From the October 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.
Every Fancier Needs to ‘see and be seen’
The older I get, the more invisible I become. It was in a restaurant lobby that I first realized that I was slowly disappearing. As my dinner companion and I looked forward to catching up over a good meal, we found ourselves completely ignored by the establishment’s youthful and disinterested hostess. Table for two? Not that night. The young lady’s face, warmly lit by the glow of her smart phone, was inscrutable. Her expression was one of complete and total disinterest. It was only when our “greeter” was interrupted by a coworker that she even deemed to look up, her attention given—ever so briefly—to the server before returning to what must have been a seriously spellbinding text message. That was our signal to leave. So we made our way toward the door where a middle-aged couple gave us a “look,” eyes rolled in the direction of the hostess station. They understood what we were feeling, because they too were invisible to people under the age of 30.
I’m a Baby Boomer, one of more than 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964. Every member of my generation is well past 30-years-old today and, I have to admit, our influence on society is waning. (The youngest Boomer turns 55 this year on New Year’s Eve and the oldest will be celebrating his or her 73rd birthday the following day.) Our diminishing prestige is particularly noticeable in the technology sector where a CEO can be a billionaire twenty-something. It’s also apparent in the sport of dogs. As the median age for fanciers has risen, interest in registered purebreds has been undermined by retail rescue organizations that appeal to young Internet users. So it behooves today’s more “senior” breeders, exhibitors, judges and show chairs to consider passing along our dog knowledge and experiences to the younger generation of purebred dog fanciers: the “Gen-Xers” and “Millennials.”
Born between 1965 and 1980, Generation-X shares the Boomers’ independence and idealism, but they also value individualism and personal freedom. Today’s 39-to-54-year-olds are less likely than their parents to become workaholics and many are unlikely to own a purebred. Although Gen-Xers in the sport can be inspired by the hard-working breeders, handlers and exhibitors of days gone by, they often prefer to live the kind of life that offers a better work/life balance. Millennials are even less inclined to put career above everything else. Born between 1980 and 2000, these “Bright Young Things” represent the largest living generation in America. Today’s youngest fanciers are part of a generation that cherishes leisure time at least as much as it values a job well done. Millennials represent countless self-professed dog lovers who are the target demographic of every rescue group in the country. To ignore them would be fatal to the future of the dog sport.
What Millennials might lack in real world experience they more than make up for in enthusiasm and technological know-how. Thanks to their expertise with digital technologies and social media, their influence extends into every cultural corner, including the sport of dogs. Millennials are connected and they are confidant. (Some might suggest that this generation is a little too confident, but isn’t feckless fearlessness a characteristic of being young?) They know what they want and many, if not most, are willing to put in the work to achieve their goals and dreams. This should be good news to Baby Boomers whose diminishing energy reserves might find reinforcement from so many eager apprentices. Now is the time for young and old to come together for the betterment of the sport: Boomers can offer sage advice on breeding, whelping and raising dogs, organizing events and celebrating our past; Millennials can provide assistance by training, showing and promoting purebreds, managing social media platforms and ensuring that the dog sport remains relevant in the digital age. And the Gen-Xers? They can put their impressive social, mediation and technical skills to work preventing the sport of dogs—and everyone in it—from becoming invisible.
TIPS FOR BABY BOOMERS
WORK SMARTER–Boomer exhibitors value hard work and the rewards that come with it. But long work weeks, fractured personal relationships and mountains of debt are a high price to pay for the perks and prestige that come with a Best in Show win. Consider working smarter instead. A carefully considered calendar with 120 show days can provide twice the exposure as a hodge-podge year with double the number of events.
ASK FOR ASSISTANCE–Baby Boomers are known for their confidence and self-reliance. However, even the most secure show chair needs to consider the opinions of his or her volunteer committee. No matter how good you may think you are at getting things done, no one “in dogs” has ever achieved success alone.
SET NEW GOALS–Winning Best in Show at Westminster is highlighted on many fanciers’ wish lists. But this lofty goal isn’t the only prize in the dog game that’s worthy of consideration. Endeavors such as becoming a mentor to a novice breeder and increasing your breed’s online presence are every bit as worthy of your focus these days, if not more so.
BE MORE FLEXIBLE–Since the AKC was founded in 1884, dog shows in America have been organized to honor tradition and permanence. But these competitive events have experienced more change in the past 15 years than they have in the dozen preceding decades. (Today’s dog show isn’t your great-grandma’s dog show.) You don’t have to agree with every change that’s been implemented, you just have to be more flexible with your expectations.
THINK AHEAD–Nothing in life is like it used to be, so it’s time to stop reliving the past by telling younger people how wonderful things were “way back when.” Millennials really don’t care that much about anything that happened in the 20th century. They were playing video games. So, before you criticize an aspiring handler for taking a shortcut, recognize instead how their participation is securing the sport’s future.
INVISIBILITY PREVENTION GUIDE
TIPS FOR GEN-XERS
EXERCISE YOUR CYNICISM–Characterized as cynical and disaffected adolescents, Gen-Xers navigate adulthood with a more balanced approach when compared with the generations that came before or after. Your cynicism allows you to question everything and take nothing for granted, but it also makes you easier to overlook—if it doesn’t make you completely invisible to young and old alike. Exercise your
ATTEMPT MEDIATION–As a Gen-Xer, you share the independence and self-reliance of your parents’ generation as well as your children’s casual disdain for authority. You are perfectly positioned to resolve the differences that occasionally erupt on social media between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Utilize your powers of mediation to bring attention to the causes that concern you most.
CONTINUE TO ADAPT–Gen-Xers came of age during a period of enormous social, economic and technological change. Despite sometimes hopeless prospects, you’ve managed to embrace changing circumstances with ease. You’re nothing if not adaptable. Use your versatility as a way of reminding older and younger dog fanciers that it’s better to embrace change than
DON’T GO IT ALONE–Unlike a Baby Boomer, you don’t care to be micro-managed. You also don’t need to be entertained 24/7 like a Millennial. You know how to entertain yourself. But with all of your independent resolve, it’s important to check-in with others from time to time. It’s easy to be forgotten when everyone sees you as capable and carefree.
JUST SAY ‘NO’–Sometimes it’s better to leave things unsaid or just say “no.” When you find yourself being pulled in so many directions that you can’t take care of your own affairs, it’s likely time for a little R&R. When you’re feeling especially overwhelmed by all the demands on your time, becoming invisible could be the best thing that you can do for yourself.
TIPS FOR MILLENNIALS
SLOW DOWN–Remember when you were really young and in such a hurry to grow up? Yeah, well, here you are and it’s probably not exactly what you were expecting. It never is. One thing that a Gen-Xer or Baby Boomer can tell you is that the older you get, the faster time flies. Remember to slow down once in a while to savor each win and evaluate every defeat.
FORGET ABOUT THE RIBBONS–Most Millennials participated in team sports or playgroups as a kid, so seeking input and affirmation from others can seem really important. But not everyone receives a participation trophy just for showing up as an adult. To experience the satisfaction of genuine inclusivity, try volunteering in a doggy activity that doesn’t involve
SHOW SOME GRATITUDE–If you’re a Millennial, chances are your parents or guardians pampered you a little—or a lot. Thanks to their continuously kind words of encouragement, you’ve been blessed with more than your fair share of self-confidence and ambition. So to honor their investment, it might be good of you to show a little gratitude to the dog show volunteers who make it possible for you to fulfill
LEARN MORE, GOOGLE LESS–As a Millennial you are, no doubt, tech savvy. But your technological brilliance isn’t a substitute for actual experience. Smart phones are neither classroom nor whelping room, and they can’t make a person “smart” just because it provides (unedited) information in an instant. If you really want to know how to do something, try doing it.
SEEK A MENTOR, BECOME A MENTOR–If you crave feedback and guidance, you would do well to find a mentor to take you under his or her wing. You don’t have to appeal on social media where sincere requests for advice can get lost among the passive-aggressive posts and predictably candid win photos. Instead, seek out the kind of breeder, handler or judge who is willing and able to turn an invisible protégé (you) into a notable pro (also you).