Teaching an old dog new tricks

I was meeting up with some old, long in the tooth friends of mine the other week. One of our member works at a very large “High Street” bank in the data warehousing and presentation teams. They’re employ a lot of young graduates, usually the crop of the available guys and girls coming from top establishments.

These guys burn brightly, are full of ideas and ambition. He loves working with these younger team members, and believes its the future for organisations.

We then naturally went on to talk about how old duffers like ourselves can compete / contribute against such bright, gifted individuals who require a fraction of our salary and packages. The talk about Generation Z, Y, X etc came up, and how Z’s and X’s (the latter being the “millennial’s”) are so much better in modern work places than our generation.

One of us even suggested that at our age (45+, I’m the baby of the group) it’s impossible to learn new behaviours, mind sets and skills.

I personally took insult on that one. I’m potentially competing against younger candidates for jobs – am I really now obsolete? Can I really not learn?

I think the difference boils down to how we handle the feeling of change. That knot of anxiety in your gut when you’re doing something new, talking to someone new – basically pushing outside your comfort zone.

I was once told to welcome that sensation – “Congratulations, you’re changing!”. It’s a great attitude, and leads to a personal internal culture where change and personal growth are embraced.

Young people – who lack experience – are constantly out of their comfort zone, more or less. Many times in a given month they’ll experience that feeling. Many still run from it, but many also get used to it or even (the best of us) embrace it. They are exposed to the sensation so much because there comfort zone (made by experience) is so small.

Old duffers like myself have either a wide comfort zone through experience, or a limited but extremely well trodden zone, probably fenced with barbed wire and with earth packed down as hard as concrete. The latter are specialized individuals (“I only do SQL”), the former are “jack of all trades”. Of course many people will be somewhere in between. We don’t tend to leave our comfort zone nearly so much. The feeling of change if uncomfortable and scary and probably not necessary. So we turn around and return to our comfort zone (resist change).

This is when you get a problem. But you don’t have to be like this. As old buggers we need to recognise and internalise;

  • We must constantly change to grow.
  • We must grow to stay competitive and meet our potential.
  • To embrace that “feeling of change” – the anxiety we feel when leaving our comfort zones.
  • We truly know nothing. Feeling you already know something prevents you learning.

In the last 4 months, as my journey hits multiple new cross roads – I’m getting this sensation weekly. Change is hard, but embrace it. Welcome that sensation – Congratulations, you’re changing!

This old dog can learn new tricks, can you?

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