What do Jack Welch, Helen Mirren, Robert De Niro, Mick Jagger, Tom Brokaw, and Martha Stewart all have in common? They are members of the Traditionalist Generation born between 1925 – 1945 and they are still working… and still killin’ it! In this post you will learn to marvelous contributions Traditionalists continue to make in society and your well being. After you read it, call your mom and your gramma!
Traditionalist = Tough Times, Sacrifice, and Hard Work
The Traditionalist Generation—also known as the Veterans, the Silent Generation, and the Greatest Generation—is comprised of men and women born between 1922 and 1945. This group not only survived the Great Depression of 1930, but they also brought us out of WWII and helped make the United States a world power. Patriotism, teamwork, sacrifice, “doing more with less,” and task-orientation very much define this generation. Rules of order, respect for authority, and following directions are all important touchpoints for Traditionalists.
When it comes to technology, this generation has to adapt. The only entertainment they grew up with were the voices coming out of a box—the radio. They were raised sitting around a radio with their family, listening to spellbinding stories, like “The Shadow,” “Dick Tracy,” “Lux Radio Hour,” and “Our Miss Brooks,” which filled their evenings with suspense and entertainment. When you think about the wonder of those times, it was their minds that created the pictures they heard from the voices on the radio. There were no MTVs or video games—maybe that is where the genius of Walt Disney was nourished. Although Disney was born before the Traditionalists in 1901, he was still part of an era that relied on their own imaginations for entertainment.
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Traditionalists Words of Wisdom
They were also raised listening to their parents spouting proverbs that centered around, work, patience, and delayed gratification. These proverbs were a part of the Traditionalist’s DNA, and they quoted them often to their own children.
How many of you remember hearing these adages?
· A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
· A penny saved is a penny earned.
· A stitch in time saves nine.
· Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
· Don’t judge a book by its cover.
· Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
· If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
· If the shoe fits, wear it.
· Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
· Practice makes perfect.
· Save for a rainy day.
· The early bird catches the worm.
· The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence
· The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
· Waste not, want not.
· What goes around, comes around.
· You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.
A Peek into the Traditionalist Workplace
If you think about it, the country had just left WWII, which was won by the U.S. entrance into the conflict, and this “military way of doing things” trickled into the workplace. The traditional take on organizational structure in business back then was very military-like and hierarchical, with power flowing vertically and upward, and employees were departmentalized. All employees follow a chain of command. For instance, the CEO has the final say on operations in all divisions, but each department has a manager who runs day-to-day operations and ultimately reports to the CEO. Just like the military, every soldier answers to his commanding officer, while the president of the United States is at the top of the chain as commander-in-chief. This is what the workplace resembled during the Traditionalist era.
If you want to see just what it was like working in America in the 1950s, I suggest you rent “Madmen” and watch the first season. The early 1950s were a time where conformity ruled, and women and minorities did not share spaces with “the men.” TV shows of that era portrayed the loving and dutiful wife, a.k.a. June Cleaver, at home cooking and cleaning, and happily greeting her hard-working husband when he returned in the evening. Shows such as “Donna Reed,” “Father Knows Best,” and “Leave It to Beaver” were the rage. The workplace was a man’s world filled with rules: defined office work hours, face-time meetings, and obligations. Work was the first and primary interest of all those employed—the boss ruled and the worker was committed to working first and family second.
If you really think about it, this style of management has been a part of the U.S. workforce for many years. The Boomers tweaked it, Gen X tried to change it—and got angry—but really it’s the Millennials who actually have blown it up!
Traditionalists: NASA, Medicine, and Equality
The Traditionalist generation spawned the first true innovators. They were responsible for developing NASA, which has led to today’s space program. Back in the 1950s, NASA chose seven men (astronauts) who would fly on the Mercury spacecraft and called these men the “Mercury Seven.” John Glenn, one of them, was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962.
Traditionalists also created vaccines for many diseases including polio, tuberculosis, tetanus, and whooping cough, laying the foundation for today’s technological environment.
This generation was the first to pursue equality through the Civil Rights Movement that began in the mid-50s with protests against racial segregation and discrimination. The movement began by attempting to tear down the inherent discrimination in public facilities that segregated blacks from whites. As the movement expanded, their struggle for freedom and reform extended to economic, political, and cultural arenas. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, lead the Civil Rights Movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968.
Good-bye to Traditions
Traditionalists may be the last generation to help pass on the individual family traditions. Growing up, my sisters and I loved our family traditions. Coming from an Italian family background, we knew that every Sunday we would have either homemade lasagna or tortellini or, maybe, rigatoni, and always meatballs. At Christmas, my mom made tins of homemade cookies, bread, and our favorite almond biscotti. My mom loved special family dinners and set a fancy table with family china, crystal, and silver.
Every Thanksgiving we counted on Mom to make the stuffing recipe exactly the same—and we would get really upset if she added anything extra like mushrooms or sausages. My dad would carve the turkey with the special knife reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Regrettably, as time has marched on, many of our family traditions have gone by the wayside.
When Baby Boomers (1946–1964) began to develop their lifestyles, families changed. Their children, Gen X (1965–1984), share memories of holidays described as a “happy blur” with a “working mom” doing some frenzied cooking and cleaning, along with the dreaded car trips from one relative’s house to the next. If the relatives all lived in the same city, Thanksgiving could possibly be two or three huge meals packed into one day.
When Gen X moved out of the house (college, job, marriage) many continued these traditions by traveling home and spending a few days or a week at the parents’ home from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day. Movies such as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home for the Holidays (1995), and Four Christmases (2008) capture well those hectic years.
When Gen X married, another “holiday issue” was set into play: deciding which family gets them, followed by the travel arrangements and subsequent tight sleeping quarters. Many X’ers admit that they would break their parents’ hearts if they didn’t come home for Christmas. But, the question is how do they decide on which family to go to?
After the grandchildren arrive on the scene, numerous X’ers and now Millennials often decide to forgo many of their past traditions and begin their own, but admit they still call Grandma and get all the delicious family recipes.
If your grandparents are still with you, take time to ask them to share ideas and traditions with your family and try to keep some of those important customs alive.
If you have some time over the weekend, watch one of these classic Traditionalist movies!
- Citizen Kane
- Maltese Falcon
- North by Northwest
- Rear Window
- Some Like it Hot
- The Philadelphia Story
- From Here to Eternity
And if you have 3+ hours to spare you may want to watch the Netflix crime drama, The Irishman, directed by 77 year old Martin Scorsese. Here you’ll see Traditionalists in action staring Robert Di Nero 76, Al Pacino 79, Joe Pesci 76. Yes, Traditionalists are still Killen’ it… Literally!
Karen McCullough is a nationally known keynote speaker and expert on change, generational opportunities and workforce trends.
Karen helps organizations cut through the generational biases and get back to reality by leveraging their team’s strengths, enriching the work environment, and driving better results. Each of her presentations brings a realistic perspective on workplace trends, employee engagement, while offering actionable content.
For the past 15 years Karen has shared her insights to top organizations such as VMware, Procter & Gamble, US Department of Justice, JPMorgan Chase, Symantec, McGraw-Hill, National Homebuilders, Shell Oil, Mercedes Benz, The World Bank, American National Insurance, Humana, United Way, American Heart Association and MD Anderson Cancer Center.