The first time I felt old was when I was sitting across from my rather pompous obstetrician, and he informed me that I was a Geriatric Primigravida*. After clarifying that he hadn’t called me a more likely, Peripatetic Primadonna, I was dumbstruck for the remainder of the appointment, to his relief and mild amusement. (Very mild, he was British after all.) Of all the names I’ve ever been called, that one struck deep. I put the fact that I wanted to leap across his desk and bop him on the nose, down to raging morning sickness and hormones, so I forgave myself. (But not him.)
Rather inevitably, I’ve felt old increasingly since then. It’s slightly concerning that I get both bored and dizzy as I scroll down to find my year of birth on digital application forms. At best, I’m “young at heart”, which is the term invariably and diplomatically chosen by friend and peer alike, and I’m certainly no anomaly. Today’s behaviours, beliefs, aspirations and intentions belie stereotypes of age, gender, income or race. How very refreshing.
I love working. I’ve had ample opportunity to sense check that over decades. I had a stint of being a painter - too lonely. I started two university degrees - too restless. I was a stay at home mother for a period - too bad at baking, and too competitive with Easter bonnets. This year’s lockdowns presented me with more time than I was comfortable with, so I invested in plants (struggling); ingredients for ambitious cooking feats (desecrated through ineptitude); sundry art materials to create artworks for the children’s bedrooms (not quite as talented as I remembered, and no appreciation or desire expressed by my daughters); and tools to write my first seminal novella (realised that timing was a bit off as 68% of the world’s population were also writing their memoirs). Having failed on those fronts, I was energised and grateful for the intellectual stimulus provided by my work. As I attend the volley of virtual meetings, it becomes increasingly apparent how imperative diversity is to critical thinking and outcomes that necessarily have to challenge received paradigms. The collective richness of ages, experiences, races, genders, thought patterns, backgrounds, ideologies and sensibilities provide platforms for fluid discussions and democratic leadership and decision-making.
There are currently five generations co-existing in the workplace, but how do we categorise them effectively, since age no longer represents stage? Traditionalists (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (1946 - 1960), Gen X (1961 - 1980), Gen Y / Millennials (1981 - 1995) and Gen Z (1996 - 2010). This incredible spectrum presents us with enormous opportunities to meld and harness our thoughts and experiences.
I recently attended the World Business Forum, where I always enjoy having access to global thought leaders. They had world-renowned business advisor, Ram Charam, who at 80 plus years shared how he is helping some of the world’s largest organisations build new destinies in these dynamic times, and organisational theorist, Lynda Grattan (65 years) discussing rethinking the future of work. Meanwhile, The Future Laboratory’s Media and Youth Futures event includes leading industry innovators aged in their twenties and thirties. Guest speaker Lydia Caldana, a Foresight Strategist, based between Sao Paulo and New York City, says that “every generation is influenced by its circumstances — social, political, economic, environmental, and technological — which have a direct impact on how people express themselves. Each generation is guided in almost every area of life by a symbol for their time, as if it were the lens through which the young view the world and themselves.” She challenges traditional segmentation and suggests that the ubiquitous but staggered adoption of the Internet, provides a more telling delineation. She divides generations into “Digital Conservatives (those who were born before the internet and lived most of their lives without it), Digital Migrants (those who began using the internet in their teenage years) and Digital Natives (those who’ve had access to the internet since birth).” Perfectly pertinent groupings.
We need to observe and identify emerging and evolving behaviours and technologies that will influence and move society. There are constant local and global shifts, and it’s beholden on us to at least have them on our radars. We can all become cultural observers and researchers just by being present.
I’m sure I’m not the only “beautiful ruin” who’s not content to be categorised as “Conservative”, even in the technological realm. As a dotcom pioneer, I doubt any of my peers, or indeed anyone who has ever worked with me, would describe my thinking or approach, as conservative. The late, great octogenarian Ruth Bader Ginsburg, (aka Notorious RBG) was anything but conservative in her thinking or behaviours. How can you make positive change by maintaining status quo? Like the youth of all generations, any self-respecting thought leader, no matter what age, rails and rages against the machine and other generations. I completely agree with Caldana’s position on youth, “regardless of the generation, young people have always had a contentious and questioning nature: youth is the true agent of change.” I reckon that extends to the young at heart. So don’t throw us oldies out with the bathwater – our grey hair is the hard earned crown of years of triumphs and failures, experiences, observations and experiments.
* In modern vernacular, this condition is known as AMA – Advanced Maternal Age. My British Obstetrician used Geriatric Primigravida at the turn of the century (twenty years ago). I went on to have another baby two years later. Happily, both babies were healthy, and the obstetrician’s nose went untouched.