I noticed about 10 years ago, most of the people in the office were younger than me. Then, year after year I began to notice many of the people in the office, and people I was dealing with outside the office were about the same age as my boys. It suddenly dawned on me…I had become the “old guy” in the office.
I should have noticed the signs…my hair got grayer every year, my boys became taller than me, I couldn’t name one song in the top 40 (in fact I am de-evolving. I usually only listen to the Sinatra channel on Sirius radio), I found myself bored with most non-documentary movies (how many times can you see the same plot in a different movie), I began to hate riding in anything other than an SUV, etc.
It happened so fast. “Time” decidedly is not on my side. I should have noticed the change. I should have been more mindful of my work “journey” and enjoyed the early part of my career. As they say in sports, “I needed to let the game come to me”. I didn’t...there are reasons...there are pluses...there are minuses.
If you’re interested read on. If you’re not because I sound like that guy telling you to, “get off my lawn”...you may be right. You decide.
I was 22 when I graduated from college. I started working at a CPA firm the Monday after I graduated. I was green, motivated, impatient, ambitious and hell bent on being successful. I was the perfect raw material for a CPA firm in 1981.
CPA firms sell time. Young, ambitious CPAs who want to succeed in the firm need to work lots of hours, and those hours need to be billed in 6-minute increments to clients. Those hours generate the revenue for the firm that provides the funds to service partner’s payments! It’s just like the mob, you need to be a good “earner”, or in the case of CPA firms (or law firms for that matter) you need to work a lot of hours.
Although it seemed reasonable to me at the time, in retrospect, equating success with working lots of hours set a very bad precedent. Or, I should say it did for me. You begin to confuse activity with achievement. But hey, it was 1981. President Reagan would be elected and the “Yuppie” era was about to begin. America was on the way back from the crappy decade of the 70’s…Watergate, losing in Vietnam (I thought we never lost wars when I was a kid), the first oil crisis (anyone remember gas lines in 1973?), stagflation, 18% prime rates, 14% APR 30-year mortgages, 8% unemployment and worst of all only 13 channels on your non-HDTV. I didn’t want to be a 70’s loser. I wanted to be a 80’s winner, and I was willing to do whatever it would take to get there.
No one in the 80’s was talking about work-life balance. For Christ’s sake, the most popular TV show was “Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous”. That’s right, “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams”. The show's goal seemed to be to make everyone feel inferior if they didn’t have a 40-room mansion and a yacht. Against that backdrop, it seemed logical to approach work the way I did.
I remember seeing older guys getting on the bus to go home from the San Francisco financial district…thousand yard stares, rumpled suits, briefcases. I thought they looked ancient. They were probably 50. I remember listening to this new band on my Sony Walkman on the bus. One of those ancient guys asked me what I was listening to. I told him, it was the Police. He laughed and asked me if I liked the Firemen and the Garbagemen to. I didn’t think he was funny, nor would have Gordon Sumner, aka Sting.
Eventually I left the CPA firm and went to work at Esprit de Corp. I wasn’t 30 yet and I was the comptroller of a multi-national apparel company. I mention this because almost everyone who worked for me was either my age or older. It never dawned on me that would change…the beauty of youth.
The 90’s were a blur of raising kids, buying houses, moving up the corporate ladder at various companies and my 40th birthday. At 40 I was the CFO of a billion dollar publicly traded retailer. However, I started to notice that more of the people working for me were younger than me. There were still a good amount of people who were older, but the occasional conversation would happen that struck me as odd. I remember talking about going to “Day On The Green” concerts at the Oakland Coliseum in the 70’s with some people at work. They had no idea what I was talking about. I asked them when they graduated from high school. Most of them graduated in the late 80’s. I had three kids by then. Still, it didn’t really register with me.
The downside of being close in age or younger than the people who work for you is the constant need to prove yourself. By definition, you don’t have the “age” credibility that an older guy does. I would still argue today that age doesn’t equal competence. But age does give you life experience and hopefully a better understanding about people.
Since 2000 I have been in the wine business. Every year has been an adventure of one kind or another. There have mostly been tremendous highs, but certainly some lows. The past 15 years have seen me cross the 50 year barrier (quickly headed to 60), 33 years of marriage, two of my boys married and starting two companies. I don’t have to worry about being too young for my job anymore. More often than not, the people I deal with are about as old as my boys. Warranted or not, I get the “age” credibility factor.
I only have one more goal left in my business life, and that is to make Wine Hooligans successful. One of the great things about being the old guy in the office now, is that I want this success for the people in the company, as much if not more, than for me. The one thing you can’t buy in this world is time. God knows the baby boomer generation has fought it like no other generation. But the cold hard reality is that time catches up with everyone. Use it wisely. Someday you will be the “old guy” in the office.