Career

What we can learn from millennials

Deborah Hill Cone resolves to stop poking fun at millennials... and to start learning from them.

By Deborah Hill Cone
When Liza’s husband runs off with a blackjack dealer, leaving her with his gambling debts, she has to get a job again after 15 years in suburbia out of the workforce.
She doesn’t have much luck.
She is considered too old, too out of touch, too un-hip. She has job interviews conducted by millennials. They can’t believe she doesn’t even know what a meme is.
Since she’s not too grey for 40, she hits on the crazy idea of lying about her age. She says she’s 26 and gets a job as an assistant in a publishing company.
Yeah, I know, it’s a bit far-fetched, but Liza covers by saying a rare ‘crow’s-feet gene’ runs in her family, and you know, millennials are so caught up in themselves they don’t look beyond her beanie and Mason jar, LOL.
Anyway, the point is she moves to Brooklyn, eats kale and makes friends with hipsters.
The youngsters think she is wise.
Random millennial: “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Liza: “Nobody knows what they’re doing.”
The millennials also teach her a thing or two.
“I’m sorry, but ‘marketing strategies’ sounds like something a sad dad would have on his LinkedIn page. Just, like, talk to me.”
This is the premise of TV series Younger. Of course, the narrative arc leads us to the usual hugging-learning-uplifting music montage where Liza discovers the millennials aren’t really entitled and shallow and the young ‘uns benefit from her wisdom.
“Josh, your generation didn’t invent anal sex, you just invented talking about it all the time.”
I watched this show for research because although I’m not lying about my age (I am 50, so there) I am on a campaign to like younger women more.
As I’ve got older I have softened towards myself, and it feels wrong not to also soften to the young women who often remind me of myself 30 years ago but with better hair (no one had invented GHDs then). You don’t need a psychology degree to realise where the desire to sneer at snowflakes comes from.
It’s the green-eyed monster, pure and simple. Young women have everything you are losing: a taut jawline, idealistic fervour, hot sex. (Actually I’m not sure I had that much hot sex in my youth and frankly, it gets better.)
Younger women can trigger painful feelings of grief and rage at ageing in older women. And because appearance is given such high value in our culture, they can really push your buttons when you’re at an age where you speed up past mirrors.
Maybe most irksome is the way gorgeous young girls in skirts like bandages don’t realise how beautiful they are or how lucky they are. But beneath this jealousy, like most feelings, is a fear. The fear is there isn’t enough love and ‘likes’ to go round. That you’re missing out.
The truth is, that’s wrong. You can have more love and joy in your life as you get older. And if you do, then you want to spread some of it around. So I don’t want to be snarky any more.
But, how in real terms am I going to go about this campaign to be an OWL? (older wise lady, t’wit t’woo).
Certainly not like The Huffington Post’s Margaret Manning in 60 Things Older Women Want Younger Women to Know: “So, if you know a younger woman in her 30s, share your wisdom. Your experience is a gift. Take off your invisibility cloak and let the world meet the real you, wrinkles and all! Let your life be an inspiration to others.”
Ugh. Sorry lady. No judgment but I don’t want to be the old trout doling out bossy advice. “Save your money, get outside and enjoy nature, don’t waste money on shoes”.
To be honest I’m never going to think of wrinkles as the roadmap of my life. What I think is that younger women have more to teach me than I have to teach them. Instead of inflicting all my wise bons mots on younger women, I want to learn from them.
There’s a lot to admire. Their energy, their curiosity, their sense of social justice, seeing how they expect certain basic equal-ities as of right, how passionate they are about the environment and health, their excellent facility with curse-words. Also their whimsical clothes combinations (Aran sweaters? jumpsuits?).
And their recipes. So many vegans!
Really, the girls of the Girls era might be threatening not just for their dewy skin, but also because they dare to value themselves and care for themselves in ways which my generation would have found shameful. But is frankly: progress.
Younger women aren’t prepared to put up with the same kind of gratuitous sexism many women of my age tolerated – patronised, paid less, asked to make the coffee. Good for them.
So my first step in my campaign to not be a bitter old radish is not going around giving young women advice. I’m just going to smile at them more.
Secondary benefit: all that smiling also stops you getting older resting bitchface; it’s like jowl yoga.
Each time I take joy in seeing a younger woman’s vitality, it’s also an act of acceptance of the younger Deborah Hill Cone.
I was so harsh and mean to myself when I was their age but I’m letting that younger me know that I see her and I accept her now. This feels life-affirming and much easier than Liza’s choice to act out being 26 again, which seems exhausting.
A millennial to Liza: “We got invited to Bonfire because we’re young and fun, so I’m going to need you to be a little more on brand. Keep up.”
Going to bed early, not leaving the house, not going to the party; childhood punishments have become my grown-up treats. That’s a meme right there. I know what memes are.

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