What Do GenXers Want?

I recently read this interesting article in the Albany Times Union.

A WORKING LIFE GUIDED BY JUST THREE LETTERS

 

"What the hell am I doing?" It's something we all have asked about our careers at least once — or once a week.

I quit every few hours, every day, for the first few years of my career. So why do we do it? For the massive pay check that barely covers our extravagant lifestyle of Piels and pizza? For the glory of being the King of the Spreadsheets? To tell our grandchildren "I worked my way up, and became head geek in a foam factory!"

Why do we take out massive amounts of student loans, sacrifice the best years of our lives, fight the Northway and deal with all of the BS?

When I first entered my field, I learned about the Three I's, the motivating factors that lead to success and beyond. I believed in the Three I's, then embraced them. Now I know that they apply to almost all fields, and to Generation X and Millenials more than to previous generations because of our mental makeup.

So, what are the Three I's?

The first "I" is income: When we start, it is all about the Benjamins. We are a capitalistic society, and we have needs for food and shelter and big-screen TVs. So we listen to our parents, go to a good school, study hard and try to get good grades, maybe even go to grad school.

Then we get a nice, safe job with a big corporation and climb the ladder — except those insane enough to believe in themselves more than they do the nameless suits above them in the corporate pyramid (who already know what flows downhill) and decide to build their own hill instead.

These entrepreneurs take outsized risk for the potential of outsized reward. They also are programmed differently. But we almost all start by chasing the dollar.

After a bit, we discover that money isn't all it is cracked up to be. Yes, it's nice — OK, very nice. But we realize it is 10 p.m. and we are still at work for someone else and we missed the Yankees game, that our six-pack abs are now a mini-keg, and that we need to have time to do what we want and need.

We want the second "I": independence.

My wife used to complain that she got two weeks' vacation, and I could go and play golf with clients whenever I wanted to. I had independence, but that freedom wasn't free. I paid for it with sleepless nights worrying over making payroll, solving problems and doing what needed to be done.

I have even more independence now, but guess who goes to pick up the sick kid? You betcha: Mr. 2nd I.

The first two I's, although great, are not worth it in and of themselves. If that was all, we'd work like dogs for 20 years, retire at 45, and live on an island drinking fruity drinks with funny umbrellas. There is a reason why my adviser from grad school is still in academia in his 80s: It's impact.

Impact is why I write articles for the Times Union and why I write books. It is why my friends with more money than the mint keep working. And it's why some of my friends are in Iraq: They believe that through what they do, they can make the world a better place, that through their efforts someone is better off.

More than money or time or glory, they want to influence the future and make it brighter. That's what impact is, and it is the most powerful of the I's.

Impact drives the creation of new businesses, which drives our economic engine. These risk-taking entrepreneurs start with the third "I" and create small companies that change the world and become large companies that everyone wants to work for. And once they have changed the world with their impact, the founders leave, to go do something more.

Wonder why so many successful business owners go into philanthropy?

Sure, some of it is to see their name in lights, and financial is a big part of it, too.

But more often it is for the same reason they started their companies and took the risks in the first place: to make the world a better place.

To be at the top of the pyramid (Maslow's, not the corporate one), and use the results of the income and independence to drive the third "I", to make the world better. That is why Bill Gates does what he does, and that is why I wrote this: to have some impact on you.

So go and make the world better by doing what you do, because now you know why: I-I-I.

NextGen Workbytes is written locally by and for Gen Xers learning the realities of the workplace. Joseph R.R. Templin is the head geek at Unique Minds Consulting Group LLC in Ballston Spa and is the author of "Financial Mistakes of New College Grads: The Seminar."

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