L3: Celebrate Individuality

I once worked as an office manager where I was berated for the way I answered the phone.  I was told that I sounded like a little girl and that this was unprofessional and unacceptable.  Surely adding more words would convince callers that I really was in my 20s, and not 16 years old.  I resisted answering the phone with a four sentence greeting as instructed until the ‘boss’ literally screamed at me at the top of his lungs while standing over me as I slouched down into my now uncomfortable office chair.

There were several things wrong in this scenario.  First and foremost, I did not like being told how to do perform the perfunctory duties of my job; I felt that I should have professional discretion in this area.  I also felt that I was being treated with disrespect because of my gender.  How many young men are told that they sound like little boys when they answer the phone?  Finally, being screamed at is not only rude and unprofessional; it is also totally unnecessary and not truly effective.

When I went to that job, I was expected to be boring Miss Office Manager, not fabulous Jessica.  I disappeared when I walked through that door – my personality, my goals, my work style, and eventually my self-respect. Had I been allowed to be myself at work, my productivity would have increased, my attitude would have improved, and everyone would have been much happier. Work could have been fun!  What a waste of time and energy.

To heck with that. From now on it’s just authentic Jessica all the time.

My Big Ego

So often, we are told that the ego is bad, that it causes us to act exclusively in self-interest, and that it represents our shadow. Over the summer, I was reading a Ken Wilbur book when I came upon his idea that the ego is good. It is an engine that drives progress.

I tend to agree with both points. I believe that the ego is not inherently good or bad, but that it can be used for either purpose according to the values and motivation of the individual.

I have a HUGE ego. HUGE. I’m not exaggerating. It has sometimes led me to do bad things, like seeking unnecessary attention. But it has also led me to do many good things, such as complete degrees, compete for prestigious positions, and write a lot of personal things – like this post, for instance.

I’m grateful that I have such a big ego. If I didn’t, perhaps the world wouldn’t know what a big heart I have.

L3: Respect the Wisdom of Generations

When I was a teenager and young adult, I consistently had a flow of good ideas – but no resources to implement any of them. I spent my days dreaming, writing, drawing, and creating (at least in my mind) an alternative vision of the future – one that was more inclusive, loving, and interesting than that offered by mainstream America. My visions and ideas were based on my hopes and dreams as well as my skills and things that I found interesting. I would design beautiful clothing made with organic materials and in the process provide good jobs to hundreds of people, make movies to illuminate social issues, publish a magazine (The Bee Line) for counter-cultural chicks like me, be a world-renowned jazz singer, and, most importantly, be a loving mother to 12 children. Anything and everything seemed possible.

Fast forward to my mid-thirties. I handcrafted a few pieces of doll-sized clothing using found material. I executive produced one 10-minute documentary about hunger. I self-published two books and have dabbled with various blogs and websites. I sang karaoke at a resort in the Poconos. And, alas, I am still single with no children – but have two nephews and co-parented two lovely girls.

Although things didn’t turn out quite as expected, I made progress toward realizing some of my childhood dreams. I have also achieved many, many things that I never even thought about when I was a kid. The ideas are still flowing, but not quite as quickly – I have become too bogged down in the details of life’s intricacies. I have a greater understanding of what it actually takes in terms of time, money, and networks in order to successfully launch new projects. Despite knowing about the challenges of creating and sustaining change, I am not discouraged and continue to be innovative and take risks.

As a mid-career professional I have had many work and life experiences, both good and bad, that add dimension to my ability to make decisions and lead. I have also developed a diverse network of other committed professionals and have a strong working knowledge of systems and resources in my industry. I have confidence in my knowledge of what works well and what doesn’t, where to go to for assistance, and who to engage when developing or implementing various projects.

Someday, I will be an elder full of wisdom. I will have even more experience, knowledge, and connections. I will have more precise insight, more fluid intuition, and a stronger sense of self-confidence. I may even have more time to share all of this with others as we work together toward the greater good.

You are probably familiar with common age-related assumptions. Young people are careless, inexperienced, and not dedicated. Elders are out of date, complacent, and boring. While there may be an element of truth to these biased beliefs in some cases, there are also many positive attributes that can generally be associated with both young people and elders. Young people are optimistic, eager to learn, willing to take risks, aware of new technologies, full of energy, and unencumbered by life’s disappointments. Elders have seen and done it all, can anticipate the impact of decisions, have long-standing relationships with people and organizations, and have developed patience and understanding.

We have many gifts to share at all stages of life. Intentionally developing intergenerational dialogue, collaboration, and relationships leads to a better balance of creative decision making and sustainable outcomes. This process may be difficult; you will encounter linguistic, ideological, and conceptual differences. Focus on common goals, build greater understanding among all age groups, and illuminate what each has to offer to create a climate of respect and mutuality.