While it is popular and edgy to always be disrupting, sometimes the old ways are the best ways. Other times, it is best to pivot and create anew. It is through the wisdom of our elders we can discover how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Our seniors can be the best example and inspiration of when to evolve, and when to lean on tradition. In other words, elder wisdom buoys your career story.
I spent the past nearly week with my 90-year-old father, who visited my husband and me at our home at North Padre Island, Texas, along with my brother-in-law, Don, and my sister, Janet. And, it is without hesitation that I assert the value of the wisdom and guidance of our elders. They have lived through, survived and often thrived through the highs and lows of work and life. They also have cultivated a certain calm presence that helps center careerists in the throes of career change, career chaos and/or career lulls. As a result, we can build a better story.
Following are 5 things our elders can teach us to help buoy our career story.
1. Eat your oatmeal each morning. Consistency is key, and while it may be tempting to always be innovating your intake based on the latest fitness podcast, remember that nutrition begins with a steady and consistently healthy diet. I noticed that, even when we invited him into a special eggs and biscuit breakfast one morning, my dad declined as he knew that keeping to his healthy and known routine would nourish his day and get him off to the right start.
Just as gut microbiome is affected by what you feed it, your mind will respond to the early-morning fuel in either a positive or negative way. Calm, yet energizing and consistent habits enhance your ability to take on the work day and nourish your career. He did, however, enjoy his nightly chocolate brownie and ice cream, so amid our disciplined habits, let’s not forget to weave in joy and sweetness.
2. Notice the small details. I’ve always admired how my dad takes notice of the smallest of details. From the seashells lined up along our dining room console to the wet pavement on the back courtyard, to the employees digging up stones near the construction zone on the beach, he is inquisitive: “Did you and Rob collect all these different seashells? Did it rain overnight, or is the pavement still soaked from yesterday’s storms? What sorts of debris or stone are you unearthing?” In a world of overwhelming digital noise, in the context of narcissism and insecurity, I find this outward expression of interest refreshing and grounding.
Similarly, in our careers and business, by spending more time noting, inquiring and seeking about the details around you, you can naturally discover and learn and grow versus aspiring to be the center of the conversation. And, while the results may not be immediate, over time, you will see how the seeds of interest you’ve planted will bloom as a reciprocal reward for your outward interest. The results also will be grounding and calming as you liberate from the exhaustion of self-promotion to instead scooping up all the little colorful findings already in your line of sight.
3. Engage others first before talking about yourself. Wound up from the stimulation of our surroundings, we often pour our angst onto others through a barrage of words interspersed with “I, me, my.” What I’ve always noticed about my dad is his ability to focus first on others before pointing the finger back to himself. In fact, in many conversations, the only mention he makes about himself is in a way that affirms or encourages you that you are going in the right direction and/or that you are not alone. He often is self-effacing in order to make you feel better about your own flaws.
Similarly, in our own careers, we can show more interest, in a sincere, gentler way that seeks to encourage and lift. While curiosity is a buzzword that permeates the leadership articles, it’s more than that. It is genuinely wanting to know more about the other person, and stopping at that, without agenda–simply exuding the desire to elevate those in your sphere. Embodying this behavior will cultivate a story rich in leadership gravitas and inspiration.
4. Keep going and keep learning. Sometimes it’s out of necessity, like when my mom got sick and could no longer prepare the meals. Dad learned to replicate some of her meals, but he hasn’t stopped there. And, as he mourns the passing of his wife of 64 years earlier this year, Dad continues to arise each morning. He teaches himself to bake fruit pies from scratch, prepare and freeze meals in advance and simply, keep going amid his new reality. He also graciously accepts the love and support of family and friends in his sphere who genuinely seek to lift him.
Similarly, when our lives and careers are struck a blow that may feel unbearable, we don’t despair. We do give ourselves time and space to heal and recover, but we also keep going. And, we accept help from the supportive people and resources who lend us a helping hand as we move up and remake our story into a new beginning.
5. Keep sharing your knowledge. I was, and still am, most amazed and impressed at Dad’s ability to (quoting my husband) “retain knowledge and speak about these things with such authority.” During Dad’s visit, we visited the USS Lexington Museum, and took a historical tour through this Essex-Class aircraft carrier built in WWII for the US Navy. The hours we spent lingering at the various exhibits, historical artifacts, dozens of aircraft, landing gear, anti-aircraft guns and MUCH more was so much more exhilarating than I could have imagined.
The highlight of the trip, however, was this video of Dad explaining the mechanics of a jet engine. He worked for more than 40 years in the Overhaul Base at TWA–retiring as an Inspector–so he knows a thing or two about the complexity of the mechanics! My inability to retain such detail is juxtaposed against Dad’s intimate recall of such an orchestration of events that powers an aircraft.
I think the careers takeaway is that we don’t stop sharing our own knowledge, even as we may feel we have been eclipsed by something newer and better or more popular. The value of our career heritage and the underpinnings of our learnings is invaluable to today’s story, and to the stories of those with whom you come into contact.
Please enjoy a few more pictures of this weeklong familial experience building new stories and celebrating the old!
Dad explains to Janet the mechanics of the jet engine.
Don, Dad and Janet on the flight deck of the USS Lexington.
Rob, Dad and I hanging out in our backyard, absorbing the conversation and the beauty of our island.
Rob, Don, Dad and me at the Padre Island National Seashore State Park.
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I am Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, one of only 50 certified master resume writers and have crafted more than 1,500 career stories that put ‘your value into words.’ My bachelor’s in writing/journalism allows me to apply a journalist’s eye to your career.