Social Enterprise

In Search of Wisdom

In my last blog posting I received several comments both

publicly and privately suggesting that my advice was only (or mostly)

applicable to the young. For those of

you who did not read it, my advice in a nutshell was this: Only YOU are capable

of controlling your destiny, and although outside forces play a large role in

what you must deal with, ultimately it is your responsibility regarding how you

react to those forces. The part that

caused the most consternation among the aging or aged were my comments on

relocation as an option for getting out of a situation in which you hate your

job. To these individuals I say, “Fear

not, for it is your wisdom that is most valuable”.

I am not sure how Webster defines wisdom, but my definition

is this: “The ability to apply specific knowledge at the appropriate time, and

the ability to reach an answer faster due to experience”. Now, you don’t have to be “old” per se to

have wisdom, but it generally goes hand in hand with the aging process. It is the edge one has by having lived and

learned and seen and done over and over again.

Don’t believe me? Put yourself

in this situation: You are a green recruit straight out of boot camp. You have excelled at all aspects and you are

the “model” soldier. Suddenly you find

yourself knee deep in swamp water in the middle of the night, or creeping

through burnt out buildings in heat so hot that you can’t keep the sweat out of

your eyes. In both situations, the

enemy is lying in wait for you. Who do

you want leading your group of ten, a grizzled sergeant who has just completed

his 4th consecutive tour of combat duty or the green lieutenant

fresh out of officer candidate school?

In this instance, let us assume both have been trained superbly, so they

both have all the knowledge possible for the given situation. Personally, I want the sergeant in front of

me.

Now, while the everyday work place is usually not a life and

death situation, the same concepts apply.

Given the same level of knowledge, who do you want managing your

personnel or heading up your project teams?

Someone who has successfully done it before. In the example above, the sergeant is still alive after 4 tours

of duty. He is either incredibly lucky

or he has learned what it takes to stay alive through experience. He: (a) knows what to look for, (b) how to

react, (c) how not to be fooled, (d) knows what knowledge he was taught is

applicable for particular situations and when to apply it and what needs to be

ignored and (e) can function under extreme pressure. The lieutenant on the other hand, while having been “taught” what

to do and has been told all of what the sergeant may “know” still is at a

disadvantage. This is not to say that

he cannot excel in this situation (for many have and are) but that the

likelihood of success is higher with the sergeant.

“The baby boom generation is a demographic term for the

population born between 1946 and 1964. Data from the 2000 U.S. Census estimates

that the group that holds the “boomer” moniker is made up of at least

82,826,479 individuals. The members of this group range from 41 to 59 years

old, which means this demographic behemoth will start leaving the workforce in

approximately five to ten years (people are working longer these days).” In previous articles I have mentioned that

workplaces need to begin to prepare for this “knowledge drain” as the media has

called it. But the more I think about

it, the crisis to come is the result of the WISDOM drain caused by this

generation leaving the workforce.

This wisdom drain is entirely more difficult to replace than

pure knowledge and I believe companies will be clamoring for experienced

personnel to take their place. So

rather than age discrimination, I anticipate the reverse – preferential

treatment for those with extensive experience – particularly in management

positions. So tying back to my earlier

comments to my aging compatriots (and after all, who reading this blog is not

aging?) don’t worry so much about your age as much as your expertise. HOWEVER, if you have let your skills wither

and you are in a programming position and want to compete with young

programmers with better skills – then all bets are off Skippy. The young guy is going to get the job. But if have kept up to date, are current in

the knowledge needed to compete in a particular field, you are at an advantage,

not at a disadvantage.

So in conclusion, and going back to my original

premise at the start of this posting as well as last week’s – your destiny is

in your hands. If you are in a

situation where you hate your job and you have put yourself in a

non-competitive situation by letting your skills deteriorate, fix it! Sharpen those skills that have dulled. On the other hand, if you are still razor

sharp and your only issue is that your hair is gray or mostly gone (as in my

case) don’t let AGE be a major deciding factor in your decision-making. If a company in a state a thousand miles

away is looking for a quality individual and you have the credentials – don’t

let age stop you from applying. And

while I won’t ignore the fact that some age discrimination does exist, your

experience will serve you well – and even more so in the next 10 years.

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