“‘It’s All About ME’ Becomes A Cross-Generational Conversation”

By Misti Burmeister

It’s so easy to get pulled into “the sky is falling” conversations, which only proves to be a huge waste of your time. Engage in conversations that are meaningful, and redirect conversations that are not focused on solutions.

I just got off the phone with Sara, a Generation Yer struggling to help her father (who can no longer afford retirement) find a job. Problem is, he hasn’t been keeping his skills or network up-to-date—something Gen Yers have been doing since entering the workforce.

Gen Yers have gotten a bad rap at the office for constantly requesting developmental opportunities, chances to demonstrate their abilities, and consistent advancement in their careers right from the start.

Of course, today’s young professionals saw what happened when their parents’ generation focused only on “paying their dues.” They worked tirelessly for their companies and paid very little attention to their personal skill development. So when layoffs happened, they had to scramble to update their skills, build their networks, and find new jobs.

Young professionals now understand that demonstrating credibility over time is important, as is developing their skills and pursuing opportunities to show what they’re capable of.

In this challenging economy, seasoned professionals are likewise looking to gain new skills, explore opportunities, and demonstrate abilities. And for many of them, the recession has been a wake-up call to the importance of remaining relevant—one none of us will soon forget.

So, as Sara is learning, focusing on developing yourself is no longer just a Gen Y thing; it’s a critical component to the success of each generation and a chance for young professionals to give back to the seasoned professionals (parents, mentors, colleagues) who have helped them along the way.

Here are three steps to gaining support from other generations:

1. Gain clarity. When I asked Sara what kind of jobs her father wanted or what skills he enjoyed using, she wasn’t quite sure. “He just wants a J.O.B.—something that pays the bills,” she said.

I probed a little further about what companies he thought he might enjoy working for, and she came back with the same answer. The reality is that most people just want a job. But if you want to stand out and get noticed, it’s essential that you know what skills you have to offer, what organization(s) you would like to contribute to, and why.

Once you have these answers down, finding a job is no longer necessary; adding value to and enjoying your career is. The following are a few questions I encourage you to consider before looking for your next job: What are you current skills sets? Which ones do you need to develop and why? How can you gain the skills and experiences you need? How can you use your skills to help others?

2. Communicate. Now that you know what you are striving to achieve, share your goals with others. For many in Sara’s father’s generation, talking about what you want, publicly announcing much needed support, or boasting about your achievements is considered negative and not something they are comfortable with.

However, many people are in the same career situation, and understand that it’s through building community (helping each other) that we will rebuild our collective focus as learning professionals. Our perspective on this challenge matters a great deal. When we choose to see it as an opportunity, communicate about how we want to add value, and get focused on adding value, we will spring forward together.

3. Focus. It’s so easy to get pulled into “the sky is falling” conversations, which only proves to be a huge waste of your time. Engage in conversations that are meaningful, and redirect conversations that are not focused on solutions. If you cannot redirect the conversation, redirect your attention. Right now is the perfect time to attend inspiring events, listen to motivational and educational CDs or podcasts, and bring people together to share ideas and create solutions.

4. Bonus: Laugh, have fun, and enjoy life. It’s so easy to let our worries overcome us. When we learn to laugh at ourselves, our situations, and our mistakes, we create a space for innovation and creativity. Laugh, and support others in their laughter and in determining solutions.

Challenging times always create huge opportunities, if we choose to see them as such. I welcome you to focus on the opportunities now. Consider this the swift kick in the pants we all need to keep our careers on track. Is it the perfect time to begin developing and nurturing relationships or, perhaps, gaining new skill sets or experiences? And what gifts might this experience offer?

Misti Burmeister is the CEO of Inspirion Inc and specializes in generational diversity in the workplace. She is the author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies across Generations; info@inspirioninc.com.

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