The Stage Four Project-Segment Thirty–Wait a Minute! I Was Young Here Just a Minute Ago!
A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer
I was in San Antonio for work when this picture was taken over 20 years ago. It’s me with my old Maine roommate, Rick Upton. I was heavier, my hair was darker, and I could knock back a beer or margarita without feeling like I needed a nap. It feels like yesterday.
That’s one of the evils of growing older—it feels like yesterday. When I was 22, I was one of the youngest news directors in Maine radio. When I was 24, I was the youngest news director ever at WASH-FM radio in DC. When I was 24, I was a young newlywed. At 34, I was one of the youngest certified project professionals in the world.
That was my claim to fame. I was the first. The youngest. It was a great feeling. And then it happened. At 50, I had a young person at the Roy Rogers’ drive-through ask if my coffee was a “senior coffee,” and if I was getting the senior’s discount. WHAT!?!
It’s mighty painful. A few years back, I tried to do an informal survey of how old people felt. There’s a point in your life where you feel like you pretty much understood the universe and had a grip on your place in that universe. The first time I realized that, I pegged my mental age at 17. Now, it’s more like 40. Still, I’m a far cry from 40, and I’m still thinking with a pre-millennium mindset. There are advantages and disadvantages to having your head in the late 1990’s. The advantages include:
- My car feels futuristically new
- I believe I’m physically capable of getting out there and doing stuff
- I feel like I’m going to be around for years and years and years
That’s all well and good, but there are also disadvantages.
- The music I recognize ALL qualifies as “oldies”
- My body doesn’t respond like a 40-year-old’s
Coming to grips with reality doesn’t mean that I have to give up the late 90’s mindset. It does mean that I have to acknowledge it for what it is.
Lesson Learned: When you are the youngest at whatever it is you’re doing, latch on to your relationships with your elders. I once had a client ask what I could possibly teach him. He was roughly 60, while I was 30. He introduced his concern by explaining that he had nose hairs older than me. My reply was, “If you came here looking for my insights, then you’re right. I have nothing to teach you. But the beauty of my job is that I pick up experience and war stories from about 25 students a week, which means that I can draw from the collective experience of dozens, if not hundreds, of years.” He replied that it was a great answer, and he’d stick around through the remainder of our training together.
People don’t care if you’ve personally experienced everything you share, but they want to know that you drew it from a valid source.
Plus, the memories of your youth (and mine) afford us a foundation to get through the aging or ailing process. When I landed my first radio job (overnights at WSME, Sanford, Maine…now WWSF), I was undeniably awful. I wasn’t experienced, I was nervous, and brought very little to the table. Fortunately, the general manager, Charlie Smith (yes, his real name), had the patience of Job. I would screw up, and he would explain how and where I had made mistakes. I would miss a commercial break, and he would address it as a concern, but he let me keep my job. He didn’t even blow up when I referred to one of our big clients, Crepeau Motors, as “Creep-Oh” Motors. (I had forgotten that Maine had a heavy French influence and it should be pronounced as Cray-POH). As a more senior consultant now, I remain grounded by experiences like that when new, young staffers make mistakes that might otherwise merit firing. Letting them know the error of their ways is important. But thanks to Charlie Smith, I cut them slack whenever practicable.
Lesson Learned: What seemed “cool” when you are younger isn’t something you want to lord over others, but you do want to retain the mementos of your youthful achievement. I still hang on to my congressional press pass (1987), and one of each of the business cards that I’ve had through the years. They reminded me of the progress (and regressions) of my career, and of the accomplishments (and co-workers) associated with the many different employers I’ve had. When I pass away, my family will have no qualms about throwing out a box of business cards, but while I’m still here, they’re as precious as any awards I’ve received.
So you’re young. Or you’re still thinking like a young person. Or you cling tenaciously to the trappings of youth. What should you cling most tenaciously to? Striving to be better than you were last month, or last decade. And not to lose sight of others’ striving. Let them make their “Creep-OH” mistakes. Grant them enough latitude to know that it’s not life-ending. With any luck, you’ll be their Charlie Smith. You’ll be the one who cuts them just enough slack to make up for their mistakes and be the best possible staffer they can be.
Up next? I can’t handle one more thing. Unless I have to.
If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog
If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours. Always. And if you think I missed the mark? Check your spam folder. Thanks for joining me on this journey.