I saw an old friend recently over brunch. We hadn't seen one another in a long time, so we had plenty to catch up on. At one point our conversation veered toward our work and how we've reached that point in our careers where many of our co-workers could be our children. When did that happen?
In truth, I really don't mind that I'm aging -- in fact, I'd like to think I'm doing it rather gracefully. And though I'm not too old (am I?), I now have young co-workers who are, literally, half my age.
Because I've worked with a lot of start-up companies in Silicon Valley and New York, I've always had young colleagues -- in fact, since I was in my early 30s, I've been older than the CEOs I worked for. So I guess I could be forgiven for not having immediately realized that my youngest co-workers are, well, really young!
Upon thinking about it, I have to say I really do love working with young people. I'm continually inspired by their enthusiasm and often learn from seeing the world through their clear eyes.
I find I get paired up with young execs and others because I've got some gray hair and have managed to acquire some wisdom over the course of my career. And I'm proud of what I've accomplished.
Still, I find it's often best to sit on that acquired wisdom in favor of listening to and observing the newbies in my midst. In particular, I try to stifle the impulse to quash an idea that I've tried before in my career and watched fail. I've learned that sometimes a failed idea in new hands -- especially inexperienced, naïve hands -- can lead to very different outcomes.
There's something to be said for naïveté. Sometimes the whole "where angels fear to tread" thing can lead to amazing insights. Young people will often take risks that folks with more experience might be hesitant take on, mostly for good reason. The fear of failure -- especially when one has felt its sting before -- is a powerful deterrent. But the absence of fear can produce powerful outcomes.
So it's fun to work side-by-side these fearless risk-takers, even when I feel certain a course of action may not turn out as hoped. Of course, I rarely let folks absolutely fail when taking a risk suddenly starts to go bad, but sometimes a little failure in the short run can lead to bigger gains downs the road.
However, the smart and talented young people I work with don't often fail. They stumble, certainly, and they often turn to me for advice or support when they need to, but more often than not, they get the job done, and often in ways I wouldn't have predicted.
At this point you're probably thinking: um, are you actually arguing against your fellow geezers?
I'm not. I'd like to think I bring enormous value to the work I do with my newbies. In fact, I know I do. What I am arguing, however, is that we experienced folk can learn so much by working with young people and helping them to take calculated risks, even when our own experience tells us failure is a possibility.
I've learned so much with this approach and benefited personally by being a true colleague to my young co-workers. You're never too old to learn and grow, right?