It’s true: Age is just a number

A lot of my co-workers are my own kids' ages, even younger sometimes. My feelings about that: So what?

Picture this: You’re a baby boomer fart toiling to max your retirement annuity, and a “millennial” arrives at the office. Try this. Put down your stained coffee mug, introduce yourself and try to get to know the kid and what makes him or her tick.

Or, maybe you’re a millennial snot who knows everything including what a high-volume-undercut-with-a-taper actually is, and you see an obviously seasoned manager with a jaded look. Ask him or her how they got where they are and what they’ve liked most about federal service.

How about we all stop evaluating people just by their age. Judging people by pretty much everything else has been hammered out of us, so why does prejudging by age persist?

At a job I started on in 1980, I worked nearby a former beatnik. I mean that literally. This man, at least 20 years my senior, had known Alan Ginsberg personally. He had written poetry but was now writing features on industrial value analysis for a trade magazine. He still preferred a certain vein of jazz and drew deeply on Marlboros (you couldn’t find Gauloises locally).

He thought I was the most serious, straight-arrow young jerk he’d ever met (which I probably was). I thought he was just an aging, frustrated revolutionary. We got along great. We’d regularly have lunch accompanied by Guinness Stout, which people did in those days.

My age relation to most of my co-workers flipped to the opposite years ago. A lot of them are my own kids’ ages, even younger sometimes. My feelings about that: So what? Some people are already old and rigid in their 20s. Some people have youthful zest and good new ideas into their 80s.

That’s why, in reading our own Nicole Ogrysko’s coverage of so-called millennials in government, I can’t help but think how useless all this focus on age has become — always has been.

There is some truth in the idea of digital natives. Every conference seems to feature a self-styled guru who makes the same stale joke about how he has to ask his kids for help using a tablet. They conclude that the current crop of people in their 20s and early 30s are biologically different, after 100 million years of evolution, because they have an iPhone. And therefore, to attract them, the government has to blah blah blah.

The way you attract people is by offering them meaningful work in an environment with a minimum of bureaucracy, a shot at moving up, with competitive pay and a decent physical and technological environment. And working with people who are good to work with.

Yesterday, the Defense Department reached a watershed in the way it regards individuals. By having first gay and now transgender individuals serve openly in the armed services in uniform, DoD is saying, or should be, that only individual merit counts, not some other quality unrelated to ability to perform the required tasks. Boomers and millennials ought to give one another a break.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More commentary