Stereotypes are Alive and Well – No Matter the Generation

Now that I’m officially a senior, I find it interesting to see the stereotypes attributed to me, old and youngthings I also once attributed to “old folks” without knowing a darn thing about the individuals. Some of them I can laugh at; some annoy me.

I remember, back in my dancing days when I was young and svelte, seeing an overweight person ordering dessert and making some stupid comment about why they couldn’t just control their sweet tooth. And then I retired from dancing, stopped smoking, put on close to 50 pounds and discovered I couldn’t turn down doughnuts and pastries and cookies and pie and cake … you get it. Karma’s a bitch but the lessons are invaluable. Just sometimes wish I could learn them sooner.

I also remember friends snickering at old men with socks and sandals or old women with ugly varicose veins and the audacity to go out in public in shorts! Did they look in the mirror and think this look was attractive?

Here’s what I think now: I think we dress for others when we’re younger. A job can depend on that first impression. A first date can depend on that first impression. Your place in the pecking order can depend on that first impression. But when you reach my age and you realize that (a) you’re not likely to be dressing for a job or a mate ever again and (b) you’ve learned that you don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks about the way you look, it makes it really easy to live in sweats, sneakers and ratty T-shirts. My success no longer depends on someone else’s opinion.

Each generation likes to think it’s raised the next one to be more tolerant, more forgiving, more discerning. Not so. Stereotypes exist, no matter the generation or the upbringing. The “young’uns” as my southern, small town generation would call them,  have just as many preconceived ideas about the older generation as we do about them. Case in point: I have sat in Starbucks and listened to kids in their teens, twenties, thirties and even forties opine all the old people who drive too slow, all the rich kids who are snobs, the immigrants who won’t learn English, the homeless who beg for money and spend it all on cigarettes or booze, the rocker who must be high on drugs, etc. I could give even more egregious examples but these will do.

Here’s the thing: somehow the young’uns don’t seem to see that they’re doing exactly the same thing they accuse us oldies of doing. This came to my attention when I was trying to explain to a computer repairman, who had helpfully suggested that next time I had an issue with my new computer I should try to resolve it online with a customer service rep, that I had tried that, but that the operator appeared to be in another country as her English seemed limited and I couldn’t figure out what she was trying to say. He looked at me like he very much wanted to tell me that all the customer reps were highly trained, not in a foreign country and that the issue was probably that I didn’t understand the customer serviceinstructions. But the truth is, that’s not the case. The sentences were written like you hear beginners in a language communicate (me included when I was traveling in foreign countries and trying to explain something): subjects and verbs are sometimes inverted, adjectives are misplaced and articles are eliminated. Then when a wrong word or two is used, the meaning and nuance of the instruction goes all to hell pretty fast. But most of all, I was struck by the look on his face and the realization that he would always think the fault was mine because I was old and clearly not able to understand.

It was frustrating to see myself as a stereotype, but I guess that was inevitable. After all, there are a few that fit: I no longer dress to impress, I sometimes have to ask how to do IPhonesomething on my iPhone, I wear “granny pants” instead of G-strings, I wear “sensible” shoes and I put fiber in my morning smoothie.

 

 

Becoming Obsolete

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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.

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