How major world events have shaped Xennials

One Xennial’s look at lessons from 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis and the pandemic

Xennials: a micro-generation between Generation X and Millenialls. The general consensus is people born between 1977 and 1985. This generation had an analog childhood and digital adulthood.

A few weeks ago, I came across the following meme on social media about how major world events have shaped Xennials. As someone born in 1979, I’m fully in the Xennial range and was struck by the post.

I’ve thought about it off and on since I first read it. I have had these experiences at these times in my life, and they have impacted me.

Remembering 9/11

Like most everyone who is old enough to remember 9/11, I know exactly where I was and what I was doing that day. I was in the Department of Journalism at my university working as a graduate assistant. Mornings were my favorite because they were peaceful.

I remember the professor who told me what happened when I was going to the copy room. Later, I met my mom and grandma for lunch and talked about it. While a feeling of unease consumed the country, we also came together in grief.

Previous to 9/11, there were other major events that I knew about. The first major news story I remember, for example, is the explosion of the Challenger. I was in high school during the Oklahoma City bombing and a freshman in college during the Columbine shooting.

But, as a graduate student and relative newlywed in September of 2001, I was starting to think about my future even more. I was that much closer to becoming a full-fledged adult.

While I can’t say for sure that 9/11 completely impacted my career path after graduation in December of 2002, I also can’t say it didn’t. However, I know it impacted my personal life.

Life lessons from 9/11

For Xennials like me, the terrorist attacks were our first real-life experience of knowing that the world as we knew it could change collectively in the blink of an eye. It was the first world event I’d lived through that truly impacted everyone I knew in some way. We talked about it with friends, teachers, classmates, family members and complete strangers. We were all processing the information and dealing with it.

Some things changed after 9/11 and haven’t gone back to how they were previously. Now going through airport security is different than it was before September of 2001. Metal detectors and bag searches at large events have become the norm.

In my personal life, though, I also experienced change after 9/11. I kept thinking about the people who said good-bye (or didn’t) to their loved ones that morning not knowing it would be the last time they’d speak.

I made it more priority to tell my husband good-bye and that I loved him when we were parting ways. Nowadays that happens much less because we both work from home most of the time, but I still continue with that habit any time he has to be gone for a while.

Sure, I might have developed such a habit without living through 9/11. But I think I developed it sooner since the event really struck home to me how saying good-bye to someone could end up being good-bye forever. And if that’s the case, I want to make sure it’s a positive one.

Remembering the 2008 financial crisis

As life continued forward from 9/11, we had our share of personal ups and downs. A chronic health issue I thought had gone away came screaming back into my life. My mother-in-law had a heart attack, my dad a major accident and my grandma passed away.

But then 2007 came. It was the year before the financial crisis officially hit worldwide, but it hit for us personally. Having been married for eight years at that point, my husband and I lived primarily on his income. His job in IT was better paying and steadier than my work as a freelance journalist. He also had full benefits; I had none.

Then he lost his job, and we entered our own financial crisis. It took a year for him to find another job. A year. It was difficult. I struggled with anxiety during that time in a whole new level than ever before.

He hired on with a new employer just a couple of months before the 2008 financial crisis hit. So many others were now starting to go through what we were just starting to claw our way back from.

Learning from the 2008 financial crisis

While our crisis was a year early, I’d say by far the biggest lesson yet again was how fast everything can change. I remember the day my husband came home and told me he’d lost his job as clearly as I remember 9/11.

But I also learned a few things throughout the crisis. I learned that somehow God always provided. I look back even now and still don’t know how we made it through. We used credit cards. We drained our savings and even dipped into my husband’s 401(k), but we never missed a mortgage payment. Our house wasn’t foreclosed or our cars repossessed. God met our needs.

My husband’s unemployment check, which we got for a few months, came through right when we ran out of resources for paying our mortgage. Our needs were met. There wasn’t any wiggle room, but we survived.

During this time my husband and I developed the attitude of: “I’d rather go through hard times with you than good times without you.”

My takeaway from 9/11 of saying good-bye to my husband came into play again when he got his new job. I’d say good-bye and then my anxiety would tell me I wouldn’t see him alive again. I learned also how to rebuild and find my way through such anxiety with God’s help. It was hard, but we were stronger in so many ways for having gotten through the financial crisis.

Remembering the beginning of the pandemic

Clearly I can’t look back and tell you how exactly the pandemic has changed things, because we are still in the midst of it. But I can tell you the so far. Just like with the 2008 financial crisis, we had our own problems going on when the pandemic began.

COVID-19 was a bit on our radar, but we were distracted by life with two school-aged kids and by planning for my husband to have rotator cuff repair surgery on March 11. His surgery went well. However, that evening, the university my children’s school is part of announced it was going to remote learning the next Monday. The next day my children’s school followed suit.

My level of overwhelm was high! My husband needed so much help. I still had my own work to figure out along with managing his post-op care and teaching our kids. Oh, and I learned we needed to get supplies because the shelves were bare. My dad made a couple of grocery trips for us then I was finally able to go myself. Grocery pick-up was too overwhelmed for me to utilize it as I had been anyway.

Shocked cannot truly describe how I felt when I went into a regional superstore and saw so many empty shelves and freezer cases. I bought everything I could think of that we’d need and that they had from food to toiletries. I hoped it was enough.

Learning from the pandemic

I’d wager a guess that I still have lessons to learn from the pandemic. Even now six months into dealing with it, the end isn’t in sight. There will be more to come.

But the pandemic has continued to shape me thus far. Now I have enough living under my belt to know that I have survived and made it through much more difficult times personally. I have learned that I can work, care for my husband and keep my kids going with remote learning.

I can get creative with my supplies as well. I’m not shopping in-person, so if we run out of something before I do a re-order then I figure out ways around it. I make sure our supplies stay stocked so that I always have a back-up of most toiletries and paper goods.

Dining out is something I took for granted in the past and will enjoy again one of these days, but for now I will be OK with cooking at home all the time and getting takeout as a treat.

Mostly, I’ve learned that I love the simple stuff most. I love being able to just hang out with my husband and children. Visits with my in-laws and parents — who are all continuing to isolate as much as possible — are that much sweeter than they were before. We can have good summer evenings on the front porch.

I have also reaffirmed that I will do whatever it takes to keep my family safe and protected, even if that means sacrificing even more of myself to do so. Making decisions throughout this pandemic has been challenging since information can be fluid as researchers learn new things. But for a variety of reasons, we are choosing to err very much on the side of caution. Even though it isn’t always easy, it is right for us.

A big picture look

As a Xennial, some of my big picture moments have been accompanied by major world events. I won’t say it’s any harder for my generation than others before us. Each generation has its own struggles.

I just know that these historic events have impacted me at pivotal stages. Sept. 11 came right as I was becoming a full-fledged adult. The financial crisis came after my husband and I had settled into our professional lives. And the pandemic arrived in the middle of our child-rearing years.

These historic events, however, are just like major events in my personal life. They shape me. They may tweak my views a bit, but I learn to adapt and move on. How I react to them is up to me.

I can complain and grouse. I can focus on what was lost or changed. Or I can focus on what is good in the midst of the struggle. I can take a moment to just appreciate something as “simple” as a beautiful sunset. Overall, life is short. One struggle will usually be replaced by another (at least at some point). You’ve just got to roll with it.

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How major world events have shaped Xennials