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Generational labels are bullshit

We have an unhealthy obsession with labels. We spend an inordinate amount of time neatly categorizing swaths of humanity into generational boxes: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z. These labels are a shorthand, a way to understand鈥攁nd more often, misunderstand鈥攖he complexities of human experience across time. They offer a simple framework to explain complex societal shifts, to craft policies, disseminate ideologies, and perhaps most crucially, to package and sell products.

I始m guilty of it myself. Boomer this. Gen Z that. It始s an easy way to talk about folks. To make a point. To bring in the clicks, if I始m honest.

But what if we've been looking at it all wrong? What if, instead of distinct generations marching forward in a linear progression, we're all part of one continuous, cycle? A cycle where the heat of youth is gradually tempered by the realities of life, only to be reignited in the next wave of bright-eyed dreamers?

Consider the quintessential traits often attributed to every younger generation - regardless of the era. Idealism. Technological savvy. A desire to challenge the status quo. An anti-authority bent. Flip through the pages of history, and you'll find these same attributes ascribed to youth movements across the decades, even centuries.

In the 1960s, young people took to the streets, protesting war and demanding civil rights. They were labeled idealistic, rebellious, a generation apart. Fast forward to the 2020s, and we see youth-led movements for climate action and social justice. Different causes, perhaps, but the same underlying spirit of change and idealism.

The technology may change鈥攆rom transistor radios to smartphones鈥攂ut the essence remains the same: young people embracing new tools to connect, to express themselves, to reshape their world. The mediums evolve, but the message persists.

But here's where the cyclical nature of our shared generational experience becomes evident. As each generation grows older, they inevitably face the sobering realities of adult life. Mortgages. Career pressures. Family responsibilities. The idealism of youth doesn't disappear, but it's tempered by pragmatism, by the complexities of a world that resists simple solutions.

Put it this way.

Every generation goes through their Minor Threat moment. Every generation goes through their Fugazi moment. Every generation goes through their Evans moment.

This tempering isn't a betrayal of youthful ideals. It始s not a righteous 鈥渕aturity水 that mocks those ideals, either. It始s just a natural evolution. It's the same process that turned 1960s radicals into 1980s professionals, that sees today's social media activists navigating the corporate world. The fire isn't extinguished; it's channeled, focused, adapted to new realities.

As one generation始s fire cools, another's is just beginning to blaze. The college graduate entering the workforce today may roll their eyes at the idealism of high school climate strikers, forgetting that just a few years ago, they too were filled with that same uncompromising zeal. But they始re both a part of the same loop.

Each wave of new workers enters the job market full of ambition, certain they'll redefine the nature of work itself. They challenge traditional hierarchies, demand more flexibility, seek meaning beyond a paycheck. Sound familiar? It should, because it's a story that's been repeating for decades.

The "slackers" of Generation X who rebelled against the corporate culture of the 1980s grew up to become the entrepreneurs reshaping industries in the 1990s and 2000s. The Millennials who entered the workforce demanding work-life balance and purpose-driven careers are now the managers and executives grappling with how to implement those very ideals in a global economy.

Each generation has and will face their own unique challenges, certainly. The Great War, the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the Internet, the GFC. The economic realities of entering the job market during a recession, the societal impacts of technological shifts, the looming threat of climate change鈥攖hese factors shape experiences in profound ways. But the underlying patterns of how we react to these challenges, how we grow and adapt, remain remarkably consistent across generational lines.

I think It's time we retired the generational labels altogether. Instead of seeing society as a series of distinct cohorts marching forward in time, there is a lot of value in viewing it as a continuum, a never-ending cycle of renewal and adaptation, not defined by our birth year, but by our stage in life's journey.

I don始t want to negate the real differences in experiences between age groups. I simply want to reframe them as part of a shared human story rather than a series of generational divides. I want to challenge each of us, myself included, to look for the similarities, the rhymes in our experiences rather than fixating on the differences.

I firmly believe this shift in perspective could change our approach to societal challenges. Instead of pitting generations against each other鈥擝oomers vs. Millennials in the housing market, for instance鈥攚e might recognize that we're all navigating the same fundamental human needs and desires, just at different stages of life.

A cyclical view of generations offers a powerful antidote to the pessimism that often accompanies aging. Instead of bemoaning the loss of youthful idealism, we can recognize it as a natural evolution, a shifting of how we channel our energies and passions. The fire isn't gone; it's just burning in a different way.

The uncompromising idealism of youth is necessary to push boundaries and imagine new possibilities. The tempered pragmatism of middle age is crucial for turning those visions into workable realities. The wisdom of later years provides the context and long-term view needed to guide sustainable progress.

The 20-something climate activist of today isn't so different from the 20- something civil rights marcher of the 1960s. The 40-something parent juggling career and family today faces many of the same fundamental challenges.

I始m not ignoring the unique circumstances of our current moment. The pace of technological change, the global nature of our challenges, the unprecedented access to information鈥攖hese factors create experiences that are, in many ways, without historical parallel. But even as we acknowledge these unique aspects, we can recognize the underlying human constants that persist across time.

The most valuable insight from this cyclical view of generations is the sense of continuity it provides.

We're not Generation Y or Generation Z, Millennials or Gen X. We're not isolated cohorts, disconnected from those who came before or after.

We're all part of one long, unbroken chain of human experience.

We're simply human, an ageless generation that stretches back to the dawn of civilization and forward into the unknown. Our fire may flicker and change as we age, but it never really goes out. It simply passes to the next in line, ready to blaze all over again.

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