Forty

STEEL_RESERVE_40_A-500x500I’m 40 years old, and in less than a month my 40th year will be in the rear view mirror. I remember one day, when I was 25, when I had the realization that forty was only fifteen years away. I remember exactly where I was too. I remember cringing a little because being ten years old still felt recent and forty felt impossibly old. In an instant I realized that youth had a shelf life, and that sooner than I would like it would expire.

Thirty was a great year. My twenties were full of Sehnsucht, a portmanteau of undefined longing and lingering illness that only the mind of a German could condense into a single, two syllable word. I was relieved, despite the negative buzz about flipping that significant digit, to ditch the twentysomething angst for the decade of hustle that any responsible thirtysomething must endure. In my thirties my career finally hit its stride. I spent the decade in a more or less stable relationship. I learned to drink wine and spent romantic weekends in Mendocino, getting massages and sampling artisanal whatnots. I worked hard and took up running. I skipped some of the responsibilities that my peers took on; kids, mortgage. But I played harder than I did in my twenties. I had fun. And then life happened.

Forty is a canonical number. When Noah took his cruise, it rained for forty days and forty nights. Moses roamed the desert with his people for forty years. Jesus fasted in the desert and was tempted by Satan for forty days. Forty is big. It is more than the literal bundling of forty individual things. It’s something that’s not exactly quantifiable. How big was that thing? I don’t know, like forty.

Forty was a transformative year for me. The relationship that had been the bedrock of my life eroded from the Heraclitian constant – change, and I found myself thrust into the dating world as a forty year old man; the optics of which are not good. There are 38 year old women who will not date a forty year old man. I am too old and settling for me means admitting that one has past one’s “best by date” on the early side. I would write this off as a purely psychological phenomena,  but for the fact that I am not 39. I am forty.

I drink less now. Bars are noisy and crowded, and I am happier when I go several weeks without so much as a beer. My bottles of scotch and tequila sit on the shelf gathering dust. They are nice to look at. I like their aesthetics, but they make me happier as art objects than having their contents poured into shot glasses. I don’t work a program. I didn’t make some great effort to stop drinking. One day I just lost interest. Most of the time a good night’s rest is more appealing than a cocktail.

Work is interesting. My professional life has become less of a mystery. I understand everyone’s role better; their concerns, why they show up in the morning, and where they are headed at the end of the day. There aren’t as many puzzles to be solved. I watch the more junior people make the same mistakes I made and hack the same lessons that I hacked. Sometimes I have to watch them and let them do their thing. I try and give them encouragement, but some things are just best learned through experience. It’s a weird feeling observing their struggles, one that I might have felt earlier had I not opted out of parenthood.

I feel more too. In my thirties everything had to be rational. It had to fit in place. It had to be just so. Now I look at my thoughts and have a much better sense of what is a reality-based idea backed by logic and what is a feeling. I have stopped calling my feelings “wrong ideas” and tossing them in the bad pile. Now I divide them between rational and irrational, and try to keep them sorted that way. I choose my words more carefully too. I don’t just “think” everything anymore. I think rational things, I feel non-rational things. I try and modulate my decisions accordingly. I try and bring more mindfulness to how my decisions make me feel. I don’t always get it right but sometimes I do. And sometimes the result is boring. I may be happier, but happy and well balanced feels tedious a lot of the time.

I don’t want forty. I want to kick it down the street a few decades. I like the hustle. I want to make big deals, found a successful company, and swim in an Olympic sized swimming pool of my own money. And I miss that undefined longing that felt like a low grade infection. I don’t want to give up on the idea that there is something bigger and better out there for me than I can possibly imagine. But I’m forty. Forty is big. Forty is heavy. It is a wall; a boulder so big that Moses or Jesus or the Big Sky Man Himself can’t move it. Forty is the reality that I am just another human being passing through this insignificant speck in a vast but impermanent universe on my way, soon, to shuffle off this mortal coil.

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Are Millennials Being Helicopter Parented at Work?

If you listen to the buzz about the Millennial Generation, you will generally here the same story of how never before has such a brilliant and talented generation been given so little opportunity and such tough circumstances. Not that I believe it’s the Millennials themselves saying these things. Yes, Generation Y, the children born to the Reagan Era, got the shaft when they entered the workforce during the recession and general economic downturn, and that coupled with huge student loan debt really did give them a raw deal that wasn’t anything they had control over. It was just bad luck.

But the rest of the narrative, about these hyper-talented young adults that would be taking over the world but for annoying, lazy, and incompetent old people, doesn’t seem to be coming from the typical Millennial themselves, but rather from a few media and Internet famous pundits with rather loud voices, many of whom seem to have been born some time between 1950 and 1965; namely the Millennial’s Baby Boomer parents.

Here, I cite a specific example. An article on LinkeIn entitled, Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management. Written in typical clickbait fashion, this bit of embellished fluff portends to enlighten us as to why the average, everyday, overachieving, and hyper-talented Millennial isn’t living up to their full potential at work. (Spoiler alert: It’s your fault.) The funny thing is, the author, a “sales leadership consultant” by the name of Lisa Earl McLeod, isn’t even a Millennial. She appears to have been born some time in the mid 1960s. In fact the whole piece appears to be cribbed from a conversation with her cum laude daughter and then pureed with a healthy dose of Baby Boomer, “The man is keeping us down,” rhetoric. The fact that the alleged informant’s LinkedIn profile is in no way associated with the article makes me believe that she is embarrassed by her mother’s drivel. I certainly would be.

The article itself seems to boil down to four, very false, unprofessional, and pretty dangerous statements about work:

  1. The people who sit next to me and do not perform according to my standards are preventing me from doing my best work, which is unimaginably awesome.
  2. Things like profit and revenue are boring. My job needs to define me and your key performance indicators do not fulfill my need for self-actualization
  3. Thanks for for the free lunch and the comfortable office, boss, but I hate how boring you are
  4. My boss’ job is to make me feel like I’m changing the world, which I was raised to believe is my destiny. In absence of validation of that belief, it’s perfectly reasonable for me to drink to excess in the evenings and throw a slow-burn tantrum that ends in an early departure from my current position

Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but the gut-fee I get from this article, and what I get from most of the buzz about Millennials, is narcissism and blaming other people for ones shortcomings. If so and so behaved better or did this or that or made me feel good, then I would do what I’m supposed to do, not what I’m actually doing. But are narcissism and deflecting blame unique to Millennials? I don’t think so.

What I’m actually hearing from the Millennials I know is different. Many of them reject this way of thinking altogether. And many of them are the victims of helicopter parenting, where they were constantly monitored and reassured that when things didn’t go their way, that it was a temporary setback and that they were still awesome, and ultimately, if they stuck to the program, they would still be more awesomer! I think many of them, as adults, are unhappy about their upbringing, and struggle with reconciling that message with the stark reality of adulthood, just like every other generation before them. Anyone fortunate enough to have had parents has eventually had to deprogram themselves.

But the pundit class will keep beating the drum. And right now the pundits the narrative are closer in age to the elder McLeod than the younger McLeod. They are concerned parents who can’t quite grok why their kids aren’t happy and why their parenting philosophy didn’t produce the outcome that they expected. The Millennial generation isn’t any better or worse than any other generation, and that drives their parents crazy. So now the late era Baby Boomers are extending the range of their helicopter parenting to the media. They take to the screens, on television and online, and complain about how their kids’ careers are being sabotaged by lazy coworkers and lackluster bosses, because the reality that their kid didn’t grow up to become a superstar, despite the unreasonable level of effort they put into engineering the perfect child, is more than they are yet able to accept.