Two things in life are constant: change, and the day you were born.
At this point, I’ve been fighting it for actual decades; yes, they’re older than me. The implied “she’s too young” non-poker face makes me giggle now, but decades ago, it felt like a threatening alert.
I’m an academic; I study all the things. I know your generation, and I know mine; I know the upcoming and anticipated generations too. I know the generational habits, work ethics, birth years – every piece of this matters.
What’s important is only how I can work best with people different than me. Some people will be ten years younger or ten years older – this is no one’s fault, it’s just a piece of humanity and those darn birth years. Some people will look different than I – this again is no one’s fault, it’s literally a piece of the beauty of our humanity.
To assume that age is important is a dangerous path, and I’ve experienced it. I’ve been bullied so deeply that my mental health became at risk. I’ve been gossiped about, threatened, manipulated to the point of personal decimation where I didn’t think I was worthy of anything.
Now is the time to knock it off, and I’m talking to you.
No one owes you anything; you are the age you are because biological things happened (sorry, I can’t go down the birds and bees path here). Your colleague is older or younger than you, and it is what it is. What you need to be thinking about is this: how can I best adapt to better communicate so we can benefit as a whole?
I once made a formal human resources complaint about ageism. The complaint was this: someone twice my age was stifling our organizational success due to my age. How did the complaint read? Young girl accuses advanced woman twice her age of being mean.
Months of verbal abuse. Degrading communication in front of colleagues – “she thinks she knows, but she’s too young.” Donor communication of “she thinks she knows but these millennials, they don’t know what we do.” “She didn’t come to the meeting because it’s beyond her ability to understand.” This person was the third person to do this within the culture of my organization, and I had had enough.
Healthy work environments are crucial. We spend more time at work than we do at home; it is absolutely imperative you do your part to make your workday the healthiest it can be.
What does that look like? Probing questions are growth in a quiet way: “tell me more about that,” “give me more context, help me understand,” “give me an idea of how you feel about that, how can I help.” Ask more questions. Stop assuming that you know what people are thinking, and please do your colleague, subordinate and/or supervisor justice by asking the hard questions: “did you mean to imply my age? Help me understand”.
Despite our days of birth, let’s change the world!
Military spouse and career nonprofit professional, Vanessa Moos has spent over twelve years fundraising, writing national volunteer onboarding processes, and managing multi-million dollar market portfolios of community engagement at the American Cancer Society. With a master’s degree in public administration, she says her work as Acting Interim CEO at Children’s Village in Coeur d’Alene is the most fulfilling experience so far of her career.