I have so many thoughts on this subject that I hardly know where to begin. Let’s try this: the closer I get to retirement, the more I want to feel like I’ve made a contribution to the place I’ve worked for the past twelve and a half years. However, since I haven’t actually retired yet, haven’t even given my notice, no one feels like they need to reassure me about this. Why would they? But as my attention starts slowly focusing outward on the big, wide world and less on my workday issues, I find my tolerance for day-to-day problems grows shorter and shorter and my self-worth as a team member becomes more and more fragile as I realize that I’ll be missed for about five minutes before everyone moves on. It’s disconcerting to feel my long-term contribution beginning to feel obsolete before I’ve even left. I want to have mattered and I’m afraid I won’t.
So here was the inciting incident that prompted this post and all my conflicted thoughts. One of my employees, a self-confident 30-something girl, came into the office where we share a space. I told her something that might affect her workday and she started to respond. As she spoke, I turned to my computer to start logging in and commented on the screen saver. With that, she stopped talking and proceeded to shove her things around on the desk. I thought perhaps something had happened the night before that had put her in a bad mood so I turned and said, “What’s wrong?”
She responded something to effect of, “I was trying to answer your question but this is a pattern and so I’ll just sit here and let you talk.” She might as well have slapped me. What’s a pattern? I was a bit stunned and so it took me a second to narrow down the possibilities. I told her I was still hearing every word she said. Nevertheless, I sat back, gave her my full attention and asked her to please tell me what she had started to say. I guess the thing that confused the most then, and still does now, is that even when I’m not looking directly at her, I always engage in the conversation so I’m clearly hearing what she’s saying. So was this time a problem for some reason or was it always a problem? And if it was always a problem, I don’t understand why she didn’t address it sooner and in a different manner.
Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I recognize that it could be seen as a slight because it appeared she wasn’t getting my full attention. But the thing that bothers me the most is the level of disrespect for a supervisor that was displayed. Is that just old-school thinking on my part? Another reminder that I’m past my “use by” date? Is that a difference of the Baby Boomer generation and how we approach authority from her Millennial generation? I’ve had supervisors that I detested but I would never have dreamed of telling them what I thought they were doing that irritated me.
So yes, I read it as a subtle comment on my age and it hurt. She saw no reason whatsoever to show any respect to my position. It made me wonder if the young workers I think are enjoying my company actually tolerate rather than appreciate me.
So there you have the issues: ageism, generational ways of dealing with authority, unintended but subtle insults, and a clear lack of communication. In any case, she hit the mark she intended. I was wounded by the barb and it made me wonder if my contribution to the organization is obsolete.