Top 10 Skills Gen Xers Have Developed to Survive Life During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dispatches from a 48-year-old at home in the ’burbs with the fam.

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Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

At some point, the COVID-19 pandemic will be spoken of in the past tense. History has taught us that like all crises before it, this one is going to end too. In the meantime, we as a city and a nation have been asked to practice social distancing in order to slow the spread of the virus. While many of us are trapped in our homes, we shouldn’t forget that the real heroes of this trying time are on the front lines providing care for the sick. Each generation has been approaching this new normal differently. Baby boomers, reported to be one of the most at-risk groups from COVID-19, are hunkered down in their bunkers screaming at their television screens like their parents did. At the same time, Millennials are panic-watching CNN and popping Xanax like it’s Pez, and Gen Zers are frantically scrubbing their Google results of all those ill-advised spring break trip pics. Nobody, though, knows how to deal with a pandemic like Generation X. We latchkey kids were trained to adapt and survive. Our entire childhood was punctuated by Watergate, the Three Mile Island meltdown, and the last throes of the Cold War. So yeah, we’re ready for any challenge. What skills did we develop during the 1970s and ’80s that makes us the most fit for survival during this period of extended homestay? Here are the top 10.

1. Self-Reliance
Mom gave us a housekey and limited directions: “Go home after school, let yourself in, lock the door behind you, and don’t let anyone in. Make yourself a snack and I’ll be home later.” Sure, having only five TV channels made the time between eating a snack and hearing “Honey, I’m home!” feel like an eternity, but it also taught us how to take care of (and entertain) ourselves.

2. Time Management
Dad was more than happy to let us go into town alone on Saturday as long as we were home by an agreed-upon hour. Thanks to his largesse, we learned how to take public transit to the dive bars downtown on the weekends and still not flunk out of school. With schools physically closed and assignments coming in through Google Classroom, it’s now our kids’ responsibility to complete their work without any real teacher supervision and plenty of time to slack off.

3. Workplace Flexibility
You really liked the job at the video rental store until you got fired for not working during Christmas break and instead going with your family to ClubMed. But it all worked out great: Sam Goody hired you for less pay but much better hours. Adapting to new gigs has always been easy for you, so navigating a new routine while you work from home during COVID-19 is no problem.

4. Resiliency
Coach Callahan cut you from the freshman basketball team. When you went to his office and asked him why, he looked you in the eyes and said, “It’s because you suck.” You vowed that you would show him and spent the entire summer and fall practicing. You made the JV team in 10th grade, later played in college, and still think of Callahan every time you succeed at work. After watching your business drop off during the COVID-19 family retreat, you will sprint back to work, drive the lane, soar like Dee Brown, and then slam dunk the next deal you can.

5. Efficiency
We’ve always figured out ways to get by when the pressure’s on. Remember bringing your Macintosh Classic to a 24-hour Perkins Restaurant, ordering the bottomless pot of coffee, and stopping by the computer lab to print your term paper on the way into class? That’s why you were the first one on the block when COVID-19 hit to set up an AmazonFresh account, order the essentials, and pick delivery dates that maximize the shelf life of perishables.

6. Collaborative Ingenuity
Your best friend’s older brother was a junior at Boston University and you all needed fake IDs to get into bars with him. It only took you three days to make them with the help of a great imagination, an Apple IIe, a passport photo shop, a color copier, and, of course, a laminator. Now you’ve figured out a way to keep the kiddos busy so you can solve problems on Slack for hours with your coworkers: screens, of course.

7. Technological Mastery
You mastered Atari. You made it through college with a desktop computer and no such thing as the Internet. You traveled the world without a cell phone. While many parents are adjusting to mandatory quality time with the brood, you’ve quickly captured your Gen Z kid’s attention by kicking his butt in Fortnite while at the same time trading securities on your iPhone. Cue M.C. Hammer music.

8. Emotional Pliancy
This skill was learned when we played little league baseball. At the end of the season when our team came in dead last, the coach didn’t hand out participation trophies with a feel-good speech. He just packed up the equipment bag and said, “See you boys next year.” With that kind of life experience, you have no problem watching the bad news about COVID-19 with the kids and not panicking.

9. Downward Mobility
You fondly remember the smell of the leather in your grandfather’s Mercedes-Benz 450sl on the way to his summer home on the Cape. The smell of the hot cloth seats in your Dad’s Ford Escort on the way to the rental cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee was far less enjoyable. Now, your kids don’t even notice if your Toyota Prius has a smell and don’t care that the town pool isn’t heated—so what if COVID-19 decimates their 529 college funds?

10. Skepticism
We have always questioned authority, societal values, and moral standards. Wouldn’t you if your parents left you in charge of your four-year old sister on your 10th birthday? The Breakfast Club described how we felt. However, our true level of skepticism wasn’t confirmed until the film Reality Bites pointed out that Evian is actually naïve spelled backwards. When the government told us the risk was still low a month ago, what did we do? We bought out all the toilet paper at the big-box stores and never looked back.