For the first time in my career, the majority of people I work with are younger than I am – often by a decade or more. I love this – even though one of the things I’ve learned from them is that 25 is the new standard for beginning a “preventative” Botox regime, and that is craaaaaaazy to me. There are a number of reasons why I enjoy the role of elder statesman, at the grand ole age of 36.
Here are six reasons to enjoy the company – professional, personal and otherwise – of people who are younger than you are:
1. They think in ways that are new to you. Many of the things they think about are familiar. But often how they approach life is new to you because they have come of age in a generation different from yours. Sure, so did your parents and your grandparents. But – presumedly because you were raised, taught, coached and mentored by those former generations – you’ve been imprinted with at least some of their belief systems and experiences. Younger people see things about the world you may be blind toward, primarily because you’re among those who (intentionally or inadvertently, it doesn’t matter) helped create the world in which they’re living. Their ideas will often feel very innovative to you, and that will spark your own creativity.
2. They’ll help you past whatever crap you’re dealing with at the moment. Maybe not because they’ve been there / done that, but because the crap they’re dealing with includes struggles you’ve already managed in your own life. You know the stuff bogging them down right now will fade or make them better, because it did the same for you. And once you realize that, you can apply that perspective to your present condition and know again that this, too, shall pass.
3. They are more earnest, enthusiastic and optimistic than you are. For the most part, they’ve faced fewer disappointments. As a result, sometimes they don’t think through all the potential consequences of a situation. Don’t think of them as naive. Think of them as fearless. You need people in your life who are unafraid to take a chance – on an idea, a project, on YOU. Young people want to do this, and you should let them.
4. They’ll make you feel smart. You may or may not actually be smart. But you do have more experience, and that’s what they see and – for the most part – appreciate. Because of this, they give you confidence. We all need this.
5. They want to be part of your team. I remember a time when I ached to be invited to meetings, especially the ones when the department heads were figuring out plans for the new year or working on projects I thought could result in some tangible new product or service. Although I think everyone gets to a point in their career when too many meetings can feel burdensome, I’ve never forgotten that yearning to be at the table when I wasn’t there. I knew I could contribute and I knew I’d work hard on whatever it was, well beyond the initial brainstorming phase. Young people do this because they want to play ball, not because they want to take over the team. Let them.
6. They are honest. That’s a broad statement, and what I mean by it is that because young people have less to lose, they have more to say. If you are pursuing a bad idea, they’ll be more likely to tell you. Don’t try to censor them, pull rank or otherwise shut them out. You need people to push back as much as you need people to plow ahead, and if you castigate naysayers, you’ll either build a team of doomed yes-men you’ll lead right off a cliff, or you’ll invite a coup de tat.
I’ve had wonderful mentors in all parts of my personal and professional life, and a respect for younger people ranks high among the things they have in common. Cheers to them, and cheers to the young’uns.