The Delacorte Theater in New York’s Central Park reminded me of how a teacher described Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare released many of his plays. It is open-air with a castle behind it. The theatergoers would stand in line before being admitted then climb to their seats to see Shakespeare in the Park.
It was there in my early 20s and married for the second time when we went to see Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” The first time I saw it, I was 15 and was thunderstruck by Act II, Scene 7
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.
They have their entrances and exits, and one man in his time plays many parts.” As it did the first time, it struck me deeply.
By now, I had rushed through the stages of being an infant and schoolboy, skipped over being a soldier, and, now, was at the stage of the lover trying to find my place in the world by myself with little useful help.
I noticed many people were like me, grinding in our jobs, some more successful than others. Some were married; some weren’t. We tried to help one another, but it was the blind leading the blind. We spoke convincingly about what someone else should do while unable to help ourselves lead happier lives and have more successful careers.
“Own your life. Own your career,” we heard but did not know how to do it.
If you’re like most people, you were programmed at an early stage to do the right thing— take direction, get good grades, do what you were told to do– so that by the time you got to the workforce, you were doing the adult version of that. Except the rungs on the ladder had changed. There was no career ladder. Instead, the ladder became a jungle gym where you no longer could striate up sequentially. You now have to climb higher and higher, pulling yourself up and no one told you.
Like some of you, by the time I reached my 40’s, I was married and divorced twice, started and lost more than one business, filed for personal bankruptcy. But, unfortunately, I was doing “the right thing” in the wrong way.
One day, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw something I’d never seen before. There were things on my face that were in slightly different places. There was a little bit of grey in my beard and a closet full of clothing that had seen better days. I had crossed over to another stage of life — The Justice.
“In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
Time was running out. There were only two more stages in my performance, and neither was particularly pleasant sounding.
I started to do something different – ask for advice from people older than me. I came to realize that a lifetime is not a long time. I thought of myself as being immortal, as you probably do. But life was starting to show me that my time was finite, and I was foolish to conduct myself as though it was infinite.
The Graduate School of Business at Stanford published a study that concluded those more likely to oppose racism and sexism are more likely to maintain ageism as acceptable because they believe that older people block their way to advancement. The study concluded, “equality for all may only mean equality for some.”
“Okay, Boomer,” is shorthand for shut up, go away, and die
A recent LinkedIn poll asked Boomers whether ageism was common, infrequent, or non-existent in their Iives. 97% of Boomers were experiencing age-based discrimination. Among those, 76% were finding it a commonplace occurrence.
A 2020 study published by The American Psychological Association points to demands for labor that may emphasize “youthful agility over mature experience and wisdom.”
In another study, a clear preference was shown for job applicants whose profiles demonstrated positive stereotypes of a younger age. These included being creative, good at learning new skills, and being a quick decision-maker. Conversely, deemed less desirable were job applicants with profiles that included positive older-age stereotypes, such as being good at settling arguments (conflict resolution), understanding others’ viewpoints, and being polite or respectful.
By the way, before you think that age discrimination only occurs in one direction, older to younger, in the same American Psychological Association study, they found age-based discrimination is even greater toward younger workers than older ones.
Managers, leaders who view questions about why a decision was made in a particular way as a threat to their authority, who keep information on a need-to-know basis, or would instead do it themselves, rather than teach someone to do it, are making a mistake.
This is a re-creation of parent-child relationships that helps to foster generational silos where older and younger people don’t talk to one another, let alone ask for support. This doesn’t simply happen in the workplace. It occurs in peoples’ personal lives as well.
I started to ask myself, “How do I want to live between now and the inevitable conclusion of my life?”
The first new habit I developed was the ability to ask for advice. From there, I asked for it from people who were generationally different than me. You can build up to people from different genders, sexual orientations, races, and national origins than you. Just start with asking someone who is generationally different.
There are different lenses each of you has been trained to use just because you grew up in different times. It’s like the siblings born of the same parents but who describe their situation as having different families because their parents had different experiences of parenting by the time the second sibling was born.
I started by asking someone I met nicknamed Snake. I was a New Yorker. He was from Minnesota. I was very urban, and he was connected to natural beauty. He thought introspectively, and I acted instinctively. I would call him to ask for advice because he thought and acted differently than I did. Hearing his thoughts helped me identify blind spots and how I thought and felt that slowly evolved me into the man I am today.
I stopped putting myself in the situation where I was the smartest person in the room. Instead, I started to look for people from who I could ask questions and learn.
From there, I made a giant leap and went to the best place of all for me — asking those older than me for what their thoughts were and listening intently to what they said.
Asking for advice doesn’t mean you have to act on it. On the contrary, it is helpful to hear different opinions because it may (1) affirm your thinking or, more likely, (2) may open the door to a blind spot you have that you can investigate.
A December 2018 article in Psychology Today reported, “There is clear evidence that it is good for young people to spend time with older adults. For example, one large analysis found that youth who participated in intergenerational programs showed more respect toward older adults, less anxiety, and higher self-esteem.” So, it’s good for you!
When deciding whether to sell or close my second business, I consulted with several older individuals for advice. They wanted to know why someone would want to buy my business, whether they would want me to stay as an employee, under what conditions and for how long, and about 15 other questions. Their questions encouraged me to think a bit longer about what the right decision would be for me.
From my experience, it is also extremely powerful for an older individual to ask for advice from people younger than they because it happens so rarely. Parents rarely ask their children for advice. Instead, parents talk among themselves about what to do. Truthfully, children like it that way. But neither of your children anymore. You are adults.
Children also don’t want to hear that their parents are having problems. They may listen to it through walls separating rooms as well as by listening and noticing.
What can you do?
1. Identify people who you believe are wise. What is it about them the gives you that impression? Are they considered and caring? Are they brilliant and knowledgeable? Are they good listeners (because they will have to listen intently to provide better advice to you)?
2. Ideally, you want to bring people together in a group, whether online or in person. But, is that possible with this person or people? As with mastermind groups, there is something even more powerful about coming together as a group that provides a more significant benefit for someone seeking advice.
3. Do not ask for investment, tax, medical or legal advice. You will never provide these people with enough information, nor may they have specific expertise to offer quality advice to you.
4. Identify at least one person who seems different from you to participate in the group. Homogeneous advisors may have blind spots similar to yours and not provide you with disparate advice.
5. Spend time in advance of meeting with them to summarize the subject of the advice you want to receive. Then, distill the request to its core points and provide them in advance of the meeting. By doing this, you respect their time and offer them a chance to contemplate and perhaps formulate questions.
6. The meeting should last no more than 45 minutes. If you can complete it in 30, that is best.
7. You do not need to act on the advice you receive. However, you should be committed to investigating ideas after the meeting. As someone who advises people frequently, I ask them to message me with what actions they took based upon the meeting and the results.
There are also many benefits for the older individual to being a trusted advisor for someone younger.
1. You are at the legacy phase of life. You may have already raised a family, sold a business, retired, lost a partner, or in general, had many more life experiences than others. Those experiences have helped to form a worldview even if you don’t see it. Legacy is about passing down knowledge to those younger, so they don’t have to make the same mistakes you did or struggle over the things you may know the answer to.
2. You stay connected with others in meaningful ways. It won’t take a lot of your time, and the impact upon someone else can be enormous. Helping someone else is good karma, feels good, and is a reward for you.
3. It will help you feel alive! Being siloed with your generational peers often leaves older people feeling lethargic. It is as though people come together to collectively pass the time until it is time to be buried or cremated. Sharing ideas, helping problem solve, and being a friend with someone younger who you learn to care about often makes a difference to people.
Scott Peck began “The Road Less Traveled” by writing, “Life is hard.” We make it harder on ourselves than it needs to be. What rule says that we have to figure everything out ourselves? What book is that in?
Connecting with people of different generations provides an avenue for connecting with others, the potential of seeing our blind spots before they adversely affect us, an opportunity to connect with others and create good karma for ourselves.
I’m your future… if you’re lucky! Between where you are and where I am on the stage, how do you want to live? How do you want to live between now and your inevitable exit from the stage?
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter, is a career and leadership coach working with people worldwide. If you are interested in him coaching you or your organization, you can schedule time for a free discovery call or for coaching at www.TheBigGameHunter.us