Over the last couple of years of my working life, I seem to have been spending more and more time in the company of people who are a lot younger than me. Clearly, this is one obvious consequence of getting older, but actually I don't think it's as simple as just that. Part of it is that my new team is quite a lot less senior than my old team (that's how I end up being the boss) and is mostly made up of people in their early 20s; another reason is because I've fallen into a role as a mentor to people coming to work in my old department on various development programmes (graduates, apprentices, sandwich students... that kind of thing).
It's a change I really like. I've spent a lot of the last ten years banging my head against a brick wall, trying to change a department that doesn't want to change. The less impact I had, the more frustrated I became, and the more frustrated I became, the less impact I had. I can see this ridiculous cycle pretty clearly since I changed jobs, but if anything positive came out of it at all, it was a determination to make sure that other people shouldn't have to feel the same frustrations. I realised that change was only going to come if we recruited good, young people and then provided them with an environment where they could move up through the ranks without us crushing them until they either conformed and became like everyone else, or they simply left. With that in mind, I started spending more time working with these guys as a mentor - officially and unofficially - and I've found their enthusiasm and lack of cynicism to be positively refreshing. I've changed departments and I'm in a different job now, but I still keep that side of my old job going because I find it so rewarding.
My new job has come with a team to manage, mostly in their early 20s, and I've realised over the last few weeks that I have to be quite careful what I say and how I say it, because they listen to me and they absorb my opinions, and later on they play them back - to me and to other people - as their own. This was never a problem when no one listened to a word I said....
I'm a fifteen to twenty years older than most of these guys, and I'm starting to think that they see me as some kind of uncle. I don't imagine for a second that I'm the cool uncle, but hopefully I'm the kind of uncle that they like, and not the weird, creepy kind.... but there seems to be that sort of vibe around our relationships. When I speak to them about things like film and music, it's like I'm from a totally different planet, and they smile and frown and shake their heads as I talk about bizarre sounding bands like Jimi Hendrix or Depeche Mode. Anything much before Oasis draws a blank, to be honest. Films are worse. I can understand why they might not have seen the original Evil Dead trilogy, but is there really an excuse for not having seen Shawshank or The Life of Brian or Spinal Tap? Or to at least to show some curiosity about them.
Tsk, young people.
This evening, one of my young colleagues asked me if I minded if she asked me a question. Of course not.
"Do you think it's appropriate to wear these tights in the office?"
I glanced down at her legs. She was wearing fishnets. I'm not an expert, but they were plenty smart enough and she was otherwise wearing a completely normal dress that wasn't short by any stretch of the imagination.
"They're fine. You look smart. Why do you ask?"
"Because I've had a couple of comments and looks today, that's all"
First of all - and I know I've talked about this before - but why do men feel that it's okay to do this sort of thing *anywhere*, never mind in a work environment. To pass comments of a vaguely sexual nature to a woman in her early twenties because of something she is wearing? What is this? The 1950s? How do they think this made my colleague feel? She's dressed in an entirely appropriate way for the office and she has to deal with this? Not cool.
Hold on....why's she asking me? Well, let's face it; I think it's because she feels safe with me. That's cool too, I think. Perhaps there's a small part of me that wants to be seen as edgy and mysterious (!), but you know what? In this context, safe is absolutely fine by me.
I'm down with that.
(The same colleague is hungry to learn and to get on in her career, and so I suggested that perhaps I could arrange a meeting for her with my wife - an excellent role model for any young woman to have, I would have thought. She liked the idea and nodded her head enthusiastically.
"Oh, so your actual wife and one of your work wives could meet?"*
Yeah. C. will love that as an opening conversational gambit....)
* ONE of my work wives, you'll notice.... Apparently I have several.
7 hours ago