Of Generations and Experience
I once read a book about different generations. Not a psychological book about how today’s younger generation thinks differently than other generations (which I think is certainly the case), but a book that talked about how people listen differently depending on the speaker's age. A book that talked about the advantages of being young, and how we should make use of that in our approach to evangelism.
There is a lot to be said about the differences in behaviour, understanding and communication between the generations. People write about how the younger generation, commonly known as Generation Y, needs to be communicated to differently, how we need to invest in young leaders and how we need to stay relevant to future generations.
I see that.
Many of my generation want to invest themselves in a good cause and be heard. We share our opinions openly and communicate when we are upset. We don’t like decisions being made over our heads or not being involved in them. With the internet we almost have too much communication instead of not enough. Although many of us often quietly (or not-so-quietly), and happily (or not-so-happily), submit to our leaders, we have this voice in the back of our minds telling us we would've liked to been involved or known earlier.
If that book I read was right, I didn’t see much of an advantage in my own personal ministry setting.
When I first started working with OM Switzerland, I was about half the average age of the other people working in the office. My boss was almost three times as old as me. I struggled to find my place and didn’t agree with some of the rules and regulations. In my impatience and conviction that things happen fast in todays world, I would have liked to seen things change just as quickly in the office.
I was often told how happy they were to have young people involved and valued their input, but I didn’t feel like I was given the opportunity to bring in my ideas and thoughts. I repeatedly heard about older employees’ experiences and things they have done years ago. But at my young age, 10 years seemed like a lifetime ago. After all, so much changed during that time.
In my frustration I sometimes felt like I was ignored simply because of my youth, but in a conversation with a co-worker about a project I realized that this was not actually the case. On the contrary, they did value my input. I just needed to learn how to speak up when I was not directly asked, how to communicate in a way that mattered, and to accept when my suggestion was not immediately acted upon.
Over time, with experience and through a few people’s distinct efforts, I realized that no one was against me (surprise!). In fact, time allowed trust to be built and the more we got to know each other and learn how we rolled, the more I felt appreciated and heard.
Slowly, I learnt why sometimes things take longer than what my personal speed would suggest, and why waiting can actually be the wisest decision.
Gradually, I learnt that experience and having lived through history is a great accessory to wear in life. It gives a lot of value to your opinions in discussions. It gives you a reputation. It gives you trust. It gives you maturity. And all of that gives you a voice that you did not have before.
With every passing year I drift further away from the beautiful combination of two and zero and closer to 30. I still believe ten years is a long time in today’s fast-paced world, and when comparing myself with today’s teenagers and how they live differently than me, I think we need to start talking about Generation Z and how to communicate with them.
The more often my teenage cousin laughs in my face when I call myself young, the more grateful I am for a new value in my voice. A value those older than me have long learnt to appreciate, when I have failed to recognize its worth.
The value of experience.