Recently, I watched a Gen X author on TV take credit for inventing the notion of life balance. She proclaimed superiority over Baby Boomers, whom she described as relentlessly driven to succeed at all costs.
It's a good story. Except it's not true. I know because I was there, 27 years ago, with my own first book written when I was just about her age. It was called Enough is Enough: Exploding the Myth of Having it All. And I wasn't alone. While it was the Greatest Generation who laid the foundation for women's liberation, it was the Boomers who were on the front lines of busting the stereotype of the superwoman.
Now, 21 books later, I'm still busting stereotypes. Published just last week, my most recent book is a memoir titled Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. This time, it's the stereotypes of aging I'm busting and I find myself at 65 once again speaking for many in the Boomer generation when I ponder: Where exactly did the years go?
Happily, I have an answer. It's the 19 books in the middle, snapshots of the life and times of a generation. I can think of no better way to tell our story, honor our legacy -- and set the record straight -- than to give our generation a 21-Book Salute.
Busting the Myth of Having it All: The Eighties
Book 1: Enough is Enough came out of an early moment of generational awakening, in which many of us bravely turned the gaze inward in search of greater meaning.
Book 2: Of course, gazing inward can easily give way to excess. (Think Esalen, EST, Encounter and T-groups.) You won't find Book 2 anywhere. Happily, it faded away. As Good as it Gets.
The Conscious Business Movement: Early 90's
Books 188.8.131.52.7: While we continued to struggle for balance in our lives, many of us came to believe that we could not fulfill our true human potential as long as we were forced to submit to workplaces that exploited rather than supported our spirits. Inner Excellence; Falling in Love with Your Life; and How Would Confucius Ask for a Raise? Later, there was my author's credit in The Soul of Business (Charles Garfield, Editor) and the revised Inner Excellence at Work.
Seekers of Self-Knowledge and the Internet: Mid-Nineties
Book 8: So, of course, business did not suddenly or even gradually start treating its employees better. Still unstoppable on the quest to fulfill the true human potential, our generation took advantage of new territory opening up on the Web. It is no coincidence that book 8, tapping both the latest scientific theory and spiritual literature previously inaccessible to all but esoteric insiders, was published the same year AOL.com was launched: 1995. Solved by Sunset: The Right Brain Way to Solve Whatever's Bothering You in One Day or Less.
Stuff Happens: Late Nineties
Books 184.108.40.206: Transiting my forties. What more need be said? The idealism of our youth knocked up against the reality of midlife and we needed help. The Art of Resilience: 100 Paths to Wisdom and Strength in an Uncertain World, Speak the Language of Healing: Living with Breast Cancer Without Going to War (with Kuner et al), Nothing Left Unsaid: Words to Help You and Your Loved Ones through Hard Times and Return from Exile.
Reinventing Ourselves: The New Millennium
Books 13, 14, 15, 16: Despite the fact that I was a newly-minted Ph.D., at the peak of my abilities, the publishing industry had turned its attention from self-help Boomers to younger markets. Books 13 and 14 were ghost-written to pay the bills. Book 15 was a diet book I was commissioned to write (and wouldn't tell you its name even if I could remember) and book 16 was a stubbornly idealistic tome that accompanied my failed attempt to reinvent myself as a tenure-track professor of ethics. (Trust, Inc. with Judith Rogala.)
The Anti-Aging Movement: The First Decade of 2000
Books 17, 18, 19, 20: Turns out, nobody was hiring older women for tenure-track jobs. In fact, the thought was dawning on many of us simultaneously that many of the professional setbacks of the new millennium were not just personal failure, but the result of ageism. In the wake of the 2007 market crash, I wrote The Year I Saved My (downsized) Soul: A Boomer Woman's Search for Meaning... and a Job. A number of Boomer boosters were stepping forward around then to bust the old stereotypes of aging, arguing that successful aging means extending the attributes and activities of youth as long as possible. Boom: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer -- the Baby-Boomer Woman (with Mary Brown), Vibrant Nation: What Boomer Women 50+ Know, Think, Do & Buy (with Stephen Reily) and the prescient book that foretold the philosophical turn just ahead: The Silver Pearl: Our Generation's Journey to Wisdom (with Jimmy Laura Smull, Ph.D.)
The Pro-Aging Movement: The Present Moment
Book 21: Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn is in the forefront of a burgeoning movement of Boomers who are breaking denial about aging to embrace both the shadow and light. This is no small order. In fact, waking up to ultimate concerns, such as loss and mortality, while maintaining both a hopeful and realistic vision of the aging process requires a level of spiritual maturity that is a challenge to the best of us. But rising to the challenges is nothing new for our generation. And as it turns out, I am once again not alone as I turn the next page in our generation's story about fulfillment of the human potential: to embrace the past, present and future not only to grow old together, but to grow whole.
So there it is, my 21-book salute to my generation, and here's to many more of our generation's books to come.