“OK, Boomer.” This sarcastic phrase recently blazed across the popular culture and then vanished just as quickly. It captured the annoyance and disrespect that some younger people feel towards members of the “Baby Boomer” generation – that massive cohort of people born between 1946 and 1964.  We really are a problem – and have been since we were young children.

Think about it. First we “broke” the schools. When I was in elementary school, there were numerous “portables,” trailers that were classrooms, behind the school. The gym was divided into three portions to house three classes, and gym was held in the hallways. Classes often had more than 30 students. The schools were bursting at the seams.

Next we broke the universities. We arrived on campus and created all kinds of mayhem. Besides the political activity — marches and sit-ins and what-have-you — we were eager adopters of that brand-new medicine, “The Pill,” and the sexual freedom it permitted. We “turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.”  And by the way, we didn’t trust anyone over 30. Some colleges changed their academic year to start earlier in the fall, so the students were sent home in the spring before the warm weather arrived.

When we started having babies, we broke the maternity wards. Many of us insisted on natural childbirth, fathers in the delivery room, breastfeeding, and shorter hospital stays. And forget about shaving and enemas as part of childbirth prep.

I have been predicting for a long time that when we got to be senior citizens, we would break old age. I figured that Boomers have always known we are the coolest people around, and when we got to be old that wouldn’t change. Well, here we are. The youngest boomers are 55. And once again, we are insisting on doing things differently. Many boomers are choosing to work past age 65, out of economic necessity or the desire to stay active in the workplace. For the first time in history, Hollywood is making romantic films with older actors as the leads. Retirement homes are changing to accommodate new expectations, and more people are “retiring in place.” As a generation, Boomers have always expected the world to revolve around us, and we’re going to continue to do so.

We used to drive our parents’ generation crazy, and now we’re driving our children’s generation nuts.  But I think there’s a lot of good news here. A client of mine recently introduced me to the book Wisdom @ Work by Chris Conley.  Conley was the founder of a major global boutique hotel brand.  When he sold his company at the age of 52 in 2010, he took a role with Airbnb and helped to build it into the world’s largest hospitality company. His book is about that transition.

Conley’s perspective is very timely. There’s a disconnect between the desire and ability of the Boomers to continue to contribute to the world of business and the increasing emphasis on hiring younger employees who are savvy about the latest technology. What does a grandfather have to offer to a cutting-edge tech firm?

I wrote a post about this topic back in 2015 (Why boomers and millennials should join forces at work). But Conley says it better. He coined the term “mentern,” a mashup of “mentor” and “intern.” Conley proposes that for older people to contribute and thrive in the work force, we have to adopt two simultaneous, somewhat contradictory roles. We can be mentors – people with experience and learning who can be very valuable to our younger colleagues. But equally important, we must be interns – newbies who need to shut up, listen, and learn from the brilliant younger people around us. 

I coach many older clients who are navigating this challenge – how to stay productive, relevant, and employed. Conley’s guidance is extremely important in helping them bring what they have to offer without triggering the “OK, Boomer” response.

If you’d like to know more about how to become a “mentern,” contact us at ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com.  

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