Imagine the scene: Lindy and I are in Phoenix, speaking at a conference, and afterwards we’re sitting in a grungy little Mexican bar called Dos Gringos which is bejeweled with Christmas lights (all year round, apparently). It’s full of quirky misspelled handwritten signs and we’re near a life-size Jenga tower drinking a pitcher of margaritas and 2 dollar Pacificos with our great friend Jeff Hurt (I am sure he will concur with that description though we’ve only met in person for the first time that very day), and his two co-workers, Joe and Jerry. They are like the Three Musketeers – really sharp, really funny, really Gen-X sarcastic despite Jeff being a Boomer and Joe being a Millennial – both have a definite Xer irreverence about them.
Total digression from my story, but here’s a bit more about them: Jerry tells the story of taking his two kids on a hunting trip with his father, something he hasn’t done himself since high school. He shoots a short video of his father explaining to the kids how to skin the deer, interjected with alternating exclamations from the kids of “gross!!” and “cool!” He posts the video on YouTube and it now has had almost 18,000 views. Joe is a real foodie who takes (and posts) photos of most of the meals he eats and has two salads from his local Austin neighborhood joints named after him. His latest plan is to set up a blog called “Joe Blogs For Food”, the goal of which is to get his meals paid for every day for a month. Jeff, of course, is the mustachioed blogger whose acerbic wit strikes fear in the hearts of many – and yet, in person, is SO not scary at all, the friendliest, funniest person you’ll ever meet. These are the kinds of people you need in your life.
Anyway. Back to my story. We’re all chowing down and having a great discussion about work and social media and the speaker circuit and dying associations and blogging, when at one point Jeff turns to me and says, “You know Maddie, I think you’ve lost your edge. You started your business and you’ve sold out. You’ve gone mainstream.”(I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist.) Now I know Jeff is trying to get a rise out of me, that’s what he does, and I laugh, but I’m thinking about it. Have I? As you know, being called “mainstream” is pretty much the worst possible thing to a Gen-Xer like me. So bad that I literally can’t think of anything worse – except maybe “ordinary”. I literally feel dirty. I tell him that, of course.
I go on to say, I think it’s definitely true that once you have a client-consultant relationship with an organization, you can no longer in good faith tell them how full of shit they are in public – though rest assured we don’t hold anything back behind closed doors. But I think back at some of my early posts… and it’s probably true that I don’t have the same fire under my feet that I used to. For me personally, it’s hard to hear that rebel yell when I’ve declared my work to be about”sharing the love” and “teaching a man an organization to fish”. Oh jeez. I sound almost like… an ex-hippie boomer. Wow. Cringe.
As I’m thinking about all this, I just so happen to also be in the process of reading X Saves The World by Jeff Gordinier, which just so happens to be full of Gen X nostalgia about when we used to be anti-establishment, subversive slackers. About when all our heroes were anti-heroes. I think he’s asking the question too – have we sold out? Have we been assimilated by the Borg? And this is not a “life stage” thing. We all have to pay the bills. Whatever. This is a MENTAL thing.
I look around at my blogger friends and I wonder if we’re not all looking over the same cliff. Jeff (De Cagna) and Jamie used to be changing the structure of governance. Jeff is still Jeff, namely 5 years ahead of the rest of us; Jamie’s now busy dealing with the minutiae of association management in the ‘burbs. Matt got himself an Executive Director position at age 30-something and is, well… bored. Maggie’s stuck in a labyrinth with no doors. We’ve lost Ben, the original devil’s advocate of the association world (“making a loud noise and leaving the room since 2004″) to MRIS and Zillow and the real estate world…
Now I’m just poking you guys with the Jeff Hurt stick, of course. I don’t think any of us have gone mainstream. I think we’re all working the system from the inside. I KNOW we are. I’m still handing out my red pills. We’re jacked in and leaping tall buildings. We know Kung Fu.
But I want to hear it from you. I want this to be a meme; The Xer Meme, if only because we haven’t had one in a while. I hope you’ll play. I’ll tag those I mentioned above and a couple more, but I invite ANY Gen X readers to comment, and I hope the peeps I tagged will tag some more. I’m letting Lindy off this time, by the way, she’s on the XY cusp and I know from personal daily experience how subversive she really is.
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)?