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Life Planning

Across the generational divide – combining the wisdom of intern and mentor


Kim Potgieter

Kim Potgieter

February 7, 2019
According to Chip Conley, “mutual mentorship is the future.” This is the concept that is explored in his new book, Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder. His belief is that the intellectual capital of future organisations will be one of wisdom – where the elders and younger generation mentees will team up to become a formidable force of wisdom, experience and knowledge.

I have often thought that my age should count for something. I may not know it all, but surely my wealth of experience (or dare I say, wisdom) could be applied and shared in a more meaningful way? I do realise that there are things I do not know, such as my children knowing more about social media than me. After all, it’s generally the younger generation that we default to for help when setting up a new phone or an email account.

This quote by Michael Dell, founder of Dell Technologies comes to mind: “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people, or find a different room.”

I have come to realise that I am not the smartest person in the room, but I am certainly not too old to learn.

Now think for a moment what you are valued for most in your workplace. If you are part of the elder generation like me, it’s your insight, emotional intelligence and holistic thinking. That could possibly all be termed as wisdom. Similarly, the younger generation employees often exude passion, fearlessness and fresh ideas – and of course, are quite at home in the modern, digital, high-tech environment.

Whether you are part of the younger or older generation, take a pause. It’s time for a mindshift: consider how all your experiences, training and skills you have accumulated thus far in life can be applied in a different way.  Consider how powerful this combined wisdom can add value to the workplace. This is why Chip Conley calls for age-friendly organisations – where younger and older employees are valued for their unique talents and supported and mentored by one another.

In my work at Chartered Wealth Solutions, I have seen first-hand how the combined wisdom from different generations are necessary to build a successful business. Diverse knowledge and experience make a team exponentially stronger and is necessary to keep an organisation on track for the future.

If you are part of the younger generation, stay open minded and know that a variety of skills are necessary to build the most successful teams. Find elders or mentors in your organisation whose reputation and knowledge will add value to your work. Think of the older people you work with in a different way – they have so much to share.

Similarly, if you are closer to midlife, take a long hard look at the value you bring. Reflect on all the experiences, skills and wisdom that you have gathered through your life and think about what you are really good at doing. If you feel inspired by what you have to offer, then either apply it in your current place of work or, if you are ready for a change, package it. It could just be the first step into a whole new career path.

You could be the next elder or mentor for many younger generation mentees – and in return, you will be an intern of sorts, learning from the younger generation.

So whether you are starting out your first job or ready to retire, it’s important to keep your mind open to new ideas, new conversations and symbiotic working relationships across the generational divide. Respect the wisdom that each individual brings and be willing to be as much mentor and you are intern.

Perhaps it is time to pause. To take stock of your life experiences and apply this wealth of knowledge to curate the next step in your life.

This month, I will be attending a course, the Consciously Curated Life, which is part of a series of workshops run by Chip Conley’s Elder Academy and based on his latest book. I am really excited to learn more on this topic and look forward to sharing my learnings from the Elder Academy with you.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from the Dali Lama: “You are never too young to teach and definitely never too old to learn”.


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