Generation X is a unique generation. Defined as individuals born between 1961 and 1982, this was the first generation that dared to be different. They were born on the heels of Baby Boomers and expected to be high achievers. They were also the first to have the responsibility of being latch key kids due to society’s, then, new trend of working mothers and single-parent homes as a result of the first ever large-scale divorce rates. As such, Generation X-ers grew up with a sense of independence and confidence not seen in any generation before them. The tension that exists between Baby Boomers and X-ers in the work place at times can be like oil and water. Boomers are traditionalists and believe in institutions. X-ers are risk takers and do not expect to achieve career success after putting 25 years into an organization. The professional expectation of GenX-ers versus their personal desire to live on purpose has many of them, according to Dr. Curtis Odom, “Somewhere between who they are and who they want to be.” In other words, they are “stuck in the middle.”
In Dr. Odom’s new book, Stuck in the Middle: A Generation X View of Talent Management, he tackles the career struggles of his fellow generational peers. I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Odom a few weeks ago about the challenges of his generation and how they can adapt achievable talent management tactics to enhance their career experience. Although he speaks to the Generation X demographic, I believe anyone seeking to steer his or her career in a new direction should take heed to his advice.
EBONY: Let’s start with your generation and its pursuit of happiness. In your book you ask a really striking question, “Do you want to deny your career passion simply because it may be different than anything you have done professionally to this point?” With over ten years professional experience and quite possibly a personal life filled with great responsibility, at what point does a GenX-er pursue what makes them happy?
Dr. Curtis Odom: Great question. In 2010, I sat back and asked myself, “Throughout my career journey when was I my happiest?” I think we [GenX-ers] should ask ourselves this very question. For me, I discovered I was happiest when I was mentoring and coaching others and being my own boss. I was also able identify the things within the work place that I will not compromise on. Those things are: 1. I must be able to be able to be my authentic self. 2. I must feel valued. 3. I must feel appreciated and welcomed. 4. I must be able to contribute at the level I am comfortable with. In order to get these four things, I know for sure I need to work for myself. With an average of 40 years worth of career in each of us and just over 20 years left for GenX-ers, I simply say how long are you willing to spend doing what you think you should be doing versus what you know you should be doing?
We [Black people] tend to build comfort zones instead of networks. Ask your boss who are the people you should be talking to, and seek to have coffee with them. When you do have that coffee, ask him/her the same thing and keep it going.
EBONY: Welp! There you have it. Great point.
EBONY: Would you then say being an entrepreneur is the only way to find true career happiness?
CO: No. Not at all. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. The state of being in flux [procuring clients, constantly going, etc.] is maddening to some people. I have plenty of friends who are very happy being traditional W-2 employees. At the end of the day, we should all be working in an environment that is perfect for us.
EBONY: That’s a great way to put it. Now, let’s shift gears a bit. In your book, you also stress the importance of talent management. In the corporate space, what can GenX-ers ask for at the negotiation table to make their experience more beneficial?
CO: Well, we have to make it clear that we need to be challenged. Give us the opportunity to work on cross-functional things so we can showcase what we really bring to the table. Specifically for GenX-ers of color, we are seen as high performers rather than high potentials. Therefore, we tend to get more of the same kind of work thrown at us instead of the challenging work. We need to ask for opportunities that will get us seen across the entire enterprise so that we become visible for more than just what we were hired to do.
CO: And let me add, when you are told you are a “high potential,” be willing to ask what exactly does that mean? Being a high potential and a cup of coffee gets you a cup of coffee.
CO: It doesn't really do anything for you unless you know what it means. Understand if being a high potential