“I Am Old Enough To Be Your Father”

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OK, so no one actually said this to me directly.  Not in those words anyway.  I put the quotation marks to rattle you. 😉

All kidding aside, the sentiment behind the title is one I have encountered countless times as a young woman in Corporate America.  Given the fact that I am often the youngest person at my level at each company I have worked at, this isn’t surprising. Having a coworker or supplier throw their years of experience in my face has become somewhat of a daily occurrence. Usually it’s prefaced with the statement, “I don’t want to date myself…“, but their intent is to do just that. To let me know they have been doing this job since I was in diapers. That my “fancy MBA” cannot compete with their hard-earned on-the-job training.  Other times they say things like “In the good old days…” or they find a way to work in the even-less subtle “I have a daughter/son about your age…” in the conversation.

As someone who was raised on traditional African morals,  I have been brought up to correlate age with wisdom.  To assume that the older you are, the more likely it is that you know what you are talking about.  I respect age. I value age.  I admire age.  But I am not intimidated by it.

I think a lot of professionals with similar upbringing are nervous and timid when they find themselves in conversations, especially heated ones, with someone who surpasses them in age and/or experience.  They doubt themselves, doubt their competence, even belittle themselves indirectly.  I used to be that woman. Afraid to speak up in a conference room full of my “older peers”.  Worried that my limited experience would make them question my value.  These days however, I am taking a different approach.

My approach starts with valuing myself and acknowledging what I know, and don’t know.  It also includes giving myself a mental pat on the back. After all, I am here. Talking with you, my 57-year old, “I’ve worked here for 25 years” peer. Not bringing your coffee and not making your copies, but discussing strategic directions and negotiation tactics. And not only do I not sound like an idiot, I am giving you a perspective you hadn’t thought of before.  I ask questions, I challenge the status quo.  Yes, this is how you’ve done it for 20 years, but perhaps we could try something different?  I may be the same age as your daughter, but I know my sh*t. And you know that I know my sh*t. Otherwise, you wouldn’t resort to futile and desperate attempts at intimidation based on age.  You may have prejudged me based on skin color, gender and age, but you are quickly realizing how incorrect you are.  And that scares you.

I don’t claim to know it all.  Which is why I do listen quite a bit.  So when you see me silent, it’s not because I have nothing to say.  Rather, akin to a sponge, I am soaking up whatever valuable information is dispensed.  I go back to my desk and Google things I do not know.  I make a point to read books on topics where I still seek knowledge.

I realize that part of the issue here is your growing insecurity.  You worry perhaps that with many companies cutting back, I may edge you out of your cushy job, mess up the retirement benefits you are just a few short years away from enjoying.   You do not need to worry.  You still have your privilege and there is probably nothing I can do to take it away from you. Not that I knowingly would if I could.  This job represents a very small part of my full life.  Unlike you, I have no insecurities when it comes to my work.  Just learning and growth opportunities.  So, instead of seeing me as some kind of threat, let’s figure out how to work together and use our individual strengths to get more done.  We’d both be better off for it.

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