Once upon a time, many years ago, in a far away land, I was the youngest employee at my job. I was working at an ad agency, it was my first job out of college, and I was making $12,000 per year. When I started there, we did all of our work on typewriters — until the first computers arrived on our desks.
I was perky and enthusiastic. I was excited to be there. The world was full of opportunity. No one treated me condescendingly for being young and inexperienced. If anything, they seemed to enjoy training me and taking me under their wings, so to speak. Many of the employees were young and trendy. It was the perfect first job and I learned a lot.
Flash forward. One day this week I was taking part in a full-day planning session with members of my department and folks from the agency we work with. As I looked around the table, I realized that I was approximately 15 years older than at least half a dozen of the other people in attendance. Only two people there had been associated with the company longer than I have. And I realized that somehow, in a virtual blink of an eye, I’ve become one of the “senior” employees in the department. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not antique, and I’m a long way from retirement. (As a matter of fact, with this economy I better be a very healthy old lady because I’ll be working until I’m 80). But somehow now I’m older. I’m one of the ones with history.
The 20- and 30-somethings in the room were all beautiful, no lines in their skin, looking great in their trendy outfits. They had no concerns about donning anti-aging cream and concealer in the morning, or choosing a jacket or blouse to hide a muffin-top. And in some ways, they are far more advanced than I was at that age — certainly from a technologically savvy aspect, but also in a confident, self-assured manner that so many Gen Y’s exude. But beyond that, things have not changed that much, and I thought “I remember being you.” I remember having that energy, that drive to take on the world, with no restraints — feeling empowered and slightly brilliant and invincible. As the old saying goes “the world was my oyster.”
To my surprise, beyond a brief twinge of jealousy over their energy and youthful appearances, I realized I don’t miss that phase of my life. Yes, it was great when I was a young up-and-coming professional. And certainly, I still have the desire to be great at my job, to take care of my customers and my co-workers and to exceed expectations. But I no longer have that feeling that I need to prove myself daily. I no longer want to take on the world.
I have experienced several different types of jobs and positions, and I know my journey will continue to take me down other varieties of roads. Yet the stress, strain and drama of growth have been replaced with experience, maturity, and not necessarily a serenity, but certainly a feeling of calm. Over the years I truly have learned how to not sweat the small stuff, and that very little in our daily lives is truly a life-or-death situation. I have a better sense of how to take a deep breath and find solutions instead of panicking. It took a long time for me to find a work-life balance that I was comfortable with, and to realize it was ok to not work until 10:00pm, to instead put my feet up in front of my favorite tv show to decompress. It took time and focus, but I got there, and I like it.
I am well aware that there are plenty of other Real Women my age who are still out there running at that high-level pace, either climbing a corporate ladder or striving to achieve a major professional goal. I commend them for their drive and energy. I still have plenty of drive and energy, but it is refocused. What drives me now are far more personal, and to me more meaningful, things. What I strive for now is to find a way to make a difference in someone’s life or the world around me. To find joy in the little things. To spend valuable time with family and friends. One of the phrases that continually resonates in my head is “no one on their death bed has ever said ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’ ”
So to that younger generation, especially the ones I work with and interact with on a daily basis, I say “rock on”. Enjoy every moment you are experiencing, and be sure to absorb as much as you possibly can. You really will be our leaders some day – yes, you too will some day be the “senior” one at work. May you reach a point in your life down the road when you can not only happily look back with pride and contentment at where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished, but may you also look forward to the next phase of your life with a different type of excitement and focus.
I’ve always hated that phrase “age before beauty” — because it implies you must have one or the other. That just isn’t true. We can have both.
And it is awesome.