6 Great Things About Working With 20-Somethings When You're 40-Something

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

Then I hit my 30s and met my husband, and got more interested in rushing home to be with him than I was in hanging out after work with my colleagues. But I still worked long hours and got passionate about everything, just like everyone else.

Then I hit my 40s and became a mom. I switched over from the grueling hours of television production to the world of digital, where late-night work could be done at home after the kids were sleeping. But an interesting phenomenon happened: As I got older, everybody else got younger. It wasn’t so nice, at first, but then a few more years passed. When the age gap widened, I found myself working with people who were 20 years younger than I was instead of 10, and I liked it. The people who were only a decade younger often came armed with an attitude of entitlement, but the 20-year-olds were different.

Ann Brenoff, who at 65 is the oldest person in the Los Angeles office at the Huffington Post, wrote about some great things she learned from working in an intergenerational office, and it reminded me of why I liked it so much. I’m younger than she is, but I think I can stake claim to the word “intergenerational” because the 20-year-olds were definitely young enough to be my children, although some of them became my friends. So here’s why I enjoyed it so much:

They Actually Thought I Might Know a Thing or Two

Instead of dismissing me, a lot of them would come to me for career advice when they had to make decisions or were contemplating career switches. They assumed that the reason I had the title I did was through years of hard work and some knowledge of navigating the industry, and thought I might know something that would be useful to them. (A lot of the thirtysomethings seemed to think it was dumb luck and that they already knew more than I did.)

They Had a Lot to Teach Me, Too

Not only were they all savvy about social media and celebrities I’d never heard of, most of them were really well-read, smart people who had great recommendations for books, music and TV shows. Thanks guys, for Orange Is the New Black. I love it.

We Got Mad at the Same Things

It was really nice getting mad at corporate bullshit and having a bunch of people experiencing it for the first time agree with me. It united us!

They Dressed Better Than I Did

Despite the prevalence of fuddy-duddy complaints about what young people wear, I found a surprising number of twentysomethings with a lot of style, even though they were all on budgets. After I left my last job, when I had an interview to go to and needed to find just the right combination of professional and creative, I took pictures of myself in various outfits and sent them to one of my former coworkers, then 26 years old. We went back and forth a bunch of times before we settled on just the right outfit, and even though I didn’t end up taking the job, I did get the offer.

They All Have Hobbies, Which Was Inspiring

When I was in my 20s and 30s, I really just went to work and saw my downtime as just that, downtime. But the people at my last few companies were all working on side projects that mattered to them, and it kept them inspired when the job got a little bleak.

I had a long period between my last two jobs, so I took my cue from them and got involved in a lot of projects that interested me. I even took an internship somewhere, which led to part-time work and a lot of opportunities. The twentysomethings reminded me that it was never too late to pursue my passions; it didn’t occur to them that I shouldn’t. They even cheered me on.

They’re Funny

Following them on social media is a reward in itself. They’re some of the wittiest people I know. A few examples, from their posts:

-My head says, “bikini body,” but my heart says “chicken tenders.”

-When I hold the elevator for people and they go up or down one floor, I just want to scream, “I held the doors for you and you BETRAYED ME.”

-When you call your mom 3 times and she doesn’t answer and you convince yourself that she’s mad at you but it turns out she just has a life besides talking to you about your weird teeth dreams…

-Single guy at the bar eating a big sandwich. Should I approach and say “Just wanted to say hey to the best lookin’ thang at the bar” then wink at the sandwich and walk off?

-Had a dream my mom baked brownies but called them “content” and I ate one and said, “I’m consuming content.”

-Getting too drunk at book club since 2014

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