Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Blessed are the Shepherds, for They Shall See Angels


"The First Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep."

A lowly band of shepherds played a central role in St. Luke's account of the first Christmas.  

There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

It was no accident or coincidence that humble shepherds were the first to learn of Christ's birth. It was not by chance that they "came with haste" to find the babe who would grow up to become "the Good Shepherd."  

It is in the nature of shepherds to love their sheep and to exhibit Christlike character as they minister to their flocks:
  • Shepherds succor the young, the ill, the aged, the hungry, the homeless, the handicapped.
  • Shepherds watch over the defenseless and the infirm through dark nights and dreary days.
  • Shepherds safeguard the lambs within the fold, then go in search of those who have wandered away from safety.
In today's world, very few people actually raise sheep, and fewer still tend them with a shepherd's care. But there are many who exhibit the biblical shepherds' character as they selflessly serve others. We know these modern-day "shepherds" by many names, including nurse, teacher, social worker, daycare attendant, mother, father, grandparent, friend, nursing home aide, minister, police officer, hospice worker, scout leader, homeless shelter attendant, EMT, godparent, doctor, and mental health counselor, to name a few.

I believe these caregivers who tend their "lambs" with love and tenderness will find peace on earth and good will, as promised by the heavenly host. I believe that in their labors these "shepherds" will be surrounded by angels - some of the heavenly variety and others in the form of the angelic young, ill, aged, hungry, homeless, and handicapped they care for.

I believe these present-day shepherds, like their ancient counterparts, will be led by their caring hearts and their kind, unheralded service to find the Christ Child, the Savior of the world. Did He not teach his disciples, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me"? Matthew 24: 40

During this celebratory season of the year, while the rest of us are "nestled all snug in [our] beds," let us not forget these modern-day shepherds, the caregivers and protectors who keep watch over their little flocks by night or day, who maintain their faithful vigil caring for the tender lambs and the vulnerable sheep.  

Thanks, you shepherds of today, for demonstrating Christlike love in your daily service. May His grace and blessings be upon you this Christmas season and always.

Merry Christmas from the Farnsworth Family and all of us at SunBridge and Personal Asset Advisors.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - My Christmas Wish List: Less Stress, Less Whining


"Many of our choices have led to the predicaments we are presently complaining about."
Monica Johnson

Why do we often turn the most joyful time of the year into the most stressful?

Christmas should be a time of great cheer. But if we're not careful, we can suck all the happiness out of the season with an inflated list of to-dos and bloated expectations.

This tendency to over-program the holidays is similar to the mistake many families make on vacation at Disney World, the so-called "happiest place on earth." Well-intended parents push so hard to "get their money's worth" that they make their children and themselves miserable. Trust me, there's nothing happy about dragging hot, exhausted youngsters to yet another ride or attraction when all they really want is to take a nap or go swimming in the hotel pool. I learned firsthand many years ago that relentlessly driving a bunch of whiney children to "see everything" is not the way to enjoy a Disney vacation.


In the same way, pushing ourselves to make the most of the Christmas season can make us tired, cranky, and ungrateful. For example, take the issue of shopping for presents. Gift-giving should fill our hearts with delight. But when we overdo it, we end up missing the whole point. We spend all our time stuck in traffic getting into or out of the mall. We race from store to store or website to website looking for "the perfect gift." We completely blow our budget and max out our credit cards. For many, gift-giving is a major source of stress - the relentless commercialism, the whining demands, the financial pressure.   

Consider the matter of holiday parties. What could be more fun than joining friends and family in light-hearted merriment?   That is, until we find practically every spare moment jam-packed with yet another event. What were we thinking when we accepted that invitation? I just want to stay home tonight. Do I have to go? Can I find a gracious way to back out?

Then there are the holiday decorations. Some folks act like they're in an arms race with the neighbors, throwing up more and more lights, wreaths, blow-up Santas and snowmen, and those green and red projector things that are all the rage now. And inside, every square inch is filled with all sorts of knick-knacks. These gung-ho, competitive holiday decorators are so exhausted when they finally get it all up, they collapse and can barely enjoy the view. They try not to think about the daunting task of later taking everything down and putting it away.

The most unfortunate part of the season is the people who have shopped or partied or decorated themselves into a frazzle and then go around complaining about how hard the holidays are. They gripe about how much they've spent or how their feet hurt or how they don't find the same enjoyment in Christmas as they used to. Puh-lease!  

Here's my advice: focus on quality, not quantity. Trim the size and cost of your gift list. Pare down the number of invitations you allow yourself to accept. Reduce the holiday decorating. Build some quiet time into your calendar. Reflect on the reason for the season. Sit a spell, share some stories, and enjoy the people in your life.

And whatever you do, if you do overdo it, please spare the rest of us all the whining.   

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Give the Gift of Story-Listening


"One of the sincerest forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say."
Bryant H. McGill

The last five or six weeks of the year are jam-packed with holidays. Whether they have secular or religious origins, these celebrations bring cheer to an otherwise gloomy part of the year. Perhaps they are designed to boost our morale and lift our spirits when the weather is cold and the nights are long and dark.  

Most of these festive occasions bring together family and friends. Several of them also include traditions of giving gifts. I'd like to suggest a gift that's simple and affordable, yet infinitely valuable. It's something all can give, regardless of age, education, or financial status, and it's a perfectly appropriate present whenever family and friends gather:
My suggestion: this year, give the gift of Story-Listening.

In my work with hundreds of clients, and in writing Like a Library Burning: Sharing and Saving a Lifetime of Stories, (visit our website) I have found that "in millions of ways, large and small, stories matter."  

Everyone is full of stories. "To be a person is to have a story to tell," wrote Isak Dinesen. Those stories have an urgent need to be told. Maya Angelou is credited with recognizing that "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."  

Authors Scott West and Mitch Anthony observed:

We all have a biographical impulse that fuels a parade of stories about ourselves, yet we somehow fail to connect the need to tell our own story to the fact that others harbor the same impulse. While every person's story may not be interesting to others, it is interesting to them, and they want to tell it.

If this is true - and I believe it is - then one of the greatest gifts we can give another is to listen with love and attention to their stories. "Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen." Margaret J. Wheatley

Listening in this way is an act of love, an acknowledgment of the inherent worth of the storyteller and an expression of our affection for them. What a sweet gift to give another!

Good story-listeners are intentional about drawing personal narratives out of others. They find and learn to use a handful of what I call "story-leading questions." These are inquiries that invite the other person to answer with a story. These queries exhibit a warm and welcoming interest in the life of another, and invariably lead to wonderful memories and stories.

You may have some of your own holiday-oriented story-leading questions that work well for you; if not, here are some you might try:
  • ·         From your perspective, how have Thanksgiving gatherings changed over the years?
  • ·         What are some of your favorite memories of Christmas?
  • ·         How was Hanukah celebrated in your family growing up?
  • ·         What was a New Year’s celebration that stands out in your memory?
  • ·         Who is someone who gives very thoughtful gifts?  What are some examples you can recall?
  • ·         Do you have some great memories about Santa Clause?  When/how did you find out?
  • ·         Some people take holiday trips to interesting places.  Have you ever done that?
  • ·         What was the best gift you ever received?  That you gave?

This year, give the gift of Story-Listening. Inviting others to share their stories is a welcome and generous gift any time of the year, but will be especially appreciated during the holiday season. It's a small and simple thing, but it will add great joy to their life and yours. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



"I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet."
Chinese proverb

When I was about six or seven, I was a bit jealous of one of my classmates named Robert. While I was one of several children, Robert was an only child. While I had but a few toys, which I had to share with all my siblings, he seemed to have every toy imaginable and he didn't have to share them with anyone.  

My envy of Robert hit a new peak when I attended his birthday party and discovered that he owned the ultimate 1950s luxury: his own electric record player and dozens of records to play on it. Life just wasn't fair.

One of the records he played several times that day was a song by Burl Ives called "Horace the Horse." Horace was a merry-go-round horse who always seemed to be bringing up the rear, which made him quite miserable. I could readily relate to Horace:

Horace the horse on the merry-go-round
Went up and down, round and round
He's been sad since the day he found
He's the very last horse on the merry-go-round.

The music began and away they'd go
High and low, to and fro
Poor old Horace would always say
"I'm the very last horse again today."

How he tried and tried and tried
But he just never could win
Horace cried and cried and cried,
'Cause all the other horses were ahead of him.

The more I listened to Horace's tale of woe and compared my situation with Robert's, the more unsatisfied I became with my own miserable life.  

But then I listened carefully to the last verse.

As its message sunk in and I understood how that lesson could apply to me at that very moment, everything changed for me, just as it did for Horace:

Then came the day on the merry-go-round
Horace turned, looked around, then said, "Gosh, Oh gee!
I'm the very first horse on the merry-go-round
'Cause the others are following me!"

My pathetic little pity party ended promptly when I changed the way I viewed my situation in comparison to Robert's. Sure, he had lots of toys, but he had no one to play with. I had a whole batch of built-in playmates. We could play basketball or football or hide-and-seek or kick the can or Red Rover at our house, but all Robert could do was play records to himself. Poor Robert!

Somehow those words from Horace the Horse and the lesson they taught have stuck with me all these years. They remind me that there is magic - or misery - in the ways I compare myself to others, and the choice is mine and mine alone. If I find myself lamenting my lot in life, I have but to turn around and, if I choose to, I can see life differently.  

Thomas S. Monson said, "Regardless of our circumstances, each of us has much for which to be grateful if we will but pause and contemplate our blessings." In a similar vein, the Greek philosopher Epictetus observed, "He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has."  

This Thanksgiving, I invite you to pause and contemplate your blessings. I encourage you to turn, look around, and say "Gosh, Oh gee!" as you discover how wonderful your life really is. I recommend that you express your appreciation to the people who matter most to you, and give thanks for all we enjoy here in America that others in the world can only dream of having. This Thanksgiving, be grateful.

* * * *

Here's a link for the song about Horace the Horse:  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Here's to the Late Bloomers


"I'll tell you, there is nothing better in life than being a late bloomer. I believe that success can happen at any time and at any age."
Salma Hayek


Last Saturday - November 11 - I planted kale and arugula sprouts in my backyard garden.  

To some, planting vegetables so late in the season may sound foolhardy. But with our growing conditions here in Harmony and my green thumb, there's still plenty of time to produce lots of delicious, healthy crops. In fact, vegetables grow better when our nights get cooler.

On January 2, 2018 - at the age of 65 - I will be launching a new business enterprise.  

Some of my friends have questioned why I would do such a thing when I'm already at an age when lots of folks are ready to turn themselves out to pasture. Time to hang it up, slow down, and learn how to play golf, they say.

I don't see it that way. To me, I'm still in the middle of my growing season. I still have some blooms left in me. I may not have as much energy as I did when I was 35, but I have more insight, life wisdom, human understanding, and useful knowledge. I think I can still bring great value to the table for those who want to get their legal and retirement affairs in order.

Many folks my age have discovered a new passion and have gone on to do exceptional things after "normal" retirement age. For example, Colonel Sanders was 65 when he launched the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. From there, he went on to become a multimillionaire and a world-famous icon. Grandma Moses was 75 when she first took up painting. One of her 3,600 works, Sugaring Off, which she painted when she was 83 years old, sold a few years ago for $1.2 million.  

At my "advanced age," I have discovered a new mission: I want to deliver first-class professional planning services to middle income families conveniently and at an affordable price.  

Middle-class clients today find themselves on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to wills, trusts, and other planning tools: Average consumers consider traditional law firms too slow, too expensive, and largely unapproachable. As a result, many Americans have turned to Legal Zoom and other online services. Sadly, the online route is often dangerous and fraught with serious mistakes. The results can be disastrous.

Case in point: In Aldrich v. Basile (2014), the Florida Supreme Court adjudicated the estate of Ann Aldrich. She intended that her entire estate go to her brother James. Unfortunately, Ann had prepared both a will and an amendment by herself using "E-Z Legal Forms." Both turned out to be defective under Florida law.

The self-made will had no residuary clause, so much of Ann's property was not covered and did not go to James. Ann tried to fix that mistake with an amendment or "codicil," but the amendment wasn't witnessed correctly so the court threw it out.

Two of Ann's nieces who were not included in the will contested the will during probate, arguing that they were entitled to part of the estate that was not specifically included in the document. They argued that because the will didn't have a residuary clause, the unnamed assets should pass through Florida's laws of intestacy.

After more than four years of legal wrangling, the court ruled that much of Ann's substantial estate went to the two nieces, whom she did not like. Although the court seemed sympathetic to James Aldrich's plight, it ultimately found that any other interpretation would require the court to rewrite the will to include provisions that Ann Aldrich did not specify.
Justice Barbara Pariente said the case reminded her of the old adage, "penny wise and pound foolish," for had Ann Aldrich used a qualified attorney to draw up her will, her brother likely would have wound up with the full estate as she intended.

* * * *

Tragic messes like the Aldrich case are all too common and altogether unacceptable. Besides traditional law firms and online services like Legal Zoom and its ilk, I believe there is a third way, a better way. I have discovered that better way and I'm prepared to offer it to the good people of Central Florida in January. I am building my new business around this simple idea:  Middle Income Families Deserve Professional And Convenient Estate Planning and Retirement Planning Services at an Affordable Price.    

So, when is it too late to plant? For me, not yet. I still have some growing and blooming to do. As Robert Frost wrote, "I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,   And miles to go before I sleep."

Can't wait for January.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - I Hope I Never Have to Live Without You


"True love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the well-being of one's companion. Any man who will make his wife's comfort his first concern will stay in love with her throughout their lives and through the eternity yet to come."
Gordon B. Hinckley

My wife Marcie turns 66 next Tuesday. But unlike most women, she does not dread getting older. In fact, she has always looked forward to being her grandparents' age, perhaps because she had four truly angelic grandparents who doted on her and provided a foundation of love and stability in the midst of her parents' divorce. I too have found wonderful joys with each new stage of life as I advance through the years.  

We especially love being on this journey together. We were madly-in-love newlyweds at age 23, and we're still madly in love after all these years. A line from The Notebook captures our feelings for each other:

You are my best friend as well as my lover, and I do not know which side of you I enjoy the most. I treasure each side, just as I have treasured our life together.

So, we don't worry about getting older, but we do worry about leaving the other alone. Because of our temple marriage for time and all eternity, we know with an absolute certainty that we'll be husband and wife forever after we die. We just hope we can avoid long years of earth-life separation if one of us goes first.  

Winnie the Pooh gave voice to our deepest wish when he said:  

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.

We recognize that's not likely to happen, but wouldn't it be sweet if it did? It would probably be traumatic for our children, but for us it would be prayers answered and dreams come true.

Funny how your dreams change as you get older.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Are You Workin' on Something Big?


"It wasn't no way to carry on
It wasn't no way to live
But he could put up with it for a little while-
He was workin' on something big."
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 
In the chorus of Tom Petty's rather unsavory "Something Big," we find an important bit of wisdom: we can put up with a lot of challenging stuff when we're focused on an objective bigger than ourselves.   

Everyone's path through life has its share of boulders, potholes, and detours. Those who fail to identify their own personal "Something Big" are in for a bumpy, grumpy ride, while those who find a larger purpose discover that the journey is exhilarating and joyful.

If I'm headed to an important meeting, a long-awaited vacation, or a holiday with my grandchildren, I can handle crowded airports, cramped airplane seats, and delayed flights - but only if I keep that more significant purpose in mind. If I lose the vision of why I'm traveling, the flight can become unbearable.  

If I'm working on a new tool or a different direction for my business, I find renewed energy and abundant creativity that pulls me through the rough spots. For me, without the next big idea or project, work gets stale and aggravating. No fun. I've got to have "Something Big" up ahead of me.

So, what's your next "Something Big"? What's going to allow you to "put up with it for a little while" while you're working on your own personal "Something Big"?

*  *  *  *  * 

P.S. I'm working on "Something Big." Something really big! Unveiling in January.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - How to Communicate with a Millennial


"Compared to other generations, Millennials tend to be more collaborative, are accustomed to working in teams, and have a passion for pressure."
Joanie Connell


As a group, each American generation experiences the world in a way that's different from every other generation. Each cohort grows up in a period of history that molds them and affects how they see the world. As a result, each generation views life differently and learns differently. Each has different styles in communicating and different expectations of how they want to be treated.
When we understand these generational perspectives and communication styles, we can converse more effectively with each other. Not everyone is going to fit these stereotypes, but they are typical patterns and if you are aware of them you can learn to bridge the divide. This week we focus on the Millennials, also known as Generation Y.

* * * * *

The Millennial generation, loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 1994, are the later offspring of the Baby Boomers, or the early offspring of Gen X. They are sometimes referred to as the "Y Gen" or the "Nexters." They are now some 80 million strong, which is a larger demographic cohort than the Baby Boomers. By the year 2020, Millennials will be 50 percent of the workforce.

Millennials were shaped by certain historical events as they came of age. Certainly the 9/11 attacks are first and foremost in what they recall. For them 9/11 was a super, super big deal. It shook them to the foundation and will likely have a lasting effect on many of them. They grew up in a world of Columbine, Sandy Hook, and other school atrocities. They remember the Oklahoma City bombing. They had a front row seat on the Clinton impeachment and the OJ trial. Those were some of the defining events in their lives.

They grew up with parents who were heavily invested in the lives of their kids. Those parents raised them with an eye toward building their "self-esteem," so "everyone was a winner" and everyone got a trophy. They came to believe that they were as qualified as anyone to do anything. Consequently, they tend to have a minimal respect for authority and are intent on fixing the wrongs they see in the world. They tend to be both self-absorbed and self-reliant and independent.

They came of age in a world of student loans and college debts. The recent recession hit as they were entering the job market, forcing many of them to trim back their expectations. This made it harder for them to live independently. Thus, as a group they have tended to stay longer at home, or to return home after college. The term "boomerang children" has been used to describe this phenomenon.

Suffused with praise from their Boomer parents, many Millennials got used to having their voices heard early on. They were also raised with a strong dose of "getting along." Inclusiveness is a must, served up in a collaborative setting. Their rallying cry is "a win for one is a win for the team."

They are totally immersed in all things digital; they've never known a world without internet. They saw the dot-com boom and bust, and they've seen instant billionaires from this new world of technology. Millennials like and expect to communicate through technology, which provides the instant interactive feedback they thrive on.

Millennials have a reputation for wanting to rise quickly through the ranks - and looking for other opportunities when they don't. They feel that they are as good as anybody, and therefore they resent it when others talk down to them. Very often they need humor - they've had access to humor through the internet for most of their lives. They want things to be fun and engaging. They often like a challenge, especially a challenge that invites them to implement their version of the world.

One young business owner described his experience with Millennial employees: "To start with, their attitude was one of boredom, arrogance, that they were above the job." He learned to focus on something Millennials value: teamwork. To prod those who often showed up late and didn't respect authority, he explained that their tardiness genuinely inconvenienced the rest of the team.

"I'd ask how they'd feel if the shoe were on the other foot and kept emphasizing how their actions hurt not me but their co-workers," he says. His strategy clicked. "As soon as they realized how their individual work mattered to the team's success, they thrived."

So how can we use this understanding to communicate more effectively with Millennials?

I. Medium

When it comes to the medium of choice, TEXT, don't call.

68% of millennials admit to texting "a lot" on a daily basis, compared to 47% of their Gen X counterparts. As a rule, Millennials tend to not use phones to make phone calls anymore. One study showed that "telephone" apps on smartphones - that is, using your phone to make actual phone calls - are only the fifth-most-used app among the general public.

Here's some anecdotal evidence in support of the "text, don't call" rule. The phone of one of my own Millennial children has the following voicemail message: "Hi, this is _______. Send me a text message and I'll get back to you right away."

So why do many Millennials dislike talking on the phone? It could be because they grew up with the gradual introduction of instant messaging, texting, email, and other forms of written communication. Texts are instant and mobile, which means they can be read and exchanged at almost any time.

Texting is a more comfortable and precise communication form for them. They're just as instantaneous as a phone call, but provide the sender the ability to think over their words before they're sent. For a group of people dubbed "the anxious generation," this is of utmost importance. Face-to-face meetings and conference calls are not as effective with Millennials, perhaps for the same reason. In addition, phone calls require a kind of interruption to someone's day, while text messages and emails can be opened and read at the recipient's leisure.

Millennials also prefer text messages for their mass-messaging capabilities. They're also good for spreading information about emergencies, since they're more likely to be read immediately than emails.

Despite the immediate availability of text messaging and other messaging apps, email remains popular among Millennials as well. So why haven't Millennials abandoned email in favor of newer forms of communication?

It may be because emails are less urgent, and provide more space than text messages. You can write entire paragraphs, with bulleted lists and other formatting choices, rather than being limited to a few hundred characters. And despite a rising trend of checking email on nights and weekends, emails aren't expected to have the same level of immediacy as text messages.

Among themselves, Millennials are likely to employ a wide array of social media - certainly not their parents' Facebook. They're more inclined to communicate with more "exotic" platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, which many of the older generations have yet to master.

II.  Message

Millennials want to think about how the world could be different, so here's a great phrase for them, "Let's talk about how that could happen." They believe things are possible, they believe that they have the capacity to make things happen. Millennials believe you should treat them as though they are going to pull this off, and very often they will.

Millennials want to be listened to. They want to provide input and be heard. When they are, they tend to be eager, ambitious, and genuinely talented. Millennials want and expect to be taken seriously. They want to feel as though their lives and what they do mean something

It's important to be brief. Millennials have mastered the art of saying something meaningful in 140 characters or less. The more concise your own message, the more likely they are to relate to or appreciate what you say. But just because you're concise doesn't mean you should skimp on the important information. Most Millennials prefer to receive a detailed plan or instruction before jumping into a project.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - How to Talk to a Gen Xer


"Anyone born between the early 1960s and early 1980s is considered part of the Generation X cohort. Sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Generation Y, they can often seem like the neglected middle child.

"The latest research for the "middle child" generation shows we're doing pretty darn well. We're described as innovators and disruptors who are both resilient and imaginative. Did you know that Gen Xers make up the highest percentage of startup founders at 55%?

"As with any middle child, we've learned to excel in the shadow of our older and younger siblings. Let them take the spotlight, we are happy to live our lives according to our own value system and definition of success."

Danielle Leonard


As a group, each American generation experiences the world in a way that's different from every other generation. Each generation grows up in a period of history that molds them and affects how they see the world. As a result, each generation views life differently and learns differently. Each has different styles in communicating and different expectations of how they want to be treated.  

When we understand these generational perspectives and generational communication styles, we can converse more effectively with each other. Not everyone is going to fit these stereotypes, but they are typical patterns and if you are aware of them you can learn to bridge the divide. This week we focus on Generation X.
* * * * *

Generation X is the demographic group following the Baby Boomers and preceding the Millennials. There are no precise dates for when Generation X starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use birth years ranging from early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s. The term "Generation X" acquired its modern definition after the release of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a 1991 novel written by Canadian author Douglas Coupland.

As adolescents and young adults, they were dubbed the "MTV Generation," a reference to the music video channel of the same name. They also have the nickname the "Why Me Generation" due to their sometimes-nonchalant attitudes about life and work.
Certain historical events during their coming of age have made profound impressions on them. They were around when the AIDS epidemic struck the country. At first it was a mystery disease and no one seemed to know what was going on. But once it became better understood, it created an awareness that there were sometimes unintended consequences to our lifestyle choices.  

Many Gen Xers were also defined in large measure by the Challenger explosion. Up until that time there was a sense, similar to the era of the Titanic disaster many decades earlier, that our machines were invincible and we were smart enough to always make them work. But with the Challenger tragedy there was a sharp setback in that way of thinking. It shocked the nation, particularly those who were young and impressionable at that time.
In a similar way, the major stock market crash in 1987 caused a sharp pull-back from a hyper-confident rah-rah mentality about finances and economic progress. It could be a reason that, as a group, Gen Xers tend to be financially cautious and they tend to save more than their parents or the next generation after them.

This was the generation that also saw the fall of the Berlin wall. Seniors and Baby Boomers took it as a given that we would always have these two opposing blocs, but the Gen Xers saw the Soviet bloc fall apart, leaving the United States as the only superpower. Gen Xers also witnessed the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the U.S. and a united set of allies pushed them out in an impressive display of military force.  

Gen Xers were children during a time of reduced adult supervision compared to previous generations, a result of increasing divorce rates, increasing maternal participation in the workforce, and limited availability of childcare options outside the home. They are often known as the "Latchkey Generation" because in many cases both parents were working and they were expected to tend to themselves. The television was often the babysitter. Many Gen Xers display an independent streak based on their common experience of coming home and being responsible for themselves for large chunks of the day. They tend to be more free agents than team players.  

Many saw their parents sacrifice personal and family priorities for their jobs, and as a result, their attitudes about work is that they work to live, rather than live to work. They are more controlling of their own personal time and they want their jobs to allow for an appropriate work/life balance. For them money is very often a means to an end.  

So how can we use this understanding to communicate more effectively with Gen Xers?

Writer Jean Sheid aptly described the imperative of recognizing generational differences in communication styles:

Communicating to people of all age groups is now a tool to master especially when you consider the four basic groups; Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and the Millennials, also known as Gen Y.

There's a difference between, "Sir I made a mistake," "Totally my fault," "My bad," and "Didn't you read my Tweet?" If you don't understand how to communicate with all ages, you'll find yourself lost - and fast.

Each of these age groups, though some of us find ourselves in more than one group, are markedly different including how they communicate with you and the world around them. Instead of attempting to communicate your way or the highway, consider how the communication styles of different generations can be used to create a better environment all around.  

In applying these principles to Gen Xers, it's important to understand that they aren't afraid of technology and most of them love new gadgets, even if it takes them a little longer than a Millennial to understand how it all works. They know and understand technology and want to use it. In fact, this was the first generation that is very media savvy. 82% of them expect you to communicate through media.  

Email is for many Gen Xers their preferred method of messaging. Communication is often short and to the point. They talk more in sound bites; long drawn-out conversations wouldn't be their strong suit. They demand individuality and they like multi-tasking.

Gen Xers like a straightforward approach. They strive for feedback and offer feedback in return. They are likely to tell you where they're coming from. They like managing their own time and solving their own problems. Remember, these are the latchkey kids; they very often travel alone and communicate that way as well.

A great phrase to communicate with them might be: "Tell me more about that." They want their opinions to be known. They want a sense of being honored. This is the generation that is always going to have something important to say.

Gen Xers like to be kept in the loop. If not kept informed, they can be offended and feel left out. Each of their days will include communication time with family or friends to ensure they are handling the work/life balance they desire.

Gen Xers may have lots of career interests and paths. Gen Xers often tend to think in "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence" mode, showing less allegiance to existing groups to which they belong and less respect for rigid hierarchal structures. If they don't like something, they are likely to let you know.

Next week: Generational Communication Styles - Part 4: The Millennial Generation

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Part 2:  The Baby Boomer Generation 

"The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility."  
John Lennon

As a group, each American generation experiences the world in a way that's different from every other generation. Each generation grows up in a period of history that molds them and affects how they see the world. As a result, each generation views life differently and learns differently. Each has different styles in communicating and different expectations of how they want to be treated.
When we understand these generational perspectives and generational communication styles, we can converse more effectively with each other. Not everyone is going to fit these stereotypes, but they are typical patterns and if you are aware of them you can learn to bridge the divide. This week we focus on the Baby Boomers, those born in the 15 years after World War II.

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The Baby Boomers are the offspring of those soldiers coming back from World War II, all the folks who put their family plans on hold until things got back to normal. Until the Millennials came along, they were by far the largest generation ever to be born, so they tended by their sheer numbers to skew national demographics and trends. They've often been called the "Me Generation" or the "Woodstock Generation."
One of the major aspects of their early years was the advent of television. It's hard for those who are younger than the Boomer Generation to imagine a world without TV, but I remember the pre-TV era because our family was quite late in having one. I was about ten years old when we got our first TV, a hand-me-down from an uncle. It had only three channels, and it would only work for about 45 min before it would get too hot and turn itself off. There was often a struggle in our family to have it off, cooling down, before our favorite programs came on.
Television changed the way Baby Boomers experienced the world. It felt like they were all sharing the same events together. They all remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated and grieved collectively watching his funeral on television: the flag-draped casket on the caisson; John-John's salute; the eternal flame in Arlington National Cemetery. Those sad days were followed within a few years by Martin Luther King's assassination and Robert Kennedy's assassination. Television brought all the memorable moments of our lives into our living rooms. I was one of millions of Americans who were glued to the TV set for the Beatles' first concert on the Ed Sullivan show. Screaming girls and "yeah, yeah, yeah."

Popular music set the tone for a new generation that questioned the rules their parents lived by. By the time of Woodstock and the Summer of Love, it was clear that Boomers were going to dance - not march, as their elders did - to the beat of a different drummer.  

Because of the Cold War, young Boomers lived with a sense of constant peril. The space race was a big part of their lives - this intense competition between the Soviets and the United States. Every time America would do something, it seemed that the Russians would one-up us. But we eventually won the race to the moon and I clearly remember that Sunday evening when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. "That's one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind."

For many of the Boomer Generation, their most significant coming-of-age event was the Vietnam War. Unlike World War II, Vietnam was an ambiguous war that created a massive political and philosophical clash between the generations. Many of the generation that had lived through World War II believed the Vietnam War was necessary to halt the spread of communism, while much of the Baby Boomer generation seriously questioned the "righteousness" of the war and the way it was being waged. It seemed to them that the cost of the war was borne more heavily by our young men and not so much by the rest of the country.
Baby Boomers also came of age in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, the women's liberation movement, and the peace movement. Then the whole Watergate mess compounded the tension and division in the country caused by Vietnam.
Notwithstanding the influence of the peace, love and hippie movements and the political upheaval swirling around them, Baby Boomers grew up in a time of great economic optimism. After WWII the economy grew rapidly, technology and medicine brought vastly improved lifestyles, and progress in science, including space travel, created an aura in which anything seemed possible. Boomers believed that if you worked hard, you could live the American Dream. Boomers tend to work harder - or at least longer - than Millennials or Generation X, putting in punishing hours and working overtime to make their organizations and the world a better place. It is said that Boomers live to work, they seek advancement and status, they want respect, and they expect others to pay their dues.
Among many Boomers, money tended to be a sign of one's status - a reflection that you have worked hard and you've come to it by rights. They were the first generation to use credit cards in a substantial way. The idea that you could buy now and pay later is a boomer phenomenon.  

Once Boomers reached their prime parenting years, it was expected that most households would have two incomes. Stay at home moms were becoming a thing of the past, as many mothers went back to work once their children were in school. Boomer parents tended to have more income, but less time to spend with their children.
In an ironic twist, in their later years many Boomers still have children who have not yet left home and are also responsible for the care of their aging parents. Squeezed between two weighty sets of responsibilities, Boomer women understand personally the term "Sandwich Generation."  

So how can we use this understanding to communicate more effectively with Baby Boomers?
Generational communication preferences tend to be based on the technology the individuals were exposed to in their lifetime. According to Alan Kay, "Technology is anything that wasn't around when you were born." As technology advances, the more digital generations become and the more they embrace new communications methods. Boomers grew up speaking in person and on the telephone; many adopted e-mail mid-life, but most did not adopt more modern digital communication technology like Twitter and the like. As a result and speaking only in generalities, Baby Boomers tend to prefer face-to-face communication or phone conversations over e-mail, and e-mail over other technologies.  

Unlike later generations. Baby Boomers tend to have sharper boundaries between work and the rest of their lives. They may stay at work longer, but when they're off, they're off and they don't maintain a perpetual electronic tether to their desks. Thus, if a coworker needs to communicate after business hours, Boomers prefer to receive an e-mail which they can retrieve on their own schedule, unless the matter is very urgent, in which case they prefer the telephone.

Boomers are the busy generation. They thought life had to be lived in a hurry and this affects their communication styles. Consequently, they don't have time for lengthy communication; they like you to answer their questions and get to the point.
They are also impatient with being told what to do. The best way to present an issue to them is to show them their options, ask them for their opinions, and then let them decide how best to move forward. Don't even think of giving them a direct order.

Boomers tend to work more on a communal or teamwork basis as opposed to a command and control model more typical of their World War II Generation parents. They are inclined to speak much more openly and directly than their parents. They seldom felt they had to pull any punches, and they still believe that.

Many in the Boomer Generation believe that they have the answers, so they like to hear things like, "You are absolutely right." They like being appreciated for putting in the time required to do a great job. They believe that they've figured out the world better than their parents and better than their children, and so they like to be respected as the ones who found a better way.

Next week: Generational Communication Styles - Part 3: The Generation X Generation