Although I was excited to go back to school, turning 30 in my freshman year made me very aware of the age gap I was about to experience. Being a teenager during the grunge phase in the ’90s, I formed very distinct opinions of the world. Grunge was fed by the extravagant ’80s that led to the recession a decade later. I grew up believing no matter what loyalty you have for a company or how hard you work, you are replaceable. Your loyalty lies with you and you alone. I had a pretty pessimistic view of the working world and, like any generation before me, a bleak outlook of the next generation. I was a true Gen X-er.
Going back to school meant I’d be thrown in with the Millennials, the “me” generation I thought I couldn’t relate to. Looking back, I can honestly say that not only was I able to learn from them, I’ve also been able to embrace some of their ideals.
The five main things I learned from them are:
1. Confidence in One’s Convictions
They spoke back to teachers without any concerns for retribution. I grew up with a bit of duality. I had the right to express my opinions, but I had to express them in a way that was still respectful of my elders. There were times I admired their sheer guts for speaking their minds and fighting for what they wanted. The lesson I learned was, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. You just might be surprised with the end result!
2. Technological Savvy
Their knowledge of technology was incredible. Coming from a completely different era, I was able to functionally use my laptop; however, it was different from my previous experiences. (I felt like I had come from the dark ages, having had to take typing in high school using only a typewriter!) Any time I ran into technological issues, all I had to do was ask any of my younger classmates. They were happy to share their knowledge, and often looked at me with confusion wondering how I survived my teens without a computer.
3. Being Engaged Is Important in Learning
Being a mature student, I was able to build good relationships with my professors and, as a result, I learned about this generation from a different point of view. I’ll never forget the term coined by one of the baby boomer professors: “Educainment.” This was meant to describe the fact that students needed to be continuously entertained and stimulated in class; if not, they’d find what they needed on their laptops or phones. Teachers fought to make the information more exciting and attempted to relate the lessons to students’ lives. Although I’m sure the professors felt frustrated, it sure made for more interesting classes!
4. You Can Be a “Me-First” Team Player
Having been a bit coddled in their childhood, my classmates had a strange innocence about the world around them. They were more ‘touchy feely’ than my generation. Being in a highly competitive co-op class, I was surprised to see how this trait actually made them great classmates. Even with a whole group of type-A personalities, it was the most supportive and collaborative group you could possibly imagine. Although we all challenged one another, we were also there to help. My classmates wanted to be the best, but not at the expense of others.
5. Flexibility is the New Secure
They valued different things from an employer. They wanted jobs with flexibility, not a paycheque with job security. This was strangely foreign to me. They wanted flexible working hours, a fun work environment and an enlightening experience. When they were done with the experience, they would move on to a new one. After comparing our values, it made me realize how much more I could expect to get out of my future career. They made me see that work-life balance should be a major consideration.
Looking back, I have to admit that sometimes I felt like a stranger among friends. I grew up differently, had different ideals and thought I wanted a different outcome from my schooling. That aside, I can honestly say I learned so much more than just the lessons in the curriculum. I learned about strength, collaboration, negotiation and not accepting the status quo. My experiences have given me the opportunity to take the good things from both generations and apply it to my personal and professional life.
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