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Generation X

Success. Redefined.

My senior year of college, a professor asked us to write our goals of what we’d like to be doing in five and ten years. I came across the printout of my assignment a few years ago – complete with the holes still attached on the side from the dot-matrix printer. I had completely forgotten about it and was surprised to discover I had fulfilled most of those goals.

My senior year of college, a professor asked us to write our goals of what we’d like to be doing in five and ten years.  I came across the printout of my assignment a few years ago – complete with the holes still attached on the side from the dot-matrix printer.  I had completely forgotten about it and was surprised to discover I had fulfilled most of those goals. 

In fact, I was in a higher position with a higher salary than I had predicted 10 years before.   But something happened to me about a decade out of school that changed my definition of success.  I got to the top as I’d defined it years before and I realized I didn’t like it there.  I was unhappy, depressed at times and unhealthy – and everybody around me seemed the same way. 

A layoff at age 31 forced me to reevaluate my chosen career and when I looked around in my field, I couldn’t find anybody who I wanted to be like.  There wasn’t a single person who was extraordinarily successful doing what I was doing whose life I wanted.  It was time to create my own definition of success.

At July’s TED Global conference, Gen Xer Alain de Bolton highlighted how the modern definition of success is in need of a kinder, gentler approach.  As de Bolton observes, self-help sections of bookstores are filled with books on how we can do anything if we just put our minds to it and, paradoxically, are also filled with what we can all do with the low self-esteem we have.  De Bolton makes the claim that one follows the other in a society where “It’s easier than ever before to make a good living.  It’s perhaps harder than ever before to stay calm, to be free of career anxiety.”

As a Gen Xer, I find people my age are less tolerant of this anxiety and more in demand of relief than our parents are.  Our parents’ careers seemed to have a promise of success at the end if they could just “endure” the long days, time away from families and devotion to careers. 

We Xers don’t trust that our companies will provide us any pot of gold at the end of our term of servitude and we’re more likely to bolt than endure.  More gen Xers are deciding on their own idea of success and fulfillment tops the list for many, becoming more important than money or status.

Take my friend Matt, for instance.  Matt was a successful attorney practicing at a large D.C. law firm and is defining success on his own terms.   After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2001, Matt followed what he says was the “convenient & easy” path, working for a big D.C. law firm specializing in telecommunications.   Firm life was never quite right for Matt and, like most of his coworkers, he was always looking at his next step. 

Matt found his escape thanks to the economy making big law firms not such safe havens anymore.  After Labor Day, he starts his new job at the Media Access Project, a DC-based non-profit where he’ll work on the same kind of communication policy issues. Matt felt successful for graduating from law school, yet he never quite signed onto the definition of success put forward by a lot of people at law firms.  Eight years later, success looked different to him and he finally took a different path.

How do you define success for yourself?  Does anybody else have a different expectation of success for you?  If you were not born to whom you were born or didn’t have the friends you have or didn’t marry your spouse, how might that definition of success change?  And how might it be different in the future?

Success is best achieved when you can define it and the best definition will be in pencil.  Allowing your definition of success to shift as your priorities in life shift will help your success to grow as an extension of your true desires and an outlet for your passions.

Sounds like a pretty good way to pass the workday, doesn’t it?

Cheers to a successful week.

Jeanne Schad is a coach and founder of Internal Relations, an LA-based coaching firm that helps companies be successful by coaching their employees.  She defines success as doing her life’s work, helping others do the same and having time to ride her bike to the beach with her husband.  She can be reached at (310) 823-8607, @jeanneschad or 

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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