This is a guest blog I wrote for GenZ Insights in the U.K.
“Once you Label Me, You Negate me.” – Søren Kierkegaard
Naming generations is a load of crap and is self-defeating for all of us.
Ascribing some sort of “Generational Gestalt” (e.g. millennials are spoiled and entitled, “OK Boomer”, etc.) is ludicrous.
Ageism is as absurd as all the other “isms” directed at race, heritage, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, and all the rest.
Ageist stereotypes, presumptions and assumptions of age (any age) undermine our ability as individuals and enterprises to achieve whatever we’re trying to do and as a whole negatively impacts the health, progress and vitality of our societies and economies.
As a society, we are reexamining the way we look at race, gender, ethnicity, sexual/gender orientation and other characteristics. Why not age as well?
“How old would you be if you did not know your exact age?” ― Fuad Alakbarov
Let’s look at this rationally (OMG…What a concept!).
First of all, how many of the generalizations of our current roster of named generations are exclusive to the group and how many are a result of that generation’s current stage of life?
As a “Boomer”, most of what I see in my two sons and the twentysomethings I work with I attribute to youth. Youthful ambition. Youthful arrogance. Youthful naivete. All of which can be good or bad.
Seems like I’ve seen this before. Oh yeah! Me when I was in my twenties.
Now let’s jump to me as I am today. I in no way, shape, or form view myself as fitting the stereotype I had for what I would be at this age.
How old do I believe I am if I didn’t know my exact age? Physically 20+ years younger (my doctor agrees this is my “bio age”). In terms of my heart and mind? My desire to invent, innovate, accomplish, change, learn and make an impact is the same as when I was around thirty years old.
Yet, I now have decades of experience to effectuate those things.
For those of us of any age who are interested in progressing, improving, learning and experiencing, none of what I am goes away with age. If you’re an artist, writer, engineer, or whatever, you will remain so throughout your life.
In fact, you get better and better and better at what you’re capable of as you get more experience and “wisdom” (Duh!).
Working with others who are in all stages of life with their individual talents, skills and perspectives have always created a fantastic, successful and profitable dynamic.
When I have been in these dynamics, I did have to get past the age/experience/perspective differences. Since I was the oldest, I considered myself a “leader” in setting that tone by how I acted toward, regarded and responded to everyone.
It came down to respect, empathy and yes, patience. An expectation that I wouldn’t agree, wouldn’t “get it” or would be impatient with younger people’s lack of life or business experience.
I was able to do that. It wasn’t that hard. It worked. We succeeded.
Diversity and Inclusion has taken the business world by storm. It’s being inclusive of diversity of thought, experience and perspective. Yet I have virtually never seen age mentioned as a part of that diversity.
Therefore enterprises are ignoring through ignorance a huge resource of people who not only bring their skills and talents to the effort but also their experience.
Slowly but surely that experience is slowly being realized as a critical need for success and to provide the direct and indirect mentoring of younger workers just as others have had since humans began walking upright.
Organizations such as Cirkel are making it a two-way street by paring younger and older to support and mentor each other. Those who have tried it, rave about it and benefit from it.
While I will advocate considering all of us to be color/gender/ethnic/disability/age-blind, I will nevertheless put forth some compelling perspective for changing the way we all look at those in their “olderhood”.
Consider that we have experienced and effectuated the most transformative societal change the world has ever seen.
The youth in the 60s and early 70s initiated a mega societal trend by not accepting what was expected of them by their parents or society. Protest marches, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay and Lesbian Rights, the Environmental Movement were expressions to signify their lives and be activists for positive change.
These movements along with sex, drugs and rock and roll were an effort to take ownership of one’s life and create something meaningful and relevant rather than automatically accepting what was on offer.
The vast majority of these people never smoked a joint, burned a bra or draft card or marched. Yet everyone experienced the transformation of the expectations of age. They and society shifted their mindsets.
That was radical and scary then. Now it is common.
Those same people are doing it again in this phase of life by continuing to work longer, changing careers at a later age and in the U.S. starting up double the number of entrepreneurial ventures than twenty and thirtysomethings do.
Throughout human history, elders (the oldest members of a tribe or society) were venerated, sought after for their wisdom (life lessons). Now elders are being cast aside and diminished. Recruiters go after young talents and provide vailed ageist barriers in their job postings such as “seeking those who have their best work ahead of them”.
Good thing people like Einstein, Monet, Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, Picasso, Mother Theresa, Ray Croc, Colonel Sanders and several million others in human history knew their best work and years were still ahead of them.
The same goes for Boomers such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos who didn’t get the memo that after 50 (40 in Silicon Valley) they were supposed to shut up and go away.
This clarity can be brought to any generation which shall remain nameless. Every generation goes through the same stages of life yet are molded by the times and circumstances.
“We must all hang together, or surely we shall all hang separately.” -Benjamin Franklin
Let’s get over ourselves (age, generations) and get out of our own way.
Let’s leverage what each of us has and can offer without prejudice toward any meaningless identifier.
We have too much to do, too much to overcome and too much to accomplish to do otherwise.
I advocate to cohorts of my age group to look past stereotypes of younger people and embrace what they have to offer as individuals and because of their stage of life.
I also put forth that removing ageist assumptions about older people is in the best interest of those who are younger.
Because someday, hopefully, you will reach this stage of life. You will realize it’s not what you thought it would be or how you thought you would be.
You will want to be relevant and enabled. You will want to signify.
We are trying to leave a path where there is no trail (again) as Emerson would say.
Let’s face it. We’re all in this together (and nobody gets out alive). Let’s start acting like it.
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