I loved the recent article in the New York Times about a journalist in her 50’s learning new things from a journalist in her 20’s. Titled “Schooled by a Mentor Half My Age,” the article by Phyllis Korkki chronicles the unique experience of being middle-aged and needing help from someone younger, specifically, a “millennial.”
While precise definitions may vary, millennials are, generally speaking, people born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. They are known for their technological know-how, open-mindedness, and more relaxed attitude toward traditional rules. They are also regularly criticized for being entitled, selfish, and shallow.
Whatever views one might have of millennials, they are also here to stay: this past April, it was reported that millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation.
Korkki shares a great story about the initial awkwardness of reaching out to her younger millennial colleague, Talya Minsberg, for help learning to use Snapchat. Korkki says, “I felt as if face-to-face communication was too old-fashioned a way to set up meetings with her; Email seemed old-fashioned, too.” Korkki resolves to use Minsberg’s preferred mode, Google Calendar. To Korkki, it seemed rude to peer into Minsberg’s schedule. To Minsberg, it was not only not rude, but collegial and more efficient. This was key learning for Korkki.
I was enthralled with this story for a couple of reasons. First, it makes me feel better to know that I am not the last woman standing without Snapchat (although, now that Korkki has learned to use it, maybe I am). Second, I loved reading the story of a middle-aged woman’s growth in the face of challenge. Korkki could easily have just refused to use Snapchat, or refused to ask for help, and she did neither. She embraced her limitations and reached out to exactly the person she needed to connect with.
But last, and most important, I loved thinking about the impact of mentorship on the person who is usually the mentee. Talya Minsberg published a companion piece to Korkki’s about what it was like to be asked by a senior journalist for help. “I realized our mentorship provided me with something unexpected,” says Minsberg: “a chance to take what amounts to a leadership position I had not seen coming. As a relatively young professional, I was usually the one taking advice, not doling it out.”
As a teacher, I have been learning key skills and lessons from younger people for years. It’s great to see this same reciprocity taking place in other professions and industries. When people of different ages, skills and experiences trade best practices, everyone wins.