It makes for a great fish-out-of-water movie premise: fifty-something worker has to report to a much younger boss and is perplexed with the change in power structure (ala Dennis Quaid’s character in In Good Company.) But it’s not so funny when you are that employee, still feeling vibrant and willing to contribute, and you wonder if younger leaders are undervaluing you.
A new book, Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder explores members of the workforce who feel this pain. The book, written by 58-year-old Chip Conley, tackles head-on a social dynamic that threatens our workplace. “In a world that venerates the young, many in midcareer sense that the ground is shifting beneath their feet, leaving them feel invisible, undervalued and threatened by the digital natives nipping at their heels,” he writes.
Can you relate? And you don’t even have to reached your sixth decade for this to resonate. In the hyper-youth-oriented tech industry, even 35-year-olds feel the sting of ageism. “Wisdom at Work” seeks to provide reassurance, along with practical resources, that you are most definitely not too old to contribute. In fact, your age is an asset, if you know how to present it as such.
As a member of the target audience for this book, I was heartened by its message that one’s life experience has value. Conley seeks to liberate the term “elder” from “elderly”, pointing out that the latter is simply how many years you’ve been on this earth, but the former is what you have done with those years. Conley uses the term “Modern Elder” to describe a person who has married their wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner’s mind and a willingness to evolve.
Conley has lived the last several years as a Modern Elder in the making. In 2013, at the age of 52, he sold his boutique hotel company and joined Airbnb as head of global hospitality and strategy. His boss (Airbnb’s CEO) was decades younger than him, as were many of the senior management team members. Conley’s experiences as one of the “older guys on the block” led him to explore what it means to age with vitality at work.
Wisdom at Work is Conley’s compilation of ideas, backed up with demographic data, on how people entering the mid-terms of their work journey can still have meaningful careers. He outlines the characteristics of a Modern Elder (spoiler alert: if you have become complacent, you won’t like a few of his suggestions) and he provides ample anecdotes, examples and reference materials to help you grow in your efforts to see your age as a strength that your employer will value.
I devoured this book. It seems like just yesterday that I was the youngest member of our company’s management team, fresh-faced, energetic and yes, a bit smug about how some of my older colleagues were a bit out of touch. I’m grateful that one of my contemporaries has taken the time to lay out a path for those of us who want to stay relevant. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Wisdom at Work.
Chip Conley has created an excellent resource list on this topic. Download the PDF here.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for the purposes of the review. This post also contains an affiliate link, which means if you click the link and make a purchase, I may receive a small compensation.