Grumpy old Kate or visionary?

My first job out of school was with a big company. Very large…like 10,000 employees large. When people asked which department I worked in, I would respond “the grumpy old men department.”

There were four young women (all under 30) and 20 older men, the youngest in his mid-40s but most close to retirement. (I know! Isn’t it amazing how young mid-40s is today compared to when I was young?)

It wasn’t that the men weren’t pleasant to work with. They were very kind to me. It was that they had a negativity about them.

As a chipper young thing, I had “great” ideas to make things easier. Shortcuts. Streamline. Update. Modernize.

This was all before Al Gore invented the internet. I worked there when the first copier was installed. Prior to that it was….yikes….carbon paper, key punch cards and mimeograph. (Google that if you have no idea what I’m talking about!)

Nope. They weren’t having any of my wonderful ideas. (Can you imagine telling Steve Jobs that? Of course, he took his ball and started his own company.)

Truth is that some of my “great” ideas had been tried before and didn’t work. There were a few that I implemented on my own job but I couldn’t affect a process.

Experience can dull creativity. Things cycle. Even business practices. Centralize. Decentralize. I’ve seen it all. In the same company! You get to know the pitfalls and problems with each cycle. You have to make sure that you don’t stop exploring solutions.

I worked with a “perky” new exec who was a people person. As the human resource person I would get exhausted talking him out of ideas. Don’t get me wrong. He had a lot of great ones but he also had some real stinkers. He had to learn from his own experiences. I couldn’t short cut it.

As I look at myself today I fear that the young ‘uns might call me the grumpy old lady. I have so many “been there, done that, didn’t work” experiences that I can throw a wet blanket the size of Texas on anything. (I also have great suggestions on things that do work!)

I try to keep an open mind and stay upbeat even when I know something won’t work. Sometimes a gentle word to guide….sometimes keeping my freaking mouth shut (so hard to do).

There is a big range between shutting down all ideas and embracing all. Selective coaching can help…sometimes.

However….

Remembering my first job, I had to learn on my own. Now I need to let others learn on their own.

It isn’t only in business but in personal life too. Some people don’t want advice. All they want is a place to vent or affirmation that they are indeed correct. (insert eye roll here)

How about you? Is it painful to watch people make mistakes you have already made or seen?

 

56 thoughts on “Grumpy old Kate or visionary?

  1. My dear Ms. Kate. First off, Marquee says ‘thank you’. Very cool of you to share what you did.
    Secondly, I’m grinning: A) I didn’t have to google anything! I remember thermal paper in a fax machine that was, wait for it, also the only means of making a copy in the small bookkeeping office I worked in during some of my HS career. Next thing you know we had an IBM Selectric for typing checks. Can I get an Amen?
    As to your other question, Yes. It pains my sense of time management to watch the Millennials around me figure out what I already know. But I equate it to helping a kid learn to ride a bike. Let them fall but be there too to prevent anyone from getting seriously hurt. There will soon be a time when I won’t be around to catch them so they’d better be ready to ride by then. If I done my job as an elder correctly, one or two of them are going to remember what I showed them. I guess its my humble way of paying it forward in honor of the ones who vested in me way before I even knew what I knew.
    I babble on but that’s OK. As ever, I’m a fan. Travel well.
    Dan in Chicago

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  2. I’m a great listener. But it took a long time for me to learn that some people only wanted to vent their feelings. They didn’t seek or want any advice on how to “fix” things. Lesson learned.

    As for “employee” loyalty, that disappeared when corporate’s bottom line mattered more than the folks who made it possible.

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    • That’s an “ah hah” moment for a lot of people. They think their friend wants help but they don’t. I can’t remember when I realized it but I think it was in a business seminar I attended. It was on conflict but covered a lot of interactions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, this was like reading my own story, Kate! So reminiscent of my early work days. One of the best things about retirement is being able to do things MY way and not worrying about all the rest.

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  4. Excellent observations, Kate. So many of my friends are continuing to work well into their 60s and have bosses in the 20’s or early 30’s. And finding the democracy of wisdom in groups of people separated by at least three decades is quite the challenge!

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  5. Fun post! When I look back I don’t really know how I learned all that I did – except by making a lot of mistakes and then figuring things out quickly thereafter. I’ve learned to keep my trap shut but it is hard. Sometimes I can hear Mom in my head “they learn more from their own mistakes than they do from yours, dear.” Gah!!

    MJ

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  6. It’s pretty much line raising children. Sometimes you just have to let them fall, fail and find their own way. It’s hard to watch but the only way to really learn.

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  7. It’s true that sometimes “new ideas” are actually old ideas that have been tried and truly didn’t work, but sometimes they are innovative and require testing out. I had a few jobs over my working years and always started out as the perky newbie full of ideas. It was a struggle not to, over time, turn into a grizzled protector of what has always been. Boy, am I glad to be out of that world!

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  8. Not only is it painful, but as you mentioned, it’s practically IMPOSSIBLE to keep from inserting my own words of wisdom, even when the recipient has neither solicited (or doesn’t want) my advice. It seems to always feel like you could help them move forward more quickly by dispensing with the same mistakes we all seem to have to make, but then again, as you said yourself … we all have to learn on our own. That’s how we finally figure things out.

    I’m afraid I would fall into that “grumpy old lady” category far too often. How the heck did that happen? Where my impatience with the learning curve has suddenly begun to outweigh my sense of gently nudging folks with generous doses of encouragement? Don’t get me wrong – I still do my best to be encouraging and empathetic and supportive, but there are certainly times where I am practically vibrating with impatience.

    One of my sons helped me regain my sense of perspective. I don’t remember the circumstances exactly, but I was in the middle of one of my “let me share what I’ve learned along the way” lectures, and he said something along the lines of “don’t you want me to experience that same light bulb moment when I figure it out on my own?”, or something to that effect. After that conversation, I’ve really made an effort to simply hear him out (or whoever is doing the talking), and let them spill all the details of whatever adventure or idea they are pondering. In trying to be a good student, I’ve even gotten better at asking probing questions that show both interest in the subject, and offer up a bit of excitement to match their own enthusiasm.

    The funny thing is, the more I practice the “shut up and just listen attentively and just respond with enthusiasm” method of conversation, it seems that our conversations have grown exponentially. We sometimes get so involved in conversation that we can spend an hour discussing the benefits of a clip-less bike pedal versus a platform bike pedal (something I know absolutely nothing about, but something my son is passionate about). And in the process of talking about bike pedals (a subject that is too big for my brain), we get to also talk about all sorts of other things, like how we make choices, or how we weigh our options, etc, etc.

    This was a great topic, Kate. As we grow older, I think we sometimes forget about all that enthusiasm we all once had, when we were full of ideas and chomping at the bit for a chance to exercise our sense of experimentation and trial and error. Just because we’ve become that generation of “grumpy old men/women” doesn’t mean we can’t still dip our toe in the pool of enthusiasm and fun every now and again. Great post!

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  9. Such great points. Yes, indeed, sometimes it is hard to watch the train wreck. But at the same time, I love this quote: “The most dangerous phrase is, ‘this is how we’ve always done it.'” Or something like that.

    Wisdom is discerning which innovations to try.

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    • When I was still fairly young and on a new job, I had to run a large training seminar. I did all aspects from hotel arrangements to moderating. It was the first time I had done this so I followed what was previously done (at least mostly). There was one area that I fleetingly thought about but the project was too overwhelming and I didn’t have time to tinker with it. My grand puba (executive vice-president) asked me why I did something “that” way. I apologized first because I had to follow with “because that’s the way it’s been done before.” Fortunately he laughed and understood. That was the last time I didn’t tinker when I thought it needed it.

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  10. Great post! My husband and I were just talking about this last night — when to keep your mouth shut and when not to. How to be supportive even if you just want to offer a suggestion on how to fix it. It’s walking a fine line in the workplace with some people.

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  11. Yes & no. I’ve come to realize that everyone is on his or her own path, so I can sit back, and watch an idea/experience go down in flames while enjoying the light & heat it gives off. Wouldn’t be surprised if that is where my hot flashes come from! 😉

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  12. It is mostly painful for me to watch people make mistakes with their pets. Other things, no so much! But I’m not good at watching animals suffer.

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  13. I remember streamlining my job and what had taken 2 girls 10 days to accomplish in closing off monthend took me a day on my own. Why? Because I didn’t leave everything to the last working day. I did a bank rec at least twice a week, not once a month at….. monthend. I balanced the ledgers once a week and corrected mispostings and errors. I also didn’t spend a lot of time tarting up my lipsitck after every cup of coffee, chatting about non work items whilst not doing any office work, or spending company time on personal phone calls.
    My ‘procedures’ became common practice and my boss took the credit. Never mind. Made my life easier, helped with credit control, but when I left, they needed two people to replace me. Shame. 🙂

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    • I was one of those folks (like you) who didn’t tart up my lipstick during work (I love your terms). Sometimes I forgot to comb my hair during the day. I also liked doing things as they go. Still do. I wash dishes as I cook so there isn’t a lot to do after eating. Thanks for your comment. At one job I was replaced by two people. I found no humor in that.

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    • I had to run a mimeograph in high school but fortunately not at work. It was messy and I always got full of ink. It’s exasperating to watch people repeat their own mistakes. I need to walk away due to my type A tendency to bash heads.

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  14. Oh gosh! You’ve hit a nerve here Kate. One of my daughters is now going through a life experience I know she could do better dealing with. I’m just keeping my mouth shut – and that’s hard to do. She only wants to talk to whoever will agree with her and I’m not that person. 😦 ~Elle

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  15. Stepping back is hard when we think we have the answers based on our experience … Yet others need to learn from their experience too. Great post Kate! I recall thinking the same thing with the fuddyduddies I worked with when I was a naive perky thing💛

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    • This point was driven home to me when I hired a perky young thing (I was barely 50 at the time). She made sure she made me feel old and inflexible. Her expectations of office perks were out of line not only with her inexperience but with business standards at the time. We had open seating concept at the time which hampered calls to her friends planning their nightlife. I did a snoopy dance when she left.

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      • I’m glad you mentioned the expectations. More than anything else, I think over time I became overwhelmed with how Generations X and Y seemed to have very unrealistic views about how office politics, decorum, career advancement, etc. should work. Perhaps it was being brought up in by “helicopter” parents. I’m not sure. But it did become very wearying. Great post, Kate.

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