Generation X and Finance: Generation X-pert Laurie Haelen (Part Two)

LaurieHaelenThis week is Part Two of our Generation X-pert conversation with Laurie Haelen, Sr. Vice President, Team Leader and Wealth Advisor for Canandaigua National Bank. (You can check out Part One here). Let’s jump right back in.

GenXManager: Generation X is kind of known for their precarious financial situation. They are the most indebted generation, their retirement savings took the biggest hit in the Great Recession, etc. As a Wealth Advisor, do you feel that Generation X has been somewhat overlooked by the finance industry?

LH: Absolutely. Baby Boomers are working longer so GenX-ers aren’t able to move up as fast. There they are again, stuck in the middle—maybe caring for aging parents as they take care of their kids. It’s really challenging for them.

GXM: From an advisor perspective, do you think there is opportunity with this group?

LH: I do, especially with financial planning. I never planned when I was younger—I was too cynical about it. But at this point GenX can really benefit from it.

GXM: What about Millennials? Is the financial industry doing things to try to develop them?

LH: With Millennials it’s very interesting. Many of them saw their parents burned by the financial crisis, and they don’t want that. They’re looking for something different. They may want to invest, but not for return alone. They may want to invest to make the world a better place.

They also tend to want to do it themselves as opposed to having somebody do it for them. You may have heard of robo-advisors. It’s a way to use technology to build a portfolio, continue to add to it and do all the things that traditional money managers do for a much lower cost. There’s been a big trend of Millennials moving in that direction. But they also like ad hoc advice. They like to have somebody checking in about different aspects of their financial life, and so the traditional money manager who just wants to charge a fee for a portfolio is struggling to figure out how they can service this generation. Frankly, many of them (money managers) are just saying, “I’m not even going to bother. I’m going to be retiring soon.” Right now, there are more financial advisors facing retirement than in any other time.

GXM: What does that mean for the industry as far as attracting new talent?

LH: It’s a huge challenge because many young people do not want to be in sales. Sales is an environment where they don’t feel comfortable, or they don’t want the rejection that comes along with sales. And currently, financial advisors do sell.

GXM: Do you see the model changing? Because you can look at financial advising in two ways: one is that it’s sales, which it absolutely is, but it’s also helping people, which could be very attractive to younger generations.

LH: I do. Some of the larger robo-advisors are adding Certified Financial Planners to their staffs, and so clients could have access to that advice when they need it. So staffing models are moving towards more of a salaried staffing model since those people advise and do not have to sell. It’s different than the traditional old school brokerage model or insurance model where everything that you did was commissioned.

GXM: What led you to a career in finance? I know that you got your degree in English Literature.

LH: Well, I graduated and then realized that there was nothing I could do with that degree at all. I think I had 40 jobs in my 20s. So I was drifting around in different jobs and playing in bands and a friend of mine worked for John Hancock Financial Services. Her mom worked there as a recruiter and really liked me (she was like this glamorous person and I was always impressed by her) and she said, “You know you’d be really good at selling insurance,” and I said, “Why would anybody to do that?” But I went and interviewed with her and I took a psychological profile test. And they called me to tell me I failed the psychological profile test because, basically, it measured how materialistic you were. And I wasn’t. But she fudged the results and I went into the training program, which involved calling lists of people in the morning, which I hated, and then going out to meet with people and helping them with their insurance issues, which I loved. I lasted about a year, then I went into banking.

I realized then that I really liked the ‘helping people’ piece of the industry. I am very good at explaining things to people—I think that’s the English Literature background. I could take a really tough concept and pare it down and communicate to people in a way they could understand. I moved away from insurance and toward investments, taking classes, getting licenses, etc. In 1995 I ended up in the trust side of the business, working with trusts, fee-based investment management and financial planning, and I’ve been there ever since.

GXM: What advice do you have for people starting out who want a career in finance?

LH: Get an advanced credential of some kind to help you specialize. A Certified Financial Planner designation is really well-regarded. If you’re on the investment side, a Chartered Financial Analyst is great. Internships are a great idea as they let you see if you really like the industry. Then I would say invest on your own—just a few dollars at a time so you can see how investing works from a hands-on perspective.

GXM: As a GenX manager, what do you think are the assets that GenX brings to the workplace and what are some attributes that might hold us back?

LH: I think being real is an asset. I love that part of Generation X. And reminiscing of course.

GXM: That’s how we bonded.

LH: Yes! I call it “fossiling”. I think GenX’s reliance on email can hold us back in the workplace. Sometimes it’s better to be in the same room. We like email because it’s quick and direct, but there are some cases where being face to face is the right thing for the situation.

GXM: Lessons you’ve learned along the way?

LH: I’m not as important as I think I am. No one is. Recognize people for great work. You can’t over-recognize someone. Recognize people who are in roles which maybe traditionally don’t get recognized very often, like a receptionist or the person who sits in the back just processing all day. Those people might fall through the cracks but they’re the ones that make the whole place run.

Another lesson: don’t only like people that are like you. When I was a new manager, I tended to “pick” people that thought like me, but that’s not where you get the best teamwork. You can learn from people who may have different talents and they can learn from you. And not to be afraid of conflict. I used to fear it, but I know now that conflict is not the end of the world. It can be healthy and it can solve problems.

GXM: That’s really good advice. The strength of a team comes from having a variety of styles and approaches. Laurie—thanks for being this month’s Generation X-pert.

You can connect with Laurie Haelen on LinkedIn at

Are you a Generation X-pert? We’re looking to interview GenX-ers about their career paths, their experience leading employees, and how their specific industry interacts with Boomers, GenX, Millennials and more as part of a series for Email for more information.



Generation X and Finance: Meet Generation X-pert Laurie Haelen

LaurieHaelenOur Generation X-pert series continues with Laurie Haelen, Sr. Vice President, Team Leader and Wealth Advisor for Canandaigua National Bank. I first met Laurie when I was a marketing manager for a financial services firm and Laurie joined the organization as SVP and Director of Investments. When our first official meeting evolved into an hour-long discussion about ’80s music, I knew she was my cup of tea. We have both since moved on from the firm but she remains one of my dearest friends. Her 25-year career in finance has given her a ton of experience in managing employees (and clients) from different generations. Part One of our conversation about her career path, the finance industry and of course Generation X follows, edited for clarity.

The GenX Manager: You and I talk all the time about being part of Generation X. What does that mean to you? What do you think of?

Laurie Haelen: When I think of Generation X, I think of coming of age in the ’80s, a time that celebrated a certain type of person, an “Alex P. Keaton,” if you will.

GXM: A yuppie.

LH: Yes, and if you weren’t a yuppie, then you were “somebody else.” And somebody else felt disenfranchised and distant from the consumerism that was happening. I remember feeling like there was all of this stuff going on in the world: the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “just say no to drugs” campaign and the AIDS crisis. I felt like there was a divide between people moving forward in their yuppie way and the people who were cynical about it.

GXM: How do you feel about where GenX is today—in work and in life?

LH: I think that, in many ways, we’re lost a little in translation. I think the Baby Boomers have been such a defining generation in the workplace, with their work ethic and habits. Everybody knows what they stand for. And everyone seems to know what the Millennials stand for, but no one seems to be talking about Generation X. I remember taking a leadership class on dealing with the generations, and it’s interesting because all I remember is how to deal with Millennials and how to deal with Baby Boomers. I can’t remember what the plan was for us.

GXM: Fewer meetings?

LH: Right. And email them. Now I’m remembering. But I’m on the early edge of GenX, closer to the Baby Boomers, and I prefer in-person communication. What I see from Generation X, especially being in finance, is that education and credentials are not the most important things to them. There’s some cynicism around that. Having more of a real relationship is more important to them.

GXM: Authenticity.

LH: Exactly. That’s interesting because that’s very important to Baby Boomers. GenX-ers were also the first ones to view work as “doing work,” not a place or a time frame. So, if it takes a GenX-er five hours to complete an eight-hour project, they’re like, “I’m done.” To GenX, that’s OK, whereas to Baby Boomers it’s not OK; you’re going to sit there and get the eight hours in. So, that’s one thing I think is true. I hate the “bean counting.” And I, too, am less impressed with someone’s credentials than I am with how they treat people. I am impressed by the type of person they are. I don’t care about the letters after their name.

GXM: Do you remember from that leadership class what the advice was for managing Millennials?

LH: Oh, I do. It was to make them feel special. If you’re their boss, Millennials might want you to meet their parents. Communicate the way they want to communicate, texting, etc. And give them recognition—meaningful recognition.

In my experience managing Millennials, all of this has been true. And for us as their managers, we need to be very clear about what we expect from them and to let them know how they’re doing—where they’re at, where they’re going, what the path is and how to get there.

I’ve had lots of conversations with Millennial employees about money, about title, about status. They ask very early on, “How did you get where you are? How can I do what you do?” And in my head, I’m thinking, “It took me 20 years to get here!”

GXM: We did pay some dues, our generation. Certainly the Boomers did, and they value that. So, it is kind of new territory for us to see people who don’t know about paying dues or that there are no dues to pay anymore.

LH: And I’ve had some experiences with Millennials where I’ve given them more money, more schooling, or more opportunities and they took them without hesitation and then moved on very quickly. In my generation, and certainly in older generations, we tend to stick to things. But now as you know that loyalty between employer and employee is gone—on both sides. And so I can’t really blame them. That is a characteristic of our generation—trying to see things from both sides.

GXM: What do you feel you’ve learned from Millennials?

LH: They’re great at advocating for themselves. I did not advocate for myself at their age, and I did think it was kind of amazing and cool that they would have the audacity to tell me they need to make more money. The way they use technology, that’s something I try to stay on top of. There are tools that exist to improve efficiencies, and Millennials can many times do things faster than some other generations. But I respect the advocacy, and I respect the courage they have to advocate for themselves. I have also found that when criticism is dealt, they get over it quickly.

GXM: What about managing Baby Boomers as someone younger than them? What was it like for you to supervise people older than you early in your career?

LH: In my early career, it was like all these people are my dad. That made it very hard to say no to them or really give them any kind of negative feedback. It made it hard for me to finally stand up to them and say, “Wait a minute. You might have more years of experience, but I am in charge and this is my call.” That was hard. It took years for me to be able to do that. Confronting them felt like confronting a parent.

Now, it’s much different. It’s more, “I understand where you’re coming from, and I really value you.” That’s really meaningful to them. And I do everything in person with Baby Boomers, especially if I think it’s going to be particularly disruptive or violates their values. I am very mindful now of how I give feedback, and I’ll adjust my communication style based on generational considerations.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of my conversation with Laurie and get her take on how the financial industry is responding to generational needs, her career path and her advice for people interested in a career in finance. Catch the exciting conclusion right here!

Four Reasons Brands Don’t Market to GenX (and One Big Reason Why They Should)

I wrote in an earlier post about an experience I had regarding a Fidelity commercial’s use of The Special’s “A Message to You Rudy”. Yes, I was caught off guard that ska was being used to sell retirement plans, but what was equally attention-getting was the fact that the spot was squarely aimed at a Generation X demographic. That doesn’t happen very often.

generation-xI’ve been in marketing for almost 20 years, and I understand the importance of target market selection. So why doesn’t GenX get the same marketing attention as Boomers or Millennials? Here are just a few reasons:

  • We’re small: Sandwiched between two of the largest generations, Boomers (74.9 million) and Millennials (75.4 million), GenX numbers look paltry indeed. There are two reasons for this. First, there was a drop in the number of births in the mid-60s, the beginning of Generation X. The other reason has to do with the fact that while no one can seem to agree on exactly when Generation X begins and ends, they do agree that Generation X lasts less than 20 years. Pew Research Center has the range from 1965-1980, Gallup says GenX runs from 1965-1979 and MetLife—going strictly by fertility patterns–has GenX at 1965-1976. Using the widely accepted Pew’s numbers, GenX has 40 million members. That’s practically a niche market as far as brands are concerned.
  • We’re poor: Allow me to clarify. In truth, Generation X is in their peak earning years, and produces 31% of total U.S. income while being just 25% of the population. However, we carry more debt than Boomers and Millennials, our retirement savings got creamed by the Great Recession, and we’re simultaneously saving for our kids’ educations and caring for aging parents. That doesn’t leave a lot of discretionary income, and marketers know it. Combine that with our small size and we’re not a very attractive target.
  • We’re old: A big reason Millennials are having a moment? They’re young. A marketing focus on youth culture is nothing new. When the term “teenager” was coined in the 1940s and the postwar prosperity of the 1950s put disposable income in the hands of this group, brands started messaging directly to young people. Youth marketing is important to brands because young people tend to have an influence on the buying decisions of friends and family. The middle aged marketing target is a narrow one to begin with, and GenX’s size makes that even tighter.
  • We’re savvy: Skeptical. Cynical. Distrustful. These labels might be an unfairly negative way to describe GenX, but there is a grain of truth in them. We value authenticity, and if we feel that you’re trying to put one over on us, we’re done. For brands that market effectively to Generation X, this is top of mind. Don’t try to fool us.

So on paper, we don’t look awesome. It’s easy to see why brand marketers would look at a list like this and take a hard pass at GenX as a target demographic. That would be a mistake, for a big reason:

  • We’re loyal: If, as a brand, you can offer something of value and tell an authentic story, you will find that Generation X is one of the most brand-loyal generations in history. That’s right. If you can manage to get us to like you, we will keep liking you. We’ll even pay more money for your stuff because we like you so much. GenX has a brand loyalty rate of 70%, according to a study by eMarketer.

For brands that are in it for the long haul, there’s another consideration to showing some love to GenX. We are the parents of Generation Z: a generation nearly as large as Millennials that holds $44 billion in buying power between their own money and influence on family spending. And they’re wired way more like their GenX parents than Millennials.

Ignore us at your peril.

Five GenX Business Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of (and at least three that you definitely have)

I like Mark Zuckerberg. I really do. He seems like a bright, thoughtful guy, and it’s because of him (and his college buds) that I can know what my retired mom in Florida is thinking about at almost any given moment. But as a GenX-er, I do grow weary of the Millennial/Genius/Entrepreneur narrative.

I get the whole Wunderkind thing that Zuck has going on. And with Millennials poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation in history, it’s easy to focus on the paradigm-shifters of that generation.

But Millennial business leaders aren’t the only ones who are changing the game. Some of today’s most well-known companies are being led by Generation X-ers. These are but a few, in no particular order as innovation is innovation, whether it’s applied to insurance, space travel or shoe selling.

  • Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos: What started as an online shoe store has grown into the gold standard of employee empowerment. Zappos brings the same kind of innovation that earned them the reputation of customer service mastery to their employee relations. Example: every (as in EVERY) new employee spends the first three weeks working in the Zappos call center to understand the business. When that time is up, the employee is offered $3,000 to leave the company.
  • Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO, J.P. Morgan Asset Management: You don’t have to be a renegade CEO of a hi-tech business to be innovative. Erdoes, CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management since 2009, spearheaded several initiatives geared toward helping women in the male-dominated world of finance, including a program that recruits women who once worked in financial services but paused their careers to have children. She was #60 on Forbes’ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” list in 2016.
  • Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and of Square: One of “the Twitter guys”, Dorsey co-founded Twitter, left in 2008 and came back as CEO in 2015. In between, he launched and continues to run online payment company Square. Dorsey joins Gates, Jobs and Zuck in the pantheon of billionaire tech college dropouts.
  • Sara Blakely, founder, Spanx: With $5,000, Blakely took antiquated undergarments, made them comfortable, called them “shapewear” and created a whole new category in the fashion industry. That kind of GenX ingenuity will get you on Forbes Billionaire list, where Blakely is one of the youngest women.
  • Elon Musk, CEO and Chairman, Tesla: Okay, if you don’t know this guy, I don’t know what to tell you. Electric cars, space exploration, model/actress girlfriends. He’s the rumored inspiration for Tony Stark.
  • David Wehner, Mike Shroepfer, Sheryl Sandberg: Also known as Facebook’s management team (CFO, CTO and COO respectively). I told you I thought Zuck was a bright guy—smart move stocking the C-suite with GenX talent.
  • Spencer Rascoff, CEO, Zillow group: Whether you’ve bought a house recently, tried to find out what your neighbors paid for their house, or you just enjoy perusing the local listings, you probably know the real estate marketplace Zillow, where Rascoff’s been the CEO since 2010. Thanks to their “zestimates”, you can find out what your home is worth at any given second.
  • Tricia Griffith, CEO, Progressive Insurance: If Flo is the only person you know from Progressive, take a closer look. Griffith was the driving force behind the decision to expand into home coverage in 2015. She built her career at Progressive, starting as a claims rep in 1988. She’s now on the list of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women.
  • Larry Page, CEO, Alphabet: You probably know Alphabet better as the parent company of Google, the company that Page co-founded with fellow GenX-er and current Alphabet President Sergey Brin in 1998. Known for his somewhat unorthodox management style, he is credited as the brains behind PageRank, the algorithm that determines search engine results and has marketers like me obsessing over them. And with Google consistently topping “Best Place to Work” lists everywhere, he and Brin are viewed as the standard-bearers for innovative 21-st century corporate culture.
  • Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube: Wojcicki began her career at Google as their first marketing manager in 1999 (Page and Brin were already working out of her garage—sweet commute). Seven years later she convinced them the company should buy YouTube and the rest is television-killing history.

The hallmarks of successful leadership– pragmatism, empathy, loyalty, innovation—are the same characteristics that are attributed to Generation X. In a competitive global business environment where organizations must adapt quickly to market forces that shift beneath their feet, it’s easy to see how GenX leaders are blazing trails.

Readers: this list merely scratches the surface. Got a GenX leader you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Management in Action: Managing Rock Stars

They’re strategic thinkers who can also execute. They’re passionate about their work. They beat every deadline. They have a positive attitude and a commitment to the organization. They are the high performers.

guitar-1015750_640I call them rock stars, and I have been blessed to have managed many throughout my career. Rock stars are talented and make hard work look easy, and I gladly pick the brown M&Ms out of the candy dish in order to keep them performing well. But like actual rock stars, high performers need the right combination of support and autonomy from their leaders to keep them playing at a high level.

Got a high performer on your team? Here are some things to do to keep them rocking out:

  • Keep their instruments tuned. It’s your job as a leader to set your team members up for success. This means doing your best to get your people the tools they need to do their job well. Whether it’s investing in new technology or providing professional development opportunities, do what you can as a manager to get your rock stars what they need to continue to excel.
  • Give them a solo. As I mentioned, I’ve managed a few high performers over the course of my career, and I learned that sometimes the best thing I can do for them is to just stay out of their way. Micromanaging is about the worst thing you can do to a rock star. That being said, it’s not always reasonable for your high performers to expect complete autonomy. Work together to find that balance.
  • Have them write a song for a change. Most high performers are quick learners and pick up things easily. Playing the same songs day after day can get boring, so give your high performers new challenges and opportunities to branch out. Encouraging your rock stars to take the lead on certain projects and initiatives allows them to apply their talents in different ways, which can be reinvigorating for employees and foster higher levels of engagement.
  • Let them know how the album is doing. It can be difficult and de-motivating to work in a vacuum and not know how your day-to-day work is impacting the organization. Take time as a leader to connect those dots for your team by linking individual goals to your organization’s strategic goals, and give your rock stars regular feedback on how things are progressing.
  • Make sure they get their standing ovations. Often, high performers leave organizations because they don’t feel valued. Are you doing all you can to get them proper recognition? In addition to giving your high performers positive feedback and appreciation, make sure the higher-ups of your organizations are aware of your rock star’s hard work and talent. Encourage your high performers to engage with organizational leaders so they can raise their profile.
  • Put the band first. Having a high performer as part of your team can motivate other team members to higher achievement, or it can totally intimidate then. Rock stars tend to get a lot of attention, garner more responsibility, and perhaps enjoy more freedom. Continue to make investments in the rest of your team so that they too can develop the knowledge and skills that can elevate them to rock star status.

Rock star employees can absolutely be assets to your team, but it takes some careful management in order to get the most value. A high level of talent is not an excuse to treat people poorly or behave unprofessionally—something that actual rock stars have something of a reputation for. Good communication is crucial to understanding and creating a working dynamic that benefits you, them, the rest of your team, and the organization.

Rock on.

Readers: have you worked with rock stars? What’s been your experience with high performing employees? Share in the comments.

GenX and EQ

Emotional intelligenceI’ve been working in marketing for nearly 20 years and have been a manager of people for 15 of those. During that time, I’ve done my best to keep tabs on current trends in leadership and management. I freely admit that I’m a sucker for every e-book, webinar and white paper that addresses the topics. The range of usefulness of these resources has varied of course (Yes, I know it’s just a way to get me to fill out a form so a salesperson can contact me. I’m in marketing, remember?). A topic that seems to come up more and more frequently is emotional intelligence, also known as EI or EQ (for Emotional Intelligence Quotient).

In 1995, science journalist Daniel Goleman wrote a bestseller called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. In it he identified five factors of emotional intelligence:

  • Self awareness: an understanding of strengths and weaknesses, and how actions affect others
  • Self regulation: control of emotions and reactions in situations
  • Internal motivation: a drive to succeed that comes from within
  • Empathy: the ability to understand the emotions of others by putting yourself in their shoes
  • Social skills: the ability to connect with others and manage relationships

My gut reaction to EQ was a GenX eye roll. Please, the cynic in me thought. Why can’t we all just be professionals and do our jobs? Do we have to sing kumbaya too? But it also made me reflect on my own career and leaders I have encountered who had the ability to inspire people to do their best work. They weren’t necessarily hypercompetent, nor did they lead by fear or intimidation, but people wanted to come through for these leaders, no matter what. It occurred to me that the leaders were indeed strong in each of these five areas. They had high EQ.

For some Generation X managers, EQ is probably not something they think too much about, yet they may very well understand its powerful role in leadership. For example, they may know that employees who feel valued are nearly three times more motivated to do their best work. They may take the time to understand specific motivators for their individual team members in order to improve performance. Understanding this requires a measure of emotional intelligence. The good news for GenX managers is: 1) EQ can be developed and improved, and 2) they probably have a better head start than they realize.

Developing and Improving EQ

There are techniques for boosting each of the five areas that comprise emotional intelligence. Most of them begin with some thorough introspection. To develop self-awareness, try to become an out-of-body observer of yourself. What are you doing well? What are you struggling with? How are others reacting to you? Getting answers to those questions can put you on a path to improving self regulation as you become more thoughtful about your actions in different situations. Some deep introspection around what some experts call your “deep why” can also help uncover what truly motivates you.

To strengthen empathy and social skills, put the focus on others. Think about what you can do to put them at ease. Show an interest in people as unique individuals. Be mindful that your team members are whole people and are not solely defined by the work that they do.

EQ and Age

The jury is out on whether EQ improves with age. There are some studies that show a correlation. One study from 1999 even pinpointed that EQ shows a drastic increase during the thirties and seems to peak around age 50.  (Feeling that EQ surge, GenX?) It certainly seems that with age comes experience.  You have more time dealing with others, as well as more opportunities to practice EQ boosting techniques, each of which should influence EQ improvement. But other studies dispute this claim, stating instead that there are aspects of EQ that will only improve through thoughtful practice and training.

One of my favorite examples of the importance of EQ as a leadership quality comes from my own life. Several years ago, my father retired from a long and successful career that included stints at Xerox and later GE. At his retirement party, I can’t tell you how many of his colleagues shared with me their admiration for his caring nature. “He cared so much about people,” one person said to me. “We’d do anything for him.”

The average person will spend over 90,000 hours at work. That’s about one-third of a lifetime. It’s important that employees spend that time feeling valued not just for their productivity and expertise, but also as people.

Readers: what do you think about the importance of EQ and leadership? Have you seen examples of EQ in action? Share your experiences in the comments.

Generation X and the Arts: Meet Generation X-pert Sabra Crockett (Part 2)


Sabra L. Crockett: artist, business owner and totally GenX. Photo by Jolea Brown Anderson, Creative Photography

This week is Part Two of our Generation X-pert conversation with Sabra Crockett, owner of Sabra Lynne Decorative Painting, LLC in Louisville, KY. (You can check out Part One here). Let’s jump right back in.

GenX Manager: You spoke about giving feedback to Millennials and how you have to be mindful of how it might be received. Does it take it up a notch when you are critiquing someone’s art, something that can be so personal?

Sabra Crockett: Excellent point. I know that there are artists from all generations that really take their art so much more personally than I do. And I think it’s because of my background as a scenic artist. My art was never “my art”. It was the designer’s art. It was the director’s art. It was the audience’s art.

So I never had that preciousness with my art, and I have been able to detach myself, to an extent, from my art—and that’s important. I do recall how much more personally Millennials took feedback, and I thought maybe it was just because they were younger. But it also might be because of the encouragement that they had from their parents. “You’re wonderful! What you do is great!”

I never really had that. My parents tried to get me to move away from art, and I put my foot down. I said, “Look I’m going to be an artist. There’s nothing you can do about it. I’m going to school and I’ll figure out a way to make money.” Because they were right to be concerned about that, of course. I know as a parent I’m concerned about that as well too, to a degree.

GXM: There’s that GenX independence. Let me ask you–because I am hearing a lot of GenX influence in your story—what comes to mind for you when you think of Generation X? Did you have an affinity towards that label growing up? Do you have it now?


“We (GenX) were labeled as slackers, negative, cynical…a little anti-establishment.”–Sabra Crockett 

SC: I do. We were labeled as slackers, negative, cynical…a little anti-establishment. But really we were pragmatic. I do have an affinity for Generation X because the people that I grew up with were so damn smart. They were so politically engaged and aware, and they cared. But it wasn’t “hippy dippy” (really we were so anti-hippy dippy). We were all about love and peace too, just with an edge.

We were very passionate about causes. I remember being in PETA at Arcadia College and getting the college to stop experimenting on mice. I remember writing letters to corporations encouraging them to end those inhumane practices. We really wanted to make a difference. We took a responsibility for our actions and our future because nobody else was going to take care of us. We got that message a lot. I felt that we really had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and take responsibility for our futures.

GXM: What comes up for you as some of the defining moments of Generation X?

SC: I think of Kurt Cobain’s death as a defining moment. Going back, Nirvana and their influence was a defining moment. I remember it was my first year in college and we all gathered around a stereo to listen to Nirvana’s album, Nevermind and we were like, “This is amazing!” Then it instantly became mainstream, so Kurt Cobain’s death hit a generation of fans pretty hard. I think our connection with media in general; the rise of MTV for example, defines GenX.

It’s so different now—the Internet has given us so much information but it seems harder to find people that you truly connect with. I remember as a kid hanging out with friends, going to their homes. And my kids Skype or text friends. They’re hanging out too—just not in person. It’s wild.

GXM: Generation Z—the true digital natives. It’s very interesting to watch this generation come of age. They are remarkably informed, and more engaged than I remember us as teenagers. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

SC: I think they have greater potential to be more informed, than us as teenagers, because of their access to digital media, and the internet. It’s really encouraging. I feel that my son’s generation is definitely more accepting of difference than our generation was. And it’s not nearly as cliquey as when we were growing up. We kind of defined ourselves by our label. I was labeled different by others at first, and didn’t find self-acceptance until I owned the label. I considered myself a ‘freak’ or a ‘punk’ by the type of music I listened to, and the culture I surrounded myself with. It’s what we called, “Alternative”, back in the day. Even if I don’t look like it now, I still consider myself that way. The alternatives took those labels, which were something negative, and built a kind of persona around that, because we weren’t accepted by mainstream society. Now my teenage son will say, “Yeah, I’m a nerd. I’m definitely a nerd.” I’ll say, “Cool. I’m glad that you’re owning that. It’s not a negative thing.” And it’s not! It’s much more accepted to be a nerd in my son’s generation. It’s also more accepted to be gay, bi, trans… My son had a friend come out in front of his classroom in the 7th grade! That was unheard of when we were kids! I’m just so absolutely encouraged by how our children are perceiving the world, and each other.

GXM: It is pretty awesome. Let me ask you this—you’ve been a working artist for nearly two decades. What advice would you give someone just starting out?

SC: I would say if you can find a “Business for Arts” class—take it! In college, they don’t teach you about how to price your work, how to generate a client list to keep in contact with, how to balance your budget or how you do your taxes. These are all things that you need to know, because the thing is, as an artist, you are a business owner. You have to treat your art “career” as a small business. And if you can find a program that can help you market and sell your art, that’s really helpful. Most importantly, if you can find a cause that is bigger than you or your art, and your art feeds into that cause, that is where you will thrive.

It’s important to be organized and to have good planning skills. This is what non-artists may not understand. I don’t go up to a wall and just start painting. There is so much planning and effort involved. I need to have a budget and a timeline. I need to create estimates so I need to understand my fair market value. And that means I have to understand what other artists are creating and selling. I don’t think people understand that you can’t be a flake if you’re going to be a successful artist. I am so appreciative of what I do, but it’s not the fun that people think it is.

Being professional is also really important. It’s important to be on time (that’s advice for Millennials specifically). If you’re given an opportunity, show that you appreciate it by being on time and being professional. Also, communication is key. For me, I like to know that my interns are engaged in the process. So ask questions, be engaged. And listen. Listen to your clients. Listen to their concerns and desires. Be empathic.

GXM: That’s really good advice. I think you’re correct about the perception that non-artists might have about the rules of engagement. They’re really not that different. It’s work, right? Thank you so much for being our first Generation X-pert.

To check out Sabra Crockett’s work, visit

Are you a Generation X-pert? We’re looking to interview GenX-ers about their career paths, their experience leading employees, and how their specific industry interacts with Boomers, GenX, Millennials and more as part of a series for Email for more information.


Generation X and the Arts: Meet Generation X-pert Sabra Crockett



Sabra L. Crockett: artist, business owner and totally GenX. Photo by Jolea Brown Anderson, Creative Photography

In this first post of our Generation X-pert series, I am pleased to introduce you to Sabra L. Crockett. Currently, Sabra is the owner of Sabra Lynne Decorative Painting, LLC in Louisville, KY, but I remember her as one of the most creative and artistic students of the Class of ’91 at Webster High School. She’s totally GenX, and I had the opportunity to pick her brain about how generations interact in the art world, giving constructive feedback to artistic Millennials and raising Gen Z kids. After spending some time reminiscing about our favorite ’80s music, we got down to business. Part One of our conversation follows, edited for clarity.


GenX Manager: If anyone told me that after high school I would be video conferencing with you about Generation X stuff I’d think, “Hmm..sounds right. ”. So this is great–thank you.

Let me piece together what I know about 2017 Sabra: you are an artist in Louisville, KY and have two sons?

Sabra Crockett: I do. I have two boys; a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old.

GXM: And I have a daughter that just turned 16.

SC: Teenagers!

GXM: I think what blows my mind is I remember our teen years so vividly. And when I try to explain to my daughter what it was like being a teenager in the 80s, it’s the GenX version of ‘we walked 5 miles to school in the snow uphill’ speech: “We didn’t have Hot Topic. We didn’t have Manic Panic. If you wore a band tee it’s because you were at the show and we dyed our hair with Kool-aid.”

SC: My husband kept all his band tees. I’m going to make a quilt.

GXM: And you’re GenX like me, but your parents weren’t Boomers. They were actually a bit older—the Silent Generation. How did that influence you?

SC: Yes, they grew up during the Depression. Everything was saved. Everything was an investment. Nothing was ever thrown away or wasted. You used something until you could not use it anymore. And you worked really hard and earned everything. Nothing was ever given to you freely. There always had to be some form of labor or achievement that you had to create or accomplish.

GXM: That’s really interesting. So when you were growing up, and when you were a young adult, did you feel you were different from your peers in that way?

SC. Yeah absolutely. I know a lot of my friends who just automatically got cars when they were young and were helped out a lot more by their parents. And my parents were like, “Nope”. But that sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency that I was able to have really helped me as an artist and as a self-employed person. On the other hand…it can be a hindrance in a way because I am so independent and autonomous, it can sometimes be hard to work in a group and collaborate. And I do find that working with Millennials, they really want to collaborate. But I’m like ‘OK give me a task, let me go do it now and do it right’.

GXM: So very GenX.

Let’s talk about your career—I know you are working in the arts, which is fantastic and totally what I would have expected from one of Webster High School’s Class of ’91 ‘Most Artistic’. What was your path?

SC: After high school, I really wanted to go to school at the Art Institute of Chicago. And I was accepted and I really thought I was going to go and my parents said, “We can’t afford it.” So I had to figure out where I was going to go to school in like, a week. So I went to what was then Beaver College (now Arcadia College) in Pennsylvania to study Fine Arts, but I was only there for one year. Loved Philly, but I came back home and got my Bachelor’s from RIT. Graduating early, I was ready to give up, get a “regular” job and make some money and not do art. Then I got a call from the RIT placement office about a position for a Scenic Artist at a local theater. I said, “What’s a Scenic Artist?” and they said, “We don’t know, go find out”. So I applied and I got the job. That was amazing because that was a time where I was able to use my artistic ability to actually have a job and make money.

I was there for a year. Then I moved down to Montgomery, Alabama to be a Scenic Artist at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. And that was an absolutely incredible experience. I knew nobody in Montgomery. I moved there by myself with my little kitten and my Toyota Corolla full of stuff, but no furniture.

I got there and it was amazing. There were props artisans from all over the country, really talented costume designers. I got to meet August Wilson. It was an incredible experience. Then my husband, who is also from Rochester, got a job in Montgomery and we were there for six years. And I was getting to a point with theatre where I felt like I hit a plateau and couldn’t learn a lot more. And while I was working in the theater on the weekends, I had my own little side business doing murals and faux finishes for restaurants and private homes as well as working with an antique dealer.

So when I had my son–I think it was our first year anniversary–I said ‘I think I’m going to start my own business. I think I’m going to go out and do that because I kind of need more flexibility’. And I couldn’t do theater and a side job and take care of my child. So I decided to go out on my own. And it was terrifying. But I was able to do it for a while and then we moved to Louisville, KY.

I was really lucky–I got in with the top designers. And the thing with Louisville is they love new people. It’s a very interesting city to live in. I have lived here for 14 years now and it is a culturally emerging city.

GXM: That’s my understanding too—it’s something of a hot spot right now.

SC: It’s an incredible city, and there is a lot of support for the arts. All types too– performing arts, visual arts. I’ve established great relationships and made lots of friends. I have found a home in Louisville.

GXM: What has been your experience with working with other generations in the art world—Millennials in particular? You mentioned internship programs you were involved with.

SC: Yes, I started an internship program with a local college here and worked with interns throughout my career as a scenic artist. Giving feedback has been interesting—both as a Northerner and as a GenX-er.

GXM: You’ve got kind of a brutal honesty double whammy there.

SC: Right! I had to really figure out what the Millennial value systems were and what worked well for them. And what I’ve noticed is they need a lot of encouragement, a lot of positive feedback. So if I softened my approach, I questioned if my feedback was going to be effective or taken seriously. With Millennials, I’ve had to be very patient, very encouraging, and above all—be a really good listener. I find that being a really good listener helps in all aspects of dealing with any generation. And communication is absolutely key.

I have noticed that Millennials like to text more, and I have no problem with that. I like that. In my role as gallery director for a nonprofit organization, I deal with all kinds of generations. I was working with a gentleman from the Greatest Generation who was very clear: “I don’t do email. You can either call me or you can write me a letter.” The Boomers I deal with seem to like email more.

GXM: What kind of generational issues have you observed in the art world, and as an artist yourself? Are there keen differences?

SC: Boomers seem to equate art with status. For a lot of Boomers working to establish themselves, having a big house and a fancy car, was very important. And most of my clients that I work with in private homes–doing murals and finishes—tend to be from that generation. So for them, it’s a status symbol—a beautiful work of art they can show off to friends.

Millennials, not so much. For them, I think it’s more about individuality. And I can appreciate that as a GenX-er, because we value our individuality as well.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of my conversation with Sabra and get her take on GenX’s defining moments, what it’s like to be a GenX artist, business owner and mother, and what advice she has for people who want to have a career in art. Catch the exciting conclusion right here!

Two for one: Matching Millennial Workers with GenX Mentors

An earlier post on mentioned mentoring as a way to further engage Generation X employees. For organizations looking to cultivate a leadership mindset in mid-level GenX managers—and pass on valuable skills to younger and newer employees—pairing Millennial employees with GenX mentors is a way to accomplish both in one fell swoop.

Piece of cake, right? Not so fast. Though GenX and Millennials may be generation-adjacent, they are in fact very different when it comes to their approach to work. But that’s the idea. Pairing GenX mentors with Millennials matches the complementary skill sets of both generations so that each benefits.

What a GenX Mentor Can Teachboard-784349_640

GenX employees have decades of career experience in a corporate culture that has undergone massive transformation in a relatively short amount of time. They’ve seen things. This experience, combined with GenX attributes like pragmatism, loyalty, and independence are strengths that younger generations can benefit from. Here are just a few things Millennial employees can learn from GenX mentors:

  • Pragmatism. One of the traits that GenX-ers are most known for is their ability to realistically accomplish goals. They understand that compromise is often necessary to move things forward, and thus many GenXers seek middle ground willingly in the name of progress. Millennials, who are more idealistic (much like their Boomer parents), may be more hesitant to move toward a goal if conditions don’t seem favorable. GenX mentors can teach their mentees how to analyze existing systems and frameworks, negotiate with stakeholders and get things done.
  • Self Reliance. Often called the least-protected generation, GenX knew early on they’d have to figure out a lot for themselves. This trait has served GenX employees well. They are known for working well independently and seeking to expand their skill sets. For Millennials accustomed to group work and collaboration, they can learn from their GenX mentors how to be more self-starting and confident in their solo work.
  • Workplace culture. For employees in their early careers, getting a sense of organizational culture and politics can be a steep learning curve. A mentor who has a strong sense of culture can guide their mentee and shorten the learning process.

What a GenX Mentor Can Learn

Mentoring is viewed as a strong engagement tool because in an ideal arrangement, everyone benefits. As trust is built on both sides of the mentoring relationship, it can evolve into more of a mutual coaching model. GenX mentors stand to learn a lot from their Millennial mentees, such as:

  • Optimism. Negative and cynical are two terms often associated with Generation X. Yet Millennials—the same generation that’s facing down crushing student loan debt and shaky job prospects– are the most optimistic of the generations and they take that with them into the workplace. They believe in positive change, and that they can have a direct impact on bringing it about.
  • Self-advocacy. Millennials are quite known for their ability to advocate for themselves, and they can show GenX a thing or two in this regard. Studies show that GenX values recognition just as much as other Millennials, but they may not be actively seeking it.
  • Good ideas can come from anyone. Hierarchy is not important to Millennials. (That can be a sword that cuts both ways.) Raised to value collaboration and teamwork, Millennials believe that ideas are equal regardless of the source and that everyone is a major stakeholder.

Each generation has unique strengths and skills. Mentoring can facilitate the sharing of these in a way that rewards all involved, including the organization that supports it.

Readers: Does your organization have a mentoring program? What has been your experience with mentoring in your career? Share in the comments below.

Living on the edge: Xennials and others



When it comes to generations, it’s not always a perfect fit.

As both a language lover and marketing professional, I love when a new made-up word takes hold. Last month, there was huge media coverage of the term “Xennial”–coined to describe those late GenXers/early Millennials whose unique experiences make them feel like they don’t belong in either generation.


The portmanteau originally appeared in a piece by Sarah Standkorb and Jed Oelbaum for GOOD magazine in 2014. The term caught fire again recently when University of Melbourne professor Dan Woodman, in an interview with, explained the concept of this microgeneration:

“The idea is there’s this micro or in-between generation between the Gen X group – who we think of as the depressed flannelette-shirt-wearing, grunge-listening children that came after the Baby Boomers, and the Millennials – who get described as optimistic, tech savvy and maybe a little bit too sure of themselves and too confident.”

The Xennial Experience

A common phrase I hear from a lot of Millennials is, “Yeah, but I’m not really a Millennial…” It’s usually an attempt to distance themselves from negative Millennial stereotypes, but sometimes it is in reference to their Xennial experience which blends characteristics from both GenX and Millennial generations. A Xennial:

  • Was born during the original Star Wars trilogy.
  • Had a computer-free childhood but a tech-connected adolescence.
  • Played more Oregon Trail than PacMan.
  • Watched more “My So Called Life” than music videos on MTV.

The concept behind this is not unique to this sub-segment of those on the Generation X/Millennial cusp. When generations span 15-20 years (depending on who is counting), the shared experiences and defining moments of a generation look really different depending on which end of the spectrum you fall. If you are on the cusp of two generations, you might technically belong to a generation because of your birth year, but attitudinally identify with a different generation altogether. Let’s apply the “Xennial” model to other generations.

Baby Boomers –Generation X = BooXers  

No, I don’t really think “BooXers” is going to catch on. But I have hope, as there happen to be a lot of these folks who are on the cusp of the Baby Boomer generation (1946-64) and Generation X (1965-1980). A BooXer:

  • Was alive for the moon landing but vividly remembers the Challenger disaster.
  • Considers “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” their coming-of-age movie over “The Breakfast Club”.
  • Wasn’t quite sure how old they needed to be to buy beer, as the drinking age was a moving target.
  • Started their gaming experience with pinball and ended it with Atari.

Millennials – Generation Z = GenZennials

It might be harder to predict where the “cuspers” of Millennials (1981-2000) and Generation Z (2001-present) will fall on the spectrum as Generation Z is still coming of age. But even now, we can observe how early GenZ is distinguishing themselves from their Millennial counterparts. In fact, they seem to be more like their GenX parents. A GenZennial:

  • Works on group projects at school but hates every second of it.
  • Is a true digital native, and can process information quicker than Millennials but has a shorter attention span.
  • Watches more YouTube than television.
  • Knows enough about the Millennial student debt crisis to know they want no part of it, even if that means skipping college.

For someone who was born at the midpoint of her generation (1973) and happens to (still) fit every GenX stereotype, this fascinates me. It’s further proof that there is so much more to a generation than a collection of birth years. The defining moments and shared experiences are the things that so strongly influence us.