You and your colleagues are gathered in a conference room for your quarterly team meeting.
To your right is Nick, a twentysomething bachelor who keeps you up on the latest trends and technology and keeps the team laughing with stories of his upbringing.
To your left is Shelby, a single mother in her early thirties whom you often share stories of parenting over long coffee breaks.
Sitting across from you is Carmen, a globe-trotter in her late twenties who recently graduated college with an MBA. Carmen has bright ideas but is still learning the ways of corporate America.
And finally, standing at the front of the room is Graham, your manager, a happily married man with two children and two dogs. Graham, who is 10 years your junior, recently moved from London for this job opportunity.
As you look around the room at the faces of your dear colleagues, you suddenly realize you’re the oldest person in the room.
This somewhat startling realization is not all that uncommon in this day and age. In fact, it’s part of the natural cycle; younger generations are infiltrating corporate America just like we all did at one time. It’s always eventually out with the old and in with the new, but it feels different when it’s your turn to slip on that other shoe. Yikes.
By now a million little questions and concerns are running through your head. I’m old! What do they all think of me? Am I behind in my career or are they advancing so quickly at which point I would be behind. Should I care? How do I stay relevant?
Those are all fair questions, but what really matters is how you handle this observation.
First things first, give yourself credit for your keen observation. Self-realization is key to staying on top of your game. Accurately seeing where you stand gives you the advantage of also seeing how to keep yourself in the mix. That age gap doesn’t look so bad when you see it for what it is, years of experience and wisdom.
Now, you can choose one of three paths:
Bitter Brittany: Brittany has just realized she’s the oldest person in her office. She does not handle it well. She starts obsessing over the age disparity and lets her insecurities spiral out of control.
She begins to feel ostracized and sees every interaction as a direct correlation to her age.
She simply can’t unsee her age difference, and it impacts her mood, behavior and actions and ultimately leads to self-sabotage as she becomes condescending and dismissive.
The Bitter Brittany path can result in poor performance reviews, negative feedback, complaints and/or termination. No one wants to work with a Bitter Brittany. Don’t be a Bitter Brittany.
Unphased Unice: Unphased Unice observes she’s the oldest person in the office, thinks, “huh” and moves on staying par for the course.
Unphased Unice is not a risk taker, nor is she seeking change. She likes to fly under the radar and keep things status quo.
While this path is seemingly fine, as a 40+ go-getter who is intentionally planning to live her best life, being an Unphased Unice is not who you should strive to be as she goes nowhere slowly.
To live our best life, we must embrace change. It is essential we seek opportunities to enrich our lives and the lives of others.
Ever-Evolving Evelyn: Evelyn is an ever-evolving go-getter. She sees her age difference as an opportunity to claim a coveted role—the matriarch.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of working with a matriarch, you’re lucky. Highly influential and known for their experience, a matriarch is a pillar of wisdom that shines through like a ray of light. They inspire everyone around them.
The value a matriarch adds to an office—and life in general—is paramount. She asks for your thoughts and values your opinion. She is a great listener and trusted confidant who gives sound advice. She somehow knows exactly what to say and do to bring people together to work efficiently and effectively.
Though a matriarch is viewed by many as strong, her humility and kindness leave a lasting impression.
Most importantly, she understands the power of knowledge and never ceases to learn.
Friends, we should all aspire to be Ever-Evolving Eveyln, the matriarch.
How do you become an Ever-Evolving Evelyn? Don’t confuse being a matriarch with mothering. You are not their mamma. But to Nick, Carmen, Shelby and Graham, you can be the rock and glue that makes the team work.
Start by looking at each person, no matter what age they are, as a source of information. Everyone has value and can teach you something whether it be a skill, characteristic or attribute. Remember, learning never ends.
If Graham is a great manager, which of his characteristics make him an effective leader?
If Carmen has superb organizational skills, what tools and systems does she use?
Is Shelby the go-to person for problem solving? If so, how does she tackle solving problems, and how does she communicate her recommendations?
Do you wonder how Nick stays on top of digital trends that he applies at work? Ask him.
I’m not saying you should emulate every person and try to be their twin. Rather, think about the qualities each person brings to the table and think about how you can implement these skills to better not only yourself but the workplace in general.
As a matriarch in training, observe, observe, and then observe some more. Give credit where credit is due, and you’ll find your way to becoming a beacon of light, a pillar of strength and exactly what the team needs to find balance.
Being the eldest member on a team isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be, if you let it. But you can also use it to your advantage. It’s all about what you make of it.
You may not be able to change the situation, but you can change your perception. It’s up to you to make it positive.
Step up to the challenge. Evolving into a better you and living your best life is what being over 40 is all about. Embrace it.