While watching the movie “Up in the Air” earlier this week, I started thinking about what the movie said about the modern workplace.
1. Clash of Generations at Work.
The young, fresh-out-of-college employee is trying to streamline the company. She proposes a way to embrace technology, cut cost and improve efficiency. The seasoned, respected employee (and protagonist) is skeptical. He likes the way business is currently done; he’s good at it, and he enjoys what he does. Which I think is something that not a lot of people can say about their jobs.
The dynamic between them is interesting. The young, inexperienced employee handles some situations poorly. Because she’s young and inexperienced. She’s also innovative and willing to embrace change. But big changes bring bigger risks of failure.
The experienced employee does his job well. He’s done this task 10,000 times, so he should be much better at it. His fear doesn’t seem to be failure – it’s change. If he doesn’t embrace the new way of doing things, will he be out of a job?
Personally, I think fax machines are obsolete. Why fax something when you can scan and email it in less time, while using less paper? But I think I’ll have to use the fax as long as I’m at my company. Partly because the senior staff members are in a different generation. They’re accomplished and experienced. They’re the decision makers, and they are the same age as my parents. And we are all aware of this age gap.
As one of the youngest people in the office, I question how my ideas sound to an older veteran employee. Will they think an idea that challenges the standard is just a stupid suggestion from some kid who doesn’t know how things are done?
Maybe it’s a generational thing. Tom Brokaw thinks of Twitter as junior high students passing notes. And I respect Brokaw a lot, not only because he’s another South Dakotan who found success on a coast, but because he’s trusted and built a successful career in journalism. But social media is an integral part of marketing, especially to the golden 18-24 age range.
Brokaw is very respected, but every 20-something I know is on Facebook, Twitter, or both. I don’t know my boyfriend’s cell phone number, or the numbers of any of my roommates, because the numbers are all saved on my iPhone. And the only reason we know each other’s email addresses are from our Facebook profiles.
2. Challenging Generation Y’s Expectations
23-year-old Natalie’s goals are somewhat traditional, but career driven. Her character went from Cornell to Omaha, passing up a job in San Francisco to follow a college boyfriend. (I’ve been to both cities and I would have chosen San Francisco.) She wants early career success, but she also thought she’d be engaged or married by 23. And when the romance fails, she has a hard time when things stop going according to plan.
Perhaps the “Quarter-Life Crisis” is the process that 20-somethings go through when their expectations are challenged, while simultaneously adjusting to the working world. I don’t know if I believe in the “Quarter-Life Crisis,” but I can relate to having your expectations challenged, and going through big life changes in a short span of time. Like last fall, when a long-term relationship ended but I started to really feel at home in Seattle. And then there’s my life at work… If the crisis exists, I think it spans most of your mid-twenties.
3. Dealing with Unexpected Changes
I used to say “That was never the plan.” My plan was this, and that was never an option or a footnote. But you can’t plan everything. And if you try, you better learn how to let go and improvise. I don’t talk much about “the plan” lately. Because at this point, I don’t really have one. I have aspirations, but I don’t always know how to get there from here.
The plan, for me, started from a bullet point on a timeline. And once that task was achieved, my personal life changed significantly, and I threw out the rest of what I thought I wanted in my personal life. No more browsing Craigslist for apartments we’d share. No more expensive plane tickets. No more talk of hypothetical ages to get a dog or get married.
Instead of planning, I just started living, which is much more fun than making plans and waiting. And so far, so good.