According to Dr. David A. Merrill, a psychiatry specialist with UCLA Health in Los Angeles, California, “wisdom” is “the concept of learning to be empathetic regarding others, learning not to be reactive, and learning to have an understanding of other perspectives.” Sound like daunting skills, reserved only for those with lots of life experiences under their belts? They’re not.
There is a long-held, proverbial belief that we only grow wiser as we grow older. I would argue that while some people may become wiser, or “attain wisdom” as they age, there are also young fools who just age into old fools. Similarly, there are young people who are very smart (ever heard the expression, “wise beyond their years”?) but who tragically lose that sharp edge to aging or disease. Having said all of this, I believe the case can be made that there is no magical age by which we can be deemed “wise.”
The solar industry is full of ambitious college graduates hell-bent on changing the world for the better. These young people are extraordinarily bright and talented, whose energy and professional objectives are focused on saving our planet. But the industry also holds space for experienced professionals who have decided to repurpose and refocus their talents by pivoting to careers in renewable energy, too: older individuals who share the same passion for a greener tomorrow. Here at New Energy Equity, we are lucky enough to have both.
We have grown exponentially over the last two years, hiring talented people who are “all in” and aligned with our core purpose, with absolutely no regard to age. The end results – dedicated professionals of all ages creating strong teams and shared camaraderie -- cannot be beat. Not only do I feel like I am a part of something bigger and worthwhile, I learn something new every single day from the younger professionals here. I am hopeful that I am held to be as much a teacher as a student to them.
Allow me to introduce the concept of “menterning,” a bridging of the gap between Boomers and Millennials in the workplace. Male or female, menterns were born before 1964 and are interested in sharing their lifetime of experiences and knowledge with others (a mentor), while also being open to learning new skills (an intern). Chip Conley, author of the book, Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, is a living example of a mentern. Conley was a hotelier CEO who successfully started and ran 52 boutique hotels under the name Joie de Vivre, sold them all, and then spent the following few years thinking about what was next. At 52, with “no experience in tech, no knowledge of how to use Google Docs, and without the apps for Uber or Lyft on [his] phone,” he joined Airbnb as head of global hospitality and strategy. The company’s CEO was 21 years his junior. No matter to Conley, who believes an “intergenerational potluck” makes for a better, more diverse workplace, one where everyone brings something to the table and one generation can learn from another. Conley believes, “The hierarchy of the past that says the physics of wisdom only flows from old to young doesn’t make sense anymore. The physics of wisdom moves in both directions; it just depends on the subject matter.”
My short tenure at NEE has revealed to me that, like Conley, I too, am the embodiment of a modern elder, or mentern. I am delighted to be an ally to, and consistently approached by our young professionals with curiosity, questions, and ideas, and I am always happy to share honed workplace tools like emotional intelligence, leadership skills, and strategic thinking. I am just as delighted to be challenged by and able to learn things from these young, digital natives, like innovation, open-mindedness, tech hacks, A.I., and digital fluency. Together, we create a symbiotic, intergenerational collaboration and a fluency where we learn from one another:
“When we think of diversity, we often think almost exclusively of gender, race, and maybe sexual orientation. We don’t think about age very often, even though age is one of the most obvious demographic changes we see..”
New Energy Equity itself is young, having only been established in 2013, and its leadership is equally as young. However, youth by itself does not necessarily translate into disadvantages in leadership. In fact, if you are smart, whether young or old, you will watch and listen and learn from the competent, young leaders in your organization. But in the process, do not discount the contributions of the modern elder, either. Conley believes, “[T]he modern elder is appreciated for their relevance, not their reverence, because they’re as much of an intern as they are a mentor.” Conley further drives his point home by stating that,
"Your curiosity and passion and engagement will pay off. People will be drawn to you and see your age not as an impediment, but, in some cases, as exactly what they need... The trade agreement of our time is to open up generational pipelines of wisdom so that we can all learn from each other. European studies have shown that age-diverse teams are more effective and successful. So why is it that, only 8% of companies who have a diversity and inclusion program include age as just as important a demographic as gender or race?"
It is important to recognize and honor the many ways we can achieve workplace diversity so we, as an organization, remain cognizant of and benefit from the mosaic of experiences and skill sets brought to the table. Age does not determine whether we are the student or teacher as, young and old alike are both. Let this be a challenge to those interested in entering an innovative industry like solar: no matter your age, race, gender, or background, we all can make great contributions to an industry that is working to leave the world better than we found it.
Stay up-to-date with New Energy Equity by joining our mailing list.