“To Be Old and Wise You First Have to Be Young and Stupid”

When I was younger, I remember wondering why older people were so cranky.  Why did they seem to have such short tempers?  Why were they so quick to fly off the handle when someone said something that they felt was inaccurate or inappropriate? Why did they get so angry when they were asked (or expected) to do things that weren’t necessarily their responsibility?  Wouldn’t it be easier (and nicer) to just do what was requested and not make waves? It was as though they had all the angst of teenagers, but unlike teenagers who often sit and stew in their misery, these adults weren’t afraid to make all of their complaints known. I couldn’t understand what they were so miffed about.

Now I get it.

There are many reasons why older, or as I prefer to be called, “mature” people speak their minds so freely without fear of judgement or hurting people’s feelings.  It took me forty-five years, but I now understand these people and support their resentment wholeheartedly.  Why?

Because I became the older person.

Years of being beaten down by the system, striving for goals and then being disappointed by the outcomes, and being overworked and underappreciated will mold a person into the crotchety man or woman that young people look down upon. Yes, twentysomethings!  Your parents and grandparents didn’t always have these attitudes!  We used to be optimistic like you!  We used to let the little things go in the hopes that our hard work and generosity would be acknowledged and would pay off in the end!  Oh how things change!  Here are the reasons why.

  1. Unappreciation

No matter what our occupation or marital status, by the time we reach our forties many of us have experienced being unappreciated for our efforts.  We have taken on extra work to help our co-workers or spouses.  We have single-handedly finished projects at home or at work which would normally require a whole team to complete. We have come to the aid of family or friends in need, often at our own personal expense.  Inevitably, in one or more of these instances we have not been appreciated for our efforts. When we took on the extra work, we didn’t do so because we expected praise or rewards.  However, somewhere along the way our extra efforts became expected.  It was that moment when our attitudes started to change.  Showing a little thanks and gratitude goes a long way. Being acknowledged for our labors is motivating.  These small acts of kindness make people more willing to go the extra mile in the future.  Likewise, when others begin to assume we will take on additional responsibilities and then aren’t grateful for our help, we learn that it’s not worth the effort.  When we see colleagues complete the bare minimum yet advance in status because they know how to schmooze the boss, we realize that hard work doesn’t pay like we’ve been told it would.  When we hear about moms “going on strike” because their families simply expect them to work full time and then come home and care for them full time, we understand. Being unappreciated in any position breeds bitterness. Bitterness leads to a lack of willingness to do extra.  The consequences are unavoidable.

  1. Being Taken Advantage Of

Unappreciation and being taken advantage of go hand-in-hand.  Many people are willing to help another person in need.  Unfortunately, once a person is taken advantage of, he or she will become less likely to want to lend a hand in the future.  The definition of “taking advantage” of someone is when a person can do a task on his/her own, but instead expects someone else to complete the task for him/her.  An example of this is when a teenager knows she is supposed to wash the dishes, but instead leaves them in the sink for mom to do when she gets home from work.  Or when a neighbor sends her kids next door to play for the day, because she knows the mom will feed all the children lunch and keep an eye on them while the neighbor watches her afternoon soap operas. Or when the boss assigns the employee a project and then takes all the credit for it at the monthly staff meeting.  The list could go on and on.  When we are younger, we are more likely to shoulder a certain amount of these acts in an effort to keep the peace at work, at home, or with neighbors and friends.  As we get older, however, the realization hits that the peace isn’t worth the added frustration.  So we speak up and say no when we’re asked to do something that we don’t have the interest/time/energy to do.  We are blunt and say, “You can do that yourself.”  Others may view this as selfishness.  We realize it is simply self-preservation.

  1. Knowing the System

When we hit middle-age, we have lived half of our life expectancy.  We have held many jobs, gone on many adventures, had many successes and made many mistakes.  We know how the world works.  We have been in the same career for a decade or more. This means we know how to get things done, because we’ve learned through trial and error.  We can be excellent mentors for young people who are just entering our fields of employment, because the younger generations do not have these experiences to draw from when it comes to making decisions and accomplishing tasks.  However, many times young people with little to no experience are hired for leadership positions because they are vibrant and viewed as “go getters” who will motivate and energize the workforce.  This is wonderful in theory, and can lead to success if those in leadership roles are willing to listen to veterans who have understanding of the business and the skills needed to meet the goals.  Unfortunately, many young people come out of school thinking they know everything (see my Teenager for Sale: Make an Offer post).  They look down upon the older generation, often assuming they don’t want to try new things to get the job done.  Here’s the truth:  they aren’t “new things.”  They are the same old ideas being repackaged with new names. They’ve already been done! And they didn’t work!  Veterans have been down these roads before.  We were once the young people trying to find our way through demanding careers with tasks that seemed insurmountable, and we came out the other side.  Time has shown us the quickest, most successful ways to complete jobs.  So when the newbies look at us and think we’re being bullheaded about not doing things their way, it’s not because we are trying to be stubborn. It’s because experience has taught us the right way to do it!

So the next time you hear an older person speaking his mind about a request or expectation, look at the situation from his perspective.  As Atticus Finch so famously said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Experience is a wonderful teacher, and older people have had many more lessons.  These lessons have taught them to stand up for themselves and to speak their minds, but they are also willing to share their knowledge with those willing to accept it. Don’t write off the “older generation” as a crotchety bunch of fogies!  Listen to what they have to say—you just might learn something new!


Atticus Finch talking to Scout about “walking in someone else’s skin.”

2 thoughts on ““To Be Old and Wise You First Have to Be Young and Stupid”

  1. Amber Golding-White says:

    Amen, Sister. Thanks for writing . . . I so enjoy your blog. It inspires me to want to do more or least depending on the asker. Keep up the writing!!


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