mentors gave us a blueprint to get on that path: school, more school, be good, do good, be smart, be malleable, be what they want, follow the rules–even the unwritten ones (especially the unwritten ones).

It didn’t work like that. Not quite. And depending on which end of Gen X we fell out on, we may have tasted all our parents promised only to lay awake at night worrying about the shrunken retirement accounts behind the facade of success or we may have fallen victim to round after round of layoffs and restructures and downsizes and found ourselves trying to best the younger generation at the job-cobbling hustle that is freelance and part time and low-wage and “sharing.” In the facade of success, our parents’ plan worked. In the “hustle,” our parents’ ideas slow us down. Those student loans, the mortgages on houses we were told were investments before they went underwater figuratively or literally, the car payments on rides we were told were safer for our children (furry or not)…all weigh us with worry.

But mostly, Gen X was taught to believe validation comes from without: trophies are for winners; prizes for the highest grade but never the runner-up; raises based on good performance reviews. Some of us didn’t buy it from the start and marched to our own drummer no matter how many times we were chastised or ridiculed. Many more are trying, now, to unlearn that behavior, to admit that we’re enough no matter who tells us differently. We’ve learned, or are learning, that playing our best is what counts (half-assed and a high score is less valuable in the long run than whole-assed and losing). We’re realizing that the highest grade often flames out and ends up having a celebrity style meltdown while the kid who failed algebra three times ends up running IT. We’re learning performance reviews are usually done by people who don’t know what we do and if we want more money or anything else, we have to ask, lobby for ourselves, and be prepared to walk away or accept defeat.

Those Millennials? They were taught, culturally, socially, that validation comes from within. Their feelings are good enough just because they had them. They’re grades are good enough if they felt they did well. They’re all winners. Even a kid with the lowest self-confidence, growing up in a climate of possibility like that has to collect a little of that deep inside, a seed that will later blossom into their definition of success. Which is the other thing we taught those younger than us: Success doesn’t have to mean a McMansion in the exurbs with two luxury cars in the garage and a closet full of designer clothes if you’d rather be living out of a tent on a beach on the far side of the world or sleeping in your car between gigs or AirBnBing around Idaho because it’s fun to say at 2am.

I’ve been really bad at being a Gen Xer in that I’ve been terrible at following the path. I mean, I tried corporate after the first degree because that’s what I was supposed to do. I was great at my job. Less great at grinning like an idiot at the guy who “just want[ed] everyone to be happy.” (Not quite sure what his real job title was. Maybe cheerleader?) I tried teaching after the second degree (because what were we all taught to do if one thing doesn’t work? More School!).ย Teaching was one of those jobs we were told was a “good job” with security and decent money and, though it was hard work during the school year, we could recharge over the summer. (NOTE: teachers don’t get paid over the summer unless they elect to have money withheld during the school year for that purpose.) Instead, I worked year round, watched my salary decline by a fifth, and found we were increasingly told to just “follow the script” rather than teach the kids in a way they could learn because the script was supposed to prepare them for a test they were never going toย pass because the script was over their heads.

I’m not a good painter either. Pretty much forgotten most of what I knew about photography — and what I did know was rooted in chemistry, not digital. But then, by commercial standards, I’m not a good writer either. So, I’m going to get myself some of that Millennial confidence on eBay or Craigslist and do it anyway.

But first, I’m going to cram those damn ni-da katas and kuens in my goldfish brain.

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