Monday, September 28, 2009

Association Management Gen Xer Meme - Right Here, Right Now

A woman on the radio talks about revolution
When it’s already passed her by
But Bob Dylan didn’t have this to sing about you
Know it feels good to be alive -      Jesus Jones, Doubt

I was recently tagged in Maddie Grant's Social Fish Xer Meme and am happy to have been invited to play.  So I will digress for a moment from my "we wrote it 25 years ago" series and chase Alice down this rabbit hole.

Here is the question:

"So go on, tell me, my fellow Xers – Have YOU sold out?  Have YOU gone mainstream?  Or are we still the guerrilla army, changing the world (only without telling anyone)?"

Here is my answer:

I sold out.

Wait! Before you call me a Gen X poser, let me explain!

I grew up in a household with a Silent father (only in generation, not in actual practice), a Boomer mother, a Boomer Junior/Yuppie step-brother (sorry buddy, gotta call it like I see it) and Gen X me.  What this meant was the dinner table and most holidays turned into what can only be termed epic discussion-fests as we all vigorously, and sincerely, attempted to apply these really divergent life philosophies to current events, politics, etc. 

As a result I became relatively adept at negotiating my way between generational divides.
This has turned out to be quite handy in the workforce and I think goes a long way to explaining the success I have had in my career.  The ability to easily shift between Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Led Zepplin and Pearl Jam makes me something of a chameleon. Generation-speak builds bridges fast (and Gen X likes it fast). It puts a lot of years on you when you are sponging media off of any generation that comes in contact with you.

But here's the flip side (yes, old enough to remember those big, black, flat things called records).  I entered the association workforce and found myself surrounded for the most part with Boomers.  For a long time, I was the youngest at the table, fighting four-on-one due to simple demographic numbers and quite frankly, after a decade or so of banging my head on the walls, I got tired.  In addition, my career kept jumping forward (in fine Gen X fashion mind you) and I kept leaving my Gen X group behind. 

I forgot what it was to self-identify as Gen X.  I started identifying as "association professional" and my career took center stage as my sole form of public self-expression and to a large extent, private as well as the 60 hour workweeks sapped my energy and left me utterly drained.

And that was where my Gen X perspective languished a bit.....I was listening to "the woman on the radio talk about revolution that had already passed me by."  From the moment I first heard that song, and every time since including today, I genuinely reflect on that line every time I hear it.

I navigated a world of suits and Dilbert-esque arguments over policies, procedures and white papers.  If this cartoon hits you in the same way, then you know where my association counterparts have been for the past few decades.

Occasionally I would have a fleeting moment, usually in an airport in Southern California on a weekday night coming back from a meeting, surrounded by a fleet of airplane commuters with the same cookie cutter suits and briefcases like mine, where I would sheepishly wonder if I would lose my professional "bona fides" if any of them realized I was listening to Metallica on my Walkman and let my employees come to work in jeans every day.  (You know those moments where you hear the Sesame Street song in the back of your head "which one is not like the others" and you realize it's you?)

Then, two things happened.  First - I bought this cool sounding book by Jeff Gordinier called X Saves the World (if you haven't read it, buy it NOW).  Second - I went to a thought leader session led by Nadira Hira at the ASAE Annual Conference in San Diego.  The first experience blew the blinders off.  The second made me really, really angry.

Suddenly, things got dialed in and dialed in fast.  I started meeting other executives and association professionals who were/are in my age group.  The magical world of social media accelerated the hunt.  Not only my age group, but composed of a certain mind-set that up until now I had been "annual performance reviewed" into considering my own personal character flaws. 
  • A certain disdain for authority (even when I'm it);
  • A penchant for challenging the status quo;
  • A compulsive need to wipe the slate clean;
  • A tendency to call bullshit when I see it; 
  • The curse to continually question everyone's motives;
  • And the seemingly cold-hearted ability to walk away whenever I felt my ability to affect needed change was being undermined or (worse) my integrity was being marginalized.
Add to that the incessant praise for "getting it done faster, cheaper and better," "we wouldn't know what to do without you" and "if I had ten of you I could take over the world" and you get the peculiar schitzoid professional we all know and love as Gen X.  Getting it done, in a way people appreciate and are grateful for, just not in a way that anyone really understands or, let's be honest, always approves of.

I've been inside the machine, outside the machine, on top of the machine and sometimes even part of the machine.  The machine has chewed me up and sometimes even spit me out.

But'm baaaaack - in all my Gen X, Starbucks fueled glory......only now, I'm ready to start all over again with raging against the machine with this intimate knowledge of its inside topography....

The next stages of my career will depend on blending all of these experiences into one, strong Project Runway-esque "point-of-view" that I can apply to association management and governance.  I still work with, understand and even admire all sorts of perspectives but I am going to embrace and explain my own filter now in much clearer terms.

Sold out? 

Maybe, maybe not. I'll leave it to you to judge.

Right here, right now, there is no other place I'd rather be.....


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