As it Turns Out, Gen X is Handling Middle Age Way Better Than Millennials

Millennials in middle age: illustration of a woman at a crossroads
enisaksoy/Getty Images

As a Gen X’er, I feel I owe Millennials an apology.

First off, I’m sorry that my demographic cohort has taken you to task so cruelly with mockery over your entitlement, teetotaling and Crocs. (Our generation is also a total mess FWIW, what with our yuppie privilege, heroin chic aesthetic and no-less-anti-fashion Doc Martens.) But now the New York Times tells me that you people are hitting your early ‘40s—happy birthday!—and not feeling tip-top about the prospect of middle age. Even TV shows (Fleischman is in Trouble, Beef) are focused on your discontent.

Well, welcome to the party! But seriously, the life issues you’re facing are a big deal. You’ve been knocked down by the 2008 recession, then managed to get back up on your feet, only to be knocked down again by Covid. As you grew up, you were sold a bill of goods that promised you that, if you got an education and a job, you’d get a home and a family…only to be met with job insecurity, stratospheric housing costs and now, inflation. (By contrast, per the New York Times, “Gen X may have been buffeted by some of the same social changes and declining economic conditions as we have been, but at least they are also the only generation of households to recover the wealth they lost in the Great Recession.” Also, per my personal experience, and backed up by a Pew Research report, we Generation X’ers might be weathering the limitations of middle age better because, well, we expect less—we’re used to being a demographic white elephant, sandwiched as we are between the much larger groups of Boomers and Millennials.

millennials in middle age collage
Illustration by Dasha Burobina

Point is, yep, it’s a hard-knock life, and maybe you’ve had it harder than us guitar-rock-listening, plaid-shirt wearing 43 to 58 year-old dinos. But still, here we all are, and after considering what “wisdom” we might have for you (we’ve already been middle aged for ten years or so) and basically coming up blank (I mean, I’m in this winning Gen X demographic and I’m pretty meh about life prospects, too, but at least my car is paid off?), I went to an expert in something called millennial joy.

Indeed, business consultant Erica Lasan runs a company called JOYrney To Purpose that coaches individuals (she specializes in burnt-out female entrepreneurs and mothers) and conducts team-building exercises to find personal joy amid transitions in work, family and overall life purpose. Here’s what Erica told me about what millennials can learn from Gen X’ers (and Boomers!) about middle age. (Note to self: This joy-led vision might be helpful to me and my generation, too.)

PureWow: What are the challenges millennials typically come to you with?

Erica Lasan: With Gen X and Boomers, the idea was you want to be secure—get a good job that will pay you good money to allow you to have the family and the home. But there is no such thing as security right now in this market. So, a lot of millennials are saying things like, “If I don’t have the life trajectory I want, I’d rather pursue my joy, a path that makes me happy.” But because they have been [so focused on] what others deem as success, they are also wanting to understand, “What does joy look like for me? What is the vision that I truly want for my life? If I break away from previous expectations and norms, how am I going to be able to stand on my own? Where will I find my community?”

PW: Are there ways that Gen X and Boomers handled middle age that can be useful to millennials?

EL: Boomers, let’s start with them. They worked hard. Once they were given the idea of what they should be striving for, they did it to the best of their ability, and they followed through. That’s a lesson for all generations, because right now there’s the idea that it has to happen right now, quickly. But remember, no great success happens overnight, and the kind of success that does happen overnight you have to be wary of…no one wants to be a one-hit wonder. Would you rather rise the ranks to success quickly or would you rather rise and be able to stay there? Boomers and Gen X’ers know the value of taking your time—I don’t want to say “and earning your place”—but of understanding the value of the lessons gained with being intentional and moving at a [sustainable] pace.

Meanwhile, Gen X taught us the value of knowing where you come from, and understanding that that can help influence where you are going. It’s this generation that were already young adults during the digital age and had to learn to adapt. They understand the need to have a forward-thinking mentality, and ask yourself “what can I learn in the season that I am in now?” and “how can I learn to be flexible?”

PW: How exactly do you counsel burnt-out millennials who come to you?

EL: We start with vision, we get really clear on a joy-led vision of what your life could be. Then I have a proprietary three-step framework I walk them through, in helping them rediscover, reconnect and recommit to their purpose and identity through joy. From there, we move on to the next piece of puzzle, which is about reconnecting with that joy and learning how it aligns with your purpose. So, it no longer becomes “Oh I am looking for joy for the moment,” but instead, your entire life is curated around joy.

From there we move on to the last piece, which is really about recommitting to joy-activating accountability, setting yourself up to win. Once you are clear on who you are and what you are meant to be doing, then it’s time to align yourself with the right resources—the people, places and spaces that can support you. And we focus on how to stay aligned with your vision, because old habits die hard and it’s easy to fall back into what feels comfortable, even if it’s misaligned with what you ultimately want.

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Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space. Suitcases to sex toys, she's got an opinion on what's best. Dana is based in Los Angeles; her work has also appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue and The New York Times. Check her out on Instagram and LinkedIn.

dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...