There was once a time when I was told that a generation is roughly 20-25 years, which perfectly maps to roughly the average time one person grows up and has a child of his/her own (give or take a few years for different people, cultures, geographies), also thereby correctly explaining the phenomenon of a generation gap. Neither is that a standard formula in today’s times with teenage pregnancies on one hand, along with births recorded by females, well into their 40s, 50s or more on the other; nor is a generation gap across a 20-25 year span, but has rapidly & drastically shrunk to barely a few years, at the pace at which things are changing, upgrading, becoming obsolete and are replaced or trashed.
Now just replace ‘things’ with ‘people’ and voila - there you have it, an immensely pressing issue, if not most important issues of our times, which often gets subsumed under blankets of other topics like mental health, unemployment, grudges & friction between generations, intolerance – The Fight for Relevance! In a day and age where the amount of information, access to resources and training is ever increasing, the level of exposure is higher than ever before - the battle is not to get one’s hands on limited resources, or be trained once and for all or get a certain qualification/certification, but what you do with them or how up to speed you keep yourself with what is prevalent, trending and/or being valued. There is no option but to keep learning, to keep upgrading and adding feathers to your hat.
Finishing school was once a big milestone, which then became going to college, further replaced by becoming a graduate. Fast forward to today, whereby graduation is almost an assumption and bare minimum requirement, while being a post-graduate, having multiple accreditations and more is also no longer welcomed with gusto. This is purely academic, but even in any other filed or form of work, art, skill, talent, until and unless you are equipped with the highest level of knowledge and keep levelling up, you are not one to watch out for.
The society as a whole judges relevance on numerous factors. The most common ones include – age, qualifications, background – ethnic, religious, financial or otherwise, level of knowledge/experience, gender, alignment with ideologies/principles, amongst others on a case-to-case basis. You cannot never be JUST RIGHT, as it is always under or over a set benchmark, which again keeps being scrolled as per the whims and fancies of the society and supported by umm, well let’s just be professional and say – bullshit arguments more often than not! You are either too old, too experienced, too dark, too good for something or too young, too inexperienced, too fair, not rich enough or just not good enough for the same. To be the right fit one needs to cast themselves in iron clad moulds and suggesting anything otherwise or the most minor adjustments/tweaks is quite as good as inviting a trial by fire.
There can be countless angles or POVs to illustrate the fight for relevance. Whether it is a popular movie star trying to still be relevant and make in-roads into the minds of the next-gen audience, any old system trying to still prove practical or effective, a law still uphold in changed circumstances, a thought/speech/joke/design/trying to age well with the passage of time in different contexts and heightened sensitivities or simply the relatability or relevance in relationships, be it a romantic one, or between a parent and child, teacher and student, mentor and mentee. The usual suspects in these discussions are the shifts from manual to automated or traditional to digital, right from the gearbox in your car to the most complex processes in factories or from marketing to fine art, all of it has had a paradigm shift and cannot ever be envisioned the same way anymore. One such relatable experience by several people in these tough times and one experienced first hand is that of finding and maintaining relevance in the workforce. My choice of a storyboard for this depiction would be to present an analysis spread over two generations. Let’s jump right in!
Setting the scene – turbulent times, major & rapid changes technologically and in the workforce, falling job security and in the midst of it all, our two protagonists, separated by roughly 3 decades in age. The younger one, let’s arbitrarily call him A and the older gentleman B. A, a millennial, done with his education, good track-record all along, having gathered diverse experiences as well in this limited journey, but yet more than well equipped to take any other person head on and prove worthy not just in one profile, but have a lot more to offer & brimming with energy and excitement at the cusp of beginning his professional journey. While, B on the other hand, 3 decades older, highly experienced with the ways of life, having risen, fallen, worked like a maniac, climbed up the corporate ladder, operated at the highest level, possessing equally great qualifications on paper and valuable in more ways than one to any business with the wealth of knowledge in his possession or even be a perfect mentor for young businesses in need of direction or hand holding. As you may have noticed, diametrically opposite individuals aren’t they, with no thread tying them or their circumstances, but well, they do have one thing in common – both unemployed, lacking opportunities & out of favour in the corporate world! Having introduced them to you, lets dive further in and know more!
A, in his mid-twenties, fresh off a great university degree, international exposure, acing all exams, collecting certificates by the dozen, greeted with the stonewall of most companies citing - lack of experience, lack of focus for having tried out multiple streams and for ironically having a keen interest in more than one area of study, possessing multiple types of work experiences, spread over 2 continents - conveniently judged as lack of focus, lack of direction in life and sealed by saying that having this multi-pronged experience, there is no value in recruiting him as he is irrelevant in the local context and moreover a liability, probably always to be kept on the bench due to lack of specialization, instead of seeing the diverse point of view and out of the box thinking that could be on offer lending a whole new edge to the team he would be a part of! Sadly, the hiring process is more of a force-fit into an existing mould instead of being more like pottery and moulding the role to suit the candidate or making the best use of a candidate’s strengths to benefit the company’s objectives & requirements synergistically.
On the flip side, B, not facing any of these factors, with enough experience, having worked in the same country for about 30-35 years, focussing on one line of work, still considered irrelevant and not taken a chance upon. Reasons in this case being – too old to join any company and may retire in about 5 years, thereby not a long term resource that could provide a good ROI, over-experienced for the role, being a top level executive, unaffordable by companies to have on their payroll even after a significant pay-cut, not being up to speed with changing trends, technologies, lingos, or having the same capacity/energy levels as needed by the cut-throat and competitive working atmosphere and environment, with continually reducing TATs (turn-around times).
Both cases, neither tougher nor easier to fathom than the other. B, on one side of the spectrum, having lived an entire lifetime, spanning a tough, challenging career and getting to the top, now feeling completely unwanted, neglected, or disrespected, in a state of free fall and incapable of dealing with the same at this age and stage of his life, despite some cushioning in the form of some savings, some friends and connections to fall back upon. While A, on the other extreme of the spectrum, crestfallen to not even get a chance to exhibit his qualities, skills and recently gained knowledge, exposure and find a medium/platform to display his capabilities, in addition to liabilities of repaying the tuition fees loan taken, facing responsibilities ahead of contributing towards the family expenses, fulfilling materialistic desires just as anyone at that age and not having an iota of savings in his pocket or people to fall back upon, except the few who offer a shoulder to cry upon and a pat on the back to keep going. Keeping the financial troubles and social pressures aside, the mental trauma that this brings upon both these characters is to say the least insurmountable.
While there is no quick fix solution to this problem, whether the 2 individuals we discussed about above or to this long-drawn battle for relevance too, but one thing that certainly needs to be done is to change the lens through which we see and gauge people. To discard the horse-shoe blinds we have unconsciously worn and smash the moulds and rigid boxes we have built and made mandatory to fit into. The habitual knack of judging anything and everything that we encounter by any of our 5 senses needs to curbed consciously and replaced or reprogrammed with empathy at the core, mixed with a dollop of flexibility, a dash of logic and garnished with some humanity to serve the perfect dish of sanity to negate the effect of this absurdly concocted catastrophically pungent mixture of ideas we have for the longest time considered normal!