A Gen Xer Goes Homesteading

Image: Rays of sunlight shining on our homesteading site.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve talked to a lot of people who thought that our crazy scheme of going OTG and developing a “permaculture homestead” was a really good idea.  But when asked whether or not they would consider doing a similar thing, they would always end up saying no, followed by a list of excuses (my kids …, my parents …, my job …, my social needs …, my lack of money …).  I’ve always figured that the reason why I’m out here and the rest of the world is in there (the box, that is) is because I’m a doer, and not a dreamer.  But maybe the real reason is because I’m a Gen Xer (short for being a member of Generation X).

By definition, Generation X  includes those individuals born roughly between the early 1960s and the early 1980s. Generation X is characterized by traits of cynicism, individuality, independence, resilience and adaptability.  Generation Jones is a small subculture of Generation X, born between 1954 and 1965.  The name “Generation Jones” was derived from the term “keeping up with the Joneses”.  Generation Jones is often characterized by bitterness about the lack of resources and privileges available to them as compared to the Baby Boomers who were born a few years earlier.  Since I was born in 1966, I am considered a Gen Xer just on the edge of being a Gen Joner.  And that describes me pretty well.

The Strauss–Howe generational theory (Neil Howe and William Strauss and The Fourth Turning) identifies a recurring four-stage generational cycle:

  1. High – a post-Crisis era when institutions are strong and individualism is weak.  Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively.
  2. Awakening – an era when institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy.  People tire of social discipline and want to recapture a sense of self-awareness, spirituality and personal authenticity.
  3. Unraveling – an era in which institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing.
  4. Crisis – an era in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat. Civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group.

There are four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially in rhythm with the cycle of Crises and Awakenings:

  1. Prophet generations (e.g. the Baby Boom Generation) are born near the end of a Crisis, during a time of rejuvenated community life and consensus around a new societal order. Prophets grow up as the increasingly indulged children of this post-Crisis era, come of age as self-absorbed young crusaders of an Awakening, focus on morals and principles in midlife, and emerge as elders guiding another Crisis.
  2. Nomad generations (e.g., Generation X) are born during an Awakening, at a time of social ideals and spiritual agendas, when young adults are passionately attacking the established institutional order. Nomads grow up as under-protected children during this Awakening, come of age as alienated, post-Awakening adults, become pragmatic midlife leaders during a Crisis, and age into resilient post-Crisis elders.
  3. Hero generations (e.g., the Millennials or Generation Y) are born after an Awakening, during an Unraveling, at a time of individual pragmatism, self-reliance, and laissez faire. Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, come of age as team-oriented young optimists during a Crisis, emerge as energetic, overly-confident midlifers, and age into politically powerful elders attacked by another Awakening.
  4. Artist generations (e.g., the Homeland Generation or Generation Z) are born after an Unraveling, during a Crisis, at a time when great dangers cut down social and political complexity in favor of public consensus, aggressive institutions, and an ethic of personal sacrifice. Artists grow up overprotected by adults preoccupied with the Crisis, come of age as the socialized and conformist young adults of a post-Crisis world, break out as process-oriented midlife leaders during an Awakening, and age into thoughtful post-Awakening elders.

So, Generation X is a Nomad generation.  Gen Xers have lived their entire lives in a country where nothing has ever worked right, and society has been unraveling.  They are generally intensely pragmatic realists who have learned to survive in an environment of accelerating social and economic decay and who know how to kick ass and get things done. While the Boomers talk, the Xers do.  As they get older, they become increasingly determined to rebuild what they can and leave behind something better.  They both understand what needs to be done, and possess the practical skills required to do it.

Gen Xers’ lives so far has been rough, tough, and hard.  However, as small and inconsequential as Generation X has been, it seems likely that this generation will have a significant role to play in the future (maybe they will save the world – see X Saves the World):

  • Gen Xers knows how to get things done, and are one of the most highly-educated generations.
  • Gen Xers understands risk.  Over the course of their lives, Gen Xers have seen smaller and smaller margins to work with, and bigger and bigger penalties for getting things wrong.  This experience has made them canny assessors of risk, and has given them the knowledge that some risks really are worth taking, and that some sacrifices are definitely worth making.
  • Gen Xers trusts their own ingenuity.

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

― Konstantin Jireček

A lifetime of making it up, making a go, and making it do have made this generation preternaturally resourceful.

  • Gen Xers believes in competence and accountability.  They distrust authority and large institutions, including corporations, religious institutions and the government. Much of Generation X’s  cynicism is based on society’s double standards, where they have had to face harsh judgments and punishments that were not imposed on any other generation (e.g., get off your ass, get an education and find a job … only to find that after investing in an expensive university degree, they then struggled to find jobs in a work climate where jobs were scarce).  From all of this, they learned to hold each other and everybody else responsible for their own actions.
  • Gen Xers aren’t afraid to make the call. Boomers talk the problem to death. Millennials confer for hours. Xers weigh the risks and rewards, apply their ingenuity, and act … and they willingly live with the consequences of their decisions.

Sound familiar?  If you’ve been reading my journal for awhile, or you know me personally, you are probably seeing some of the common themes that run through my life.  And this is why I’ve gone homesteading – I’m tired of listening.  It’s time for doing.  Maybe I will be a pragmatic leader during the next Crisis.

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1 thought on “A Gen Xer Goes Homesteading”

  1. I’m a boomer, but am enjoying my mini-homesteading life in a float cabin on Powell Lake. I’ve learned a lot living most of the year in all seasons away from town. When we come to town, we run around like crazy beings and then rush home to get away from it all again. I did have to take a break to care for my mother for several years, but I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. – Margy

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