Turning the Corner on Reskilling and Reinvention
#evolve Magazine
January 22, 2021

I come from a cynical generation. If you need proof, look no further than the movie Reality Bites. At the time of its 1994 release, some said it defined Generation X: over-educated, underemployed and intentionally flying under the radar at work because accomplishing anything that even remotely suggested corporate buy-in was akin to surrendering to “the man.”

Depending on your perspective and background, you may remember your 20s as a time when you sought a life path filled with meaning, if not ambition. You also may have worked a menial dead-end job with no actual mooring or purpose. You didn’t look at your boss as a leader. You looked at him or her as a manager, an authority figure and a drag on your freedom and creativity. Does any of this hit home? Perhaps you and I are kindred spirits.

While ennui may still embody the vibe of some Gen Xers, I now take exception to the “disaffected and alienated” stereotype that filmmaker Richard Linklater helped promulgate in his 1990 cult classic, Slacker. Contrary to popular belief, many Gen Xers today are highly productive, engaged and innovative workers. We still may reject all forms of pretension and ideology, but, like most self-driven, resourceful types, we don’t want Management with a capital M (or Big Brother) to micromanage or monitor our every move. We want support and recognition, but we also want to be left to our own smart devices. We can clean up our own messes. How do you think we survived the 1980s?

Gen X, of course, is no better than any other generation. We’ve all experienced trials by collective calamity, such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Great Recession (2007-2009), and now a deadly virus that has infiltrated our lives and thus far has refused to let go.

When I think about the traits it takes for employers and individuals to handle and overcome a crisis, it begins with responsibility. We can’t survive a crisis by abandoning our core values and humanity. We survive by adapting to change and grinning and bearing our way through the adversity. We survive by respecting others and finding a way to thrive as a community of diverse and talented individuals, despite our many differences. We thrive by delivering on our promises.

There is no us and them in this global pandemic. The only way we escape this dystopian nightmare is through powerful leadership, cooperation and imagination. As Mark McGraw depicts in his #evolve cover story, “many businesses were not well-equipped to lead” in 2020. Some failed at mission-critical, cross-functional operational continuity. Others struggled to rapidly facilitate a work-from-anywhere culture that supported employee well-being.

As WorldatWork CEO Scott Cawood describes it, to ensure a place in the New Work Exchange, we must do better by putting people first and accelerating our deliverables. We need to turn the corner on reskilling and reinvention and put this global pandemic in the rearview mirror.

Even a cynical Gen Xer like myself can get behind that goal.

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